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U2 mega-fans gear up for Baltimore's biggest show of the year

U2 (music group)BonoRock and Roll (genre)Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and MuseumUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County

Don't try to convince Jason Siemer that Wednesday's U2 concert is only a rock show. He knows better.

"For me, U2 is about a spiritual connection," says Siemer, 36, who runs a video production company out of his Locust Point home. "I literally cry at every U2 concert. There is a powerful energy that you cannot help but feel."

Jill Marino, who will be coming from New Jersey for the show, may not be as emotional, but she's just as excited. "After this summer, I will have seen them 16 times," she says. "And I'm always ready for more."

Upwards of 75,000 fans should be showing up at M&T Bank Stadium to feel that energy Wednesday. And while not all of them are so excited at the prospect that they're ready to cry, plenty are pretty psyched. This is, after all, not any rock band, but U2 — members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sellers of umpteen millions of albums over their 34-year history and, by all accounts, four guys who put on one heckuva show.

Baltimore is becoming downright giddy in anticipation of U2's appearance Wednesday. Parties are being organized throughout the city, while bus companies are offering special packages for concertgoers. The show's promoters have scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon just to show off the massive stage from which the group will be performing.

"It's an event," says Rodrigo Salazar, 34, who will be coming down from his home in Norwalk, Conn., for Wednesday's concert — one of four U2 shows he's planning to attend this year. "The music just takes you over when you are there. It's an indescribable feeling."

For Mike Oettel, a 31-year-old administrator at UMBC, U2 offers the full package, in ways that newer bands simply can't match. "It's the show, it's the music," he says. "You have these pop artists today who put out stuff — it's catchy, but in two or three years, where are they going to be? U2's stuff, it's built for generations, it's not just for this time."

Getting U2 to play here is quite the feather in Baltimore's cap, fans and city boosters say, another refutation of the idea that Charm City is somehow a second-rate concert location.

"It definitely puts Baltimore in that league of cities that have the ability to host a major tour," says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. "It shows that concert promoters feel they can make money in Baltimore, and that's a good thing."

WTMD morning disc jockey Erik Deatherage, a fan since at least the mid-1980s, says the concert makes him proud of his city. "I'm always excited to see U2, but the fact that they're going to be in my hometown, that's a bonus," he says. "Score one for Baltimore."

For diehard fans like Jenny Carpenter, 37, Wednesday can't get here fast enough. U2 was the first rock band she ever saw live, and her obsession with the band has never waned. She and her friend, Nicole Giroux, 37, stop just short of being stalkers.

"We will get to Ireland and stay in their hotel and drink in their bar," she says. "We have staked out D.C. when Bono is on town for congressional hearings and had the opportunity to meet him in the lobby of his hotel. He was a gentleman and obliged us with a picture for a couple of groupie girls."

For real fans, it seems, the passing years make little difference.

Phil Romans has been a fan since 1986, when he scored a copy of the band's "Boy" album, courtesy of his sister. He's been a serious fan ever since, seeing the group live 35 times, helps run the U2tours.com website and once coordinated an auction of fan photos that raised more than $22,000 for the African Well Fund, a charity supported by U2's lead singer, Bono.

"They are so much bigger than anyone else that is out there right now," Romans says. "I remember taking friends who had never seen them to a concert, and they turn to me and are, like, 'I see the light now, I understand what you were doing all this time.'

"It's all for the love of the music," Romans says of his U2 infatuation. "Their music is big and has grandeur, it speaks to you. Yes, the music itself can stand alone, but being able to enjoy it with a lot of people I know from around the world, and have that feeling of community, it's just amazing."

At 36 and married with a couple of kids, Romans concedes that he's not the obsessed fan he used to be. But he still wasted no time getting tickets for Wednesday's show, and he doubts it will be his last.

"The fervor is still there," he says, a tad wistfully. "The heart is willing, but the time is not."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

U2 performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday at M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St. Tickets are $40.10-$277.55. A limited number of tickets were available as of late last week. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com

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