U2 guitarist The Edge and
Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong
Jazzfest producer Quint Davis is a third-generation New Orleanian who remembers seeing models of the Superdome on his family's kitchen table while his father's firm was designing the plans for the city's centerpiece in the late 1960s.
He's also been a certified Who Dat since around the same time, with his passion for the New Orleans Saints nearly equaling his lifelong devotion to music.
So it goes without saying that being involved with the pregame musical production headlined by rock titans U2 and Green Day on the night the Dome reopened after Hurricane Katrina five years ago Sunday is almost unmatched in a life filled with some pretty spectacular moments.
"Well, I mean, top whatever, top 2, top 5. That's a lifelong ...," Davis said, admittedly not being able to find the right words to describe his emotions. "If you're a lifelong music person, a lifelong Saints person and a lifelong New Orleans person, that's a lot of stuff coming together at one time."
The performance lasted less than 10 minutes, but it will always be cherished as one of the most indelible memories from one of the most emotional nights in New Orleans' proud history.
U2 and Green Day, both at the height of their stardom, took the stage together for the first time, flanked by the local flavor of the Rebirth and New Birth brass bands, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Gregory Davis and Big Sam.
They altered the lyrics of familiar songs to turn them into New Orleans anthems -- "When September Ends," "The House of the Rising Sun," "Beautiful Day." And they breathed new life into an obscure Scottish punk song called, "The Saints are Coming."
They elicited cheers and tears from more than 70,000 fans, cranking up the emotion and the volume as a national-television audience got to watch the city actually revel and celebrate for the first time after a year of much bleaker broadcasts.
Fortunately, the Saints did their part to make sure the celebration lasted and the good vibrations lingered. But five years later, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't mention the music somewhere in their description of that spectacular night:
"The Dome reopened. U2 and Green Day rocked the house. Steve Gleason blocked the punt. The Saints won."
"One of the best days of my life," said Phil Frazier, the founder and tuba player for the Rebirth Brass Band. "The energy and everything was so strong and vivid. Like a magic moment, so strong you can't explain it. You just had to enjoy the moment."
Frazier, too, said his passion for the Saints is right up there with his devotion to music. He's got a replica Super Bowl ring and car decked out with Saints gear.
"Did I stay and watch the game?! (Expletive)!" Frazier said, quickly apologizing for the emphatic choice of words. "You know, I loved the music too, but the blocked punt brought it to a whole 'nother level. Like it was happening all over again."
Davis can appreciate that sentiment. He said he was so hysterical when the Saints scored on Gleason's blocked punt and Curtis Deloatch's recovery in the opening minutes of the game that he grabbed legendary television producer Ken Ehrlich and ripped his "beautiful, embroidered shirt."
"Not exactly into shreds," Davis said. "But beyond repair."
The 'perfect' tribute song
Some moments, like that one, could not be scripted. The musical production, however, was crafted over several weeks by some of the entertainment industry's top creative minds.
SPN put its muscle and its money behind the "Monday Night Football" pregame production, enlisting people like Ehrlich, producer David Saltz and director Hamish Hamilton, the men behind events like the Grammys, the Academy Awards and Super Bowl halftime shows, among countless other events.
The company brought in legendary rock producer Bob Ezrin and U2 guitarist The Edge, who were among the co-founders of Music Rising, a charity created to support flooded-out New Orleans musicians. It worked with top music video director Chris Milk. And of course, it reached out to Davis' Festival Productions Inc., which knows a thing or two about staging major music events in the city, having developed both Jazzfest and the Essence Music Festival.
"When it first started to fall together, Ken called me and said, 'Look, I need you to work with me to produce this thing,'" Davis recalled. "I said, 'Oh yeah. Hell (expletive) yeah.' "
Another high-profile rock band, the Goo Goo Dolls, were brought in to do a pregame show outside the Dome. And local treasures Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint were tabbed to perform the national anthem.
The main attraction, meanwhile, was a big idea that snowballed into an even bigger one as the process went on.
In the early stages, The Edge and Ezrin had talked about bringing together a collection of top rock guitarists to perform a tribute. But The Edge couldn't shake the idea of remaking "The Saints are Coming," which got stuck in his head because of the obvious connection to the team's nickname.
He first reached out to Green Day to see if the band would be interested in performing the song, which it was. But as Davis recalled, "somewhere along the line" The Edge talked to his own bandmates in U2 about it, and they wanted to be a part of it, too.
"Then he had to go back to Green Day and say, 'Look, I've got this other band. I can't really turn them down,'" Davis joked. "'So let's all do this together.'"
The song itself was an unusual choice, to say the least.
Originally written and performed by a Scottish punk band called The Skids, the song reportedly was inspired by a friend of the band who joined the British Army to escape life as a miner and died while fighting in Northern Ireland.
Saints owner/executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc remembers being skeptical while she was involved with the NFL's approval of the song.
"Listening to the original, I had to cringe," LeBlanc said of a song she described as "an extremely harsh and barely understandable punk song."
But she said the bands were passionate about the choice, so she "took a deep breath and said OK."
That same song made her cry, she said, when she first heard U2 and Green Day performing it during the rehearsal in the Dome the night before the game. And she made a point to take a break from all the press conferences and meet-and-greets before the game to join her mom upstairs in a suite to watch the performance the next night.
"The song was perfect," LeBlanc said. "Resilient, defiant, happy. It was everything New Orleans is and our team would become."
U2, Green Day take to N.O.
Davis still marvels at the lasting impact of that song, which has "woven itself into the fabric of New Orleans' culture" and became a "hit song" outside of New Orleans. It even made its way onto one of U2's greatest hits CDs, "U218 Singles."
"Think about what The Edge did. He conceived this thing, put it together, arranged for his band to play it and put the horns in it, recorded it," Davis said of the song, which was recorded in the famed Abbey Road studio in London, where Trombone Shorty was flown in to provide the authentic accompaniment.
"That's really, really awesome," Davis said. "And now, you hear it everywhere. And every time I hear it, it triggers me back to that night."
The song has also raised a lot of money for New Orleans musicians. Music Rising has received $1.2 million in royalties from sales and downloads of the single over the past five years.
That's the kind of impact everyone involved wanted to make in New Orleans. They weren't just putting on a show, they were embracing the community.
The Edge and U2's lead singer, Bono, dived into New Orleans' musical culture when Davis took them to see a second line that was taking place across Simon Bolivar on Jackson.
"They went and got in the street with the second line," Davis said.
Green Day's lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong spent hours on the Superdome field before sound check, playing football with his kids while donning a Saints helmet.
And both bands added a local twist to their performances inside the Superdome. Armstrong fired up the crowd with his riff on the Animals' classic, singing, "There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Superdome ..."
And Bono rewrote most of U2's hit, "Beautiful Day," with lines like, "the Ninth will rise again above Lake Pontchartrain."
"We all knew that this was like the first Jazzfest and like the first Mardi Gras (after Katrina), one of the defining happenings," said Davis, who said the most emotional moment came for him during one of the rehearsals, when he met one of the band members who had been sheltered in the Superdome during those dark days after the storm.
"The reopening of the Dome, where all the horrible stuff happened, combined with the return of the Saints. Coming into that thing, it was just this big catharsis emotionally for what the Dome represented," Davis said. "What we were involved in was extraordinary on many levels. ... And we hope absolutely unequaled.
"It's like putting on that first Jazzfest after the flood, Bruce Springsteen up there on the stage and people crying. It was extraordinary. And we never want it to happen again."