NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and three young people being treated at the Clinical Center recently
enjoyed a U2 concert at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. U2 guitarist and vocalist David Howell Evans, known better as the Edge, invited the group onstage before the concert for a few practice guitar licks and photo opportunities.
|On stage before the U2 concert, the Edge (r) lets NIH director Dr. Francis Collins take a few practice licks, as Clinical Center patients (from l) Nachiketa Bhatnagar, Lauren Weller and Andrew Windland watch. “Oh, I just played a little 12-bar blues,” Collins said later.
||A guitar enthusiast, Windland takes a turn on Edge’s amped-up 6-string. Later, Edge autographed the guitar Windland brought with him.
The Edge, who sits on the board of directors of the Angiogenesis Foundation, had visited Collins last October to talk about cancer research. When the “U2360°” tour came near the Washington, D.C., area, Collins, himself an avid guitarist and rock music enthusiast, invited a few CC patients to visit the Edge and experience U2 in concert.
“I’d met the Edge last fall and we’d hit it off,” Collins said. “He’d mentioned then that perhaps when U2 played in this area, I could come to the show. It was actually my wife, Diane Baker, who suggested that maybe several young U2 fans at the Clinical Center might also enjoy seeing the concert.”
A group of 8 attended the show from NIH. The young people were each accompanied by one family member. Collins and Baker paid for their own concert
tickets. Attendees gave the experience a rave review, appreciating the event on a deeper level.
“The whole show was about more than just the music,” said CC patient Lauren Weller, age 26. “You could tell they cared about important issues. It was very personal.”
Indeed, the Edge has a personal connection to health issues beyond his membership on the AF board. His daughter Sian is a leukemia survivor.
Guitar in hand, Weller chats with the Edge.
On stage with the Edge and Collins are Weller, Windland and Bhatnagar, accompanied by family members. Also shown is Dr. William Li (l) of the Angiogenesis Foundation.
Photos: Diane Baker
“In addition to being a guitar wizard, Edge is a very thoughtful guy,” Collins said. “He has, of course, phenomenal skills as a guitarist, but he also has an impressive ability to learn about things that are not easy for a lot of people to wrap their brains around.”
The NIH group spent about an hour pre-concert with the Edge, chatting and generally
just hanging out.
“When we got there, we were first shown to the green room,” Collins recalled. “A bit later, Edge showed up to meet us. He was very gracious. He took us all on a tour backstage. Because the show is 360 degrees, backstage is actually
under the stage. We got to see all the control
boards, and we met Edge’s guitar technician,
“Then, to my surprise, Edge said, ‘Let’s go up on stage.’ So there we were, in an arena that seats about 82,000, looking out over a few thousand in the audience who had arrived early. Edge hands over a guitar that is already hooked to the sound system. He was really very attentive to the kids. A couple of them knew a little bit about guitars, and when Edge slipped that guitar on their shoulders—that was priceless! Cancer just sort of slipped into the background for awhile.”
During the visit, the Edge also hand-delivered to one youngster a pair of sunglasses worn by U2 lead singer Bono and autographed a guitar brought by patient Andrew Windland, age 12.
“It was pretty cool,” concluded 17-year-old CC patient Nachiketa Bhatnagar.
Partway through the concert, Collins got another
surprise: Bono sent him a shout-out.
“That generated a lot of calls and emails later from friends,” Collins admitted, laughing. “Most of them were saying, ‘You weren’t really at the concert, were you?’ and I said ‘Of course I was. Why wouldn’t I be at a U2 concert!’”
In fact, Collins had met Bono previously and they had talked about the singer’s commitment to the global health effort.
“I really admire all of the great work the band is doing,” concluded Collins. “They obviously have this celebrity status and they have made a conscious
decision to use that status for good.”
After the concert, Collins said he and the rest of the group were “exhilarated and exhausted, but we all were talking about how meaningful the evening had been. We all agreed—even the young people for whom it’s probably not cool to admit being impressed by something—even they agreed that it had been a once in a lifetime experience.”—Maggie
McGuire, Carla Garnett