U2 fans are a dedicated bunch but none more so than Aaron Sams.
The Nova Scotia native is gearing up for his seventh U2 show in the band’s hometown of Dublin, having jetting in especially for their Croke Park gig on Saturday.
He has seen the band more than 60 times, including the shows at Croker in 2005 and 2009 and a whopping 22 times on the 360 tour, and after tomorrow night’s gig he’ll follow them to Paris for both shows there and then on to Brussels.
Aaron’s family emigrated from Carrickfergus to Nova Scotia nine generations ago but it was his friend’s older sister who introduced him to the Irish band when he was just 10 years old.
“She brought home Under a Blood Red Sky, the live album, and I’d never heard a live album before so listening to the band singing at the end of ‘40’ I was hooked,” he tells Independent.ie
“The next big thing was The Unforgettable Fire – that was the first album I went out and bought myself. And then there was Live Aid right after that.
“I remember sitting on my grandmother’s couch watching Live Aid and just being amazed.”
In 1995 he set up a U2 fan website, u2songs.com, for his final project on a computer science course. It's the oldest U2 fan site still going strong today having gone through various incarnations.
“I probably spend 10-15 hours a week working on it and we have a staff of 5 or six with a guy in Dublin, two in the US and one in Canada all contributing at any point in time,” he says.
“I’m contacted by U2 fans all over the world. I just spoke to a fan in Italy who wants to meet up in Dublin before the show on Saturday.”
U2 fans are, he says, “very generous, very friendly, very open and accepting” and adds, “I think part of it comes from U2 themselves and how they always pushed the idea that we’re one but we’re not the same.”
“Some of my best friends U2 fans, people I just meet up to see concerts with.”
Following the band all over the world on their various tours is an expensive hobby, although Aaron says he has figured out how to do it on a budget.
“Many times I’ve shared hotel rooms or hopped in a car with other fans to go from one city to another so although we do a lot of travel costs are shared among fans.
“The internet has been a blessing. I’ve been doing this since 1997 and back then not a lot of people were on the internet so it was difficult to keep in touch between tours. Now we have Facebook and Twitter and social media – just hop on and send out a little blast and you have a dozen replies in minutes.”
Having seen U2 play “from Honolulu to Istanbul” he says there is a “bit of method to my madness” when choosing which shows to see.
“I try to get to the opening show for that element of surprise and I like to see a closing show as it’s the last time they’ll play for a number of years and then I try to spread out about a month apart in between shows," he reveals.
"They mix it up every month or so, introduce new material once they get more comfortable with things, so I don’t go to everything. The locations play a lot into it as well. I’ve always wanted to go to Brussels so Brussels determined my route for this tour.”
However, seeing the band play their hometown is the best experience.
“Even if they don’t do a special show in Dublin the vibe in Dublin is crazy," he says. "Everywhere you go there are U2 fans roaming the streets, bars with U2 music coming out on the street, it’s really like a gathering of the tribe. Everybody tries to get to Dublin.”
However, having seen U2 in Croke Park in 2005 and 2009 he was surprised by some of the signs which were posted in the local area.
“The first trip was kind of eye-opening to see the response to Bono,” he says. “Some of the signs up around Croke Park were not too flattering to him and as an outsider it really made you realise that maybe these people don’t see the same thing in him we do. I’m sure it’s hard to have thousands of people walking through your neighbourhood though. But it’s odd to see that [response].”
He adds, “I have some good friends who say ‘U2 is a great band but I wish Bono would stop’. He always seems to be the one who gets singled out. He is a bit of a mouthpiece for the band. And he has interests outside of the band that he talks about, meeting politicians and different things, so he’s more divisive.”
In terms of bagging tickets, Aaron says fans help each other out. On the website they will trade tickets. And he’s full of tricks and tips on how to have the best chance of securing tickets to any U2 gig.
“On the day of a show tickets often go on sale at the last minute once they’ve figured out the configuration of the venue,” he says.
“The amount of times I’ve sat in a ticket office all day long just hoping a ticket will drop on the day of a show… I remember being in Zurich in 2010 and spending eight hours in the post office waiting for tickets to go on sale. Five minutes before the show started they did!”
He only met Bono in person once, on his birthday, which is also Bono’s birthday.
“He signed his autograph on a birthday card someone else had given to me. I think he thought I wanted it signed. He said, ‘I’ve never met anyone born on May 10th that I don’t like’. Hi daughter was born on the same day so I think that’s what he meant!”