By now, you might not think it’s possible for U2 to make history in ways that they haven’t already, given the band’s 41-year career. Nevertheless, this past Friday, the iconic Irish group added to their list of achievements by playing their first-ever festival headliner slot at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Like most U2 shows, the set was unforgettable— they performed the entirety of their 1987 hit album The Joshua Tree to a packed audience of young festival-goers, the majority of whom were toddlers or possibly not even born when the album was first released. Bono acknowledged the generation shift with an endearing proclamation to the crowd: “These songs belong to you now.”
Several songs off the band’s iconic album are tracks that are still regularly played today, and most music lovers can identify them instantly. Based on the reactions from the crowd, you’d never guess that there’s a sizable age gap between the album and the festival’s audience— the average age of Bonnaroo attendees is 23, seven years younger than The Joshua Tree itself.
One of the secrets of U2’s career longevity is the universality of the lyrics and messages of their songs. Take their set-opener, the protest anthem “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” for example— while it was originally written about the unrest in Northern Ireland, virtually every culture can relate to the message of disbelief in times of war and epidemic.
Bono made sure to give love to more recent tragedies as well, dedicating “One Tree Hill” to Chris Cornell’s oldest daughter, Lily, three weeks after her father’s death.
The rock legend also gave shoutouts to The xx and Chance the Rapper, two notable performances from the four-day festival. They even gave a nod to Saturday headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers by slipping a few lines of “Under the Bridge” into the bridge of “Beautiful Day,” which got the crowd roaring in anticipation for the Chili Peppers’ set the next day.
Lightening the mood of the night, Bono, a father of four, ended what has since been called an all-time Bonnaroo great performance with the dad joke to end all dad jokes: “What an extraordinary thing Bonnaroo is. Thank you for naming it after me.”