Both my friend Debbie and I were gripping Ed’s sweater sleeves. Then one minute later, still holding one of the sleeves, I was six feet from the rest of the sweater that was tied around Ed’s waist. I could barely see him and Lanny with a mass of people stampeding in between us. My feet were not touching the ground, but I was surging forward steadily with the throng. I looked around for Debbie.
In the meantime, shrieks of panic — in freaked out French — pierced the hum of the crowd (somehow even panicked French sounds beautiful).
A few feet over, a girl emerged upwards from the throng almost like she was levitating. Her friends were trying to lift her up for air. The girl was hysterical, shaking her hair and convulsing. Next, someone actually doused her with a bottle of water to calm her down.
That put me really close to the edge. “Don’t look at her, Steph,” Debbie was now next to me, and she could sense that a domino freak out effect was eminent. I don’t even know how we managed to stay together. “Steph, hold on to me,” Thankfully, Deb had a grip.
I had not anticipated this major uprising — maybe if it had been October 1917 in Saint Petersberg, Russia, but this was July 4, 1987 and we were just trying to get into the Hippodrome stadium in Paris to see U2 during their Joshua Tree tour.
This complete crunching chaos was just to get into the stadium. Next, after the crowd was calming into more of a consistent wave, three guys came charging like a tank or bulldozer with a portion of a metal gate to push the crush of people back. This was an effort to create some order. However, it seemed like there was better method for crowd control. Honestly, it was like we were bulls at a rodeo being herded into a corner.
After the main entrance gates were finally open, hundreds of people centipeded through to stake their claim near the stage. We moved into a clearing just to get some space. Debbie and I regrouped with Lanny and Ed, our new friends from Alabama whom we had met in line. Meanwhile, the grip both Deb and I had on Ed’s sweater had stretched it out so it was now more like two empty tan fire hoses that were laying out to dry at the fire house.
“Wow,” Ed drawled in his Alabama accent. “I guess I can make a belt outta this.”
Ed checked his backpack, which had been ripped open and he then pulled out a crunched plastic container that, at one point, had had pastries in it. “Well, looks like lunch and dinner are gone,” Lanny said as Ed looked to see if he could salvage anything else.
“Now I know why general seating at concerts is banned in the US,” said Debbie. I couldn’t believe we had made it out alive from that mess. Actually, I couldn’t even believe we were at a U2 show in Europe. This was totally an unplanned event on our “Summer in Europe” itinerary.
Huge U2 fans, Deb and I had visited Wembley Stadium in London, thinking that was the closest we’d get to the band. Then, while traipsing around Paris, Debbie spied a shredded poster advertising an upcoming U2 show. The problem was that we were not going to be in Paris at the time of the show. Determined to see Bono, Larry, Adam and the Edge, Deb figured out a way we could get back up to Paris from the South of France without using all the trips on our rail pass.
With absolutely no provisions for the show, we arrived at the area outside the stadium at 2 p.m. (four hours before the show was scheduled to begin). That is where we met Lanny and Ed. I was wearing a University of Florida shirt; Ed and Lanny spied it from afar and came over since they figured we were Americans.
Finally calmed from the entrance ordeal, we made our way toward the stage, we selected a spot that was probably mid distance in the stadium. After the “Running of the Bulldozers,” I didn’t care that we were not up to the stage.
The ground was embedded with these little white cement pegs. Luckily, with Ed’s newly expanded sweater, we had some sort of cushioning. The sun was out, and it was hot. We wanted water. Lanny and Ed shared some of the water they had left. We could have gone to the concession stand, but decided that trip could wait until later.
The Parisians were very smart to have all brought large Evian bottles that they had frozen so they would have cold water during the event. (This was before the bottled water revolution in the US, so we hadn’t even thought of bottled water).
After a few hours of sitting on the white pegs, we watched UB40 came out to open up. It felt good to stand, which was fortunate because we wouldn’t have a chance to sit down again.
People began moving up again and soon we were — it was nothing like the earlier crush, but you weren’t going anywhere — that was for sure. It was hard to see the stage. Lanny towered over us and most of the people standing near our spot. He and Ed would lift Debbie and me up from time to time so we could get a good look at the bands.
After UB40 and the Pogues, U2 came out and the crowd went crazy. With more than 70,000 people in attendance, the energy of the stadium was frenetic. Although excited, I was distracted mainly by thirst. On a positive note, since we were dehydrated, we didn’t need to go to the bathroom. Jumping up and down, song after song, of course, only made us more thirsty.
A French girl next to us, whom we had bonded with before the show, sang loudly in heavily accented, tone deaf English. After a pause, she told us she was going for some water. She may as well have told us she was going on a reconnaissance mission in the Mekong Delta. We figured we’d never see her again since our spot so many rows deep of people on the ground of the stadium.
However, 30 minutes later, our tone-deaf friend arrived with some food and water. It was like seeing a Red Cross volunteer. She shared a bit of her water with us. Then, she told us how much she loved the lyrics to the next song “Fourth of July,” which was an instrumental. However, that didn’t stop her from singing an imaginary refrain anyway.
That sip of water only intensified my thirst. A discarded bottle of Evian was on the ground in front of us. Still a frozen piece, it had been kicked around by who knows how many concert-goers. It was tempting, nevertheless. I kept looking down at the bottle. Finally, a few songs later, I picked it up and tried to suck on the plastic popsicle. I gave it to Deb, Ed and Lanny.
As the show ended and slowly the crowds of fans began heading out, again, we waited to avoid more throngs of people. We said good-bye to our tone-deaf Red Cross friend.
I looked around at all the happy, bedraggled fans and then saw all the garbage on the ground along with Ed’s stretched out sweater. Of course, it was going to be really cool to tell people we had seen U2 in Paris at a massive, general seating show at the Hippodrome, but I would make sure that the next concert I went to would have nice orderly assigned seats with security, and a drinking fountain nearby.