This is the first installment of a series of reviews on U2's Rose Bowl concert.
GA line experiences can be exciting preludes to a U2 concert, but the one at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl was a test for even the most hardcore fans. GA, an abbreviation for General Admission, allows ticket holders to stand on the floor and get right up to the stage for a decent price. Anyone who has waited all day in one of these lines knows that they take on a life of their own becoming living, breathing, dynamic organisms.
At the Rose Bowl GA fans started assembling outside the stadium the day before the October 25 show, and did what U2 fans so famously do – self-organize. Wristbands with numbers were handed out and coordinated with a master signup list. A couple of fans met with the Rose Bowl security team and crafted a plan for concert day. A hotline was even set up instructing fans to arrive in a designated parking lot at 7:00 AM.
Our group arrived right on schedule. The first disappointment came when we had to walk almost a mile to the opposite side of the stadium where the GA line was forming. But we were pretty excited since our wristbands (from the day before) were numbered in the low 200s. Though we probably shouldn’t have been, we were surprised when we got to the line and there were already more than 500 people ahead of us, some having arrived as early as 4:00 AM.
It wasn’t long after our arrival that several event security staff came around and placed us in small clusters of 250, and renumbered our hands. More frustration – I moved from number 235 to number 591. We settled in, licked our wounds, put up a tent awning and busted out the food, iPods and the October 15 issue of Rolling Stone, with the resolute will of a true U2 fan to make the best of the situation.
Right around lunch time the event security staff came through the GA line again accompanied by several Pasadena police officers. This time they issued new wristbands with new numbers. What luck! I moved to number 521.
It was a picture perfect day for weather, friends and music… until about 4:00 PM. That’s when all hell broke lose. If you’ve stood in a GA line you know that there can be several false starts where people get up, shift around, move forward, and hope that they’re finally going in. But Pasadena was different. Without warning everyone stood up and rushed forward. From there things rapidly deteriorated. There were no security personnel present, there were no instructions given by a guy in a yellow jacket (you know, “no cameras with long lenses,” “no backpacks,” “small bags will be searched,” and “no flag poles”), and there were no staff to coordinate the flow.
Tempers began to flare, profanity and heated arguments abounded. We were packed against each others’ smelly, sweaty bodies so tight that there was no room for fresh air in the 90 degree heat. But worst of all, the tail end of the GA line rushed forward, crashed the barriers (which were primarily made of yellow “caution” tape) and overwhelmed the front of the line.
There was no sense of order or control. Confusion reigned. Two thousand people surged toward one gate manned by a few terrified ticket takers and one guy who now produced a bullhorn that no one could hear. I Facebooked, “This might be dangerous.” Within ten minutes there was no line at the Rose Bowl.
And then something very reorienting happened. We could hear the band sound checking and at the moment tempers, chaos and stifling air seemed to coalesce for the perfect storm, Bono’s voice broke through:
Every day I die again, and again I'm reborn
Every day I have to find the courage
To walk out into the street
With arms out
Got a love you can't defeat
Neither down or out
There's nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
I’m not sure if others heard it, but I did. And it worked.
I turned to the somewhat shaken and frustrated group I was with, “You know, we’re gonna have a great time. We’re not going to let someone else’s bad day ruin ours.” There was a wisp of fresh air. The stranger next to me responded, “That’s right. That’s what real U2 fans do.” I could breathe.
In the end, we got great spots on the floor; part of our group on the back rail in front of Adam, the other part just four deep in front of The Edge. Yes, there were people in front of me whose hands were numbered in the 1500s, and a host of rude and obnoxious (and probably drunk) people tried to crowd in during the Black Eyed Peas, but we celebrated with nearly 100,000 others in the Bowl, and millions via YouTube, at a party of love and grace, appropriately starting our time together with Breathe.
There’s nothing you have that I need. Now I can breathe.