Charles Alm has a big birthday present in mind this year for his musical hero, Bono.
In fact, the gift will cost upward of $30,000 — even though the U2 singer probably won't ever use it.
Alm, the manager and guitarist of tribute band the Joshua Tree, will bring the Irish band's songbook to Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Newport Beach for the church's first-ever "U2charist" on Saturday. The event, which combines U2 songs with a traditional Eucharist service, seeks to raise donations for the African Well Fund's "Build a Well for Bono's Birthday" campaign.
The well isn't for Bono, of course, who turns 54 on Saturday. The nonprofit, which was founded by U2 fans in 2002, raises funds to establish clean-water facilities in Africa, and it currently has its sights set on a village in Angola. For Alm, whose band has played U2charists before, combining the band's music with religion — and philanthropy — comes naturally.
"Our first show was in a church," he said. "We rehearsed for the first couple years, when we were rehearsing every week, at a church that myself and our drummer were attending. So playing at a church and doing something like this is kind of, in some ways, like home for us, 'cause that's where we came from when we started the band."
It doesn't take much of a stretch to weave lyrics from "Sunday Bloody Sunday" ("The real battle yet begun / to claim the victory Jesus won") and "40" ("I waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry") into Biblical text. "Walk On" ("The only baggage you can bring / is all that you can't leave behind") will play Saturday as the offering is being collected, while "Yahweh" ("Take these hands / teach them what to carry") will accompany the procession.
The Right Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce, who will serve as celebrant for the Saint Michael & All Angels event, oversaw a U2charist several years ago at St. Clement's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente. Although she's never seen Irish quartet live, she calls herself "a fan for forever."
"For me, the music of U2 is really, in some ways, a series of psalms," she said. "And so, as we tend to sing the psalms in church, the music of U2 sings like psalms. It talks about the human condition. It talks about love. It talks about struggle. It talks about everything that we human beings go through.
"And a lot of the music, when you listen to the music of U2, is talking about love, doing things in the name of love, being love. There's no greater gospel message than that."
Rob Trigalet, chairman of the African Well Fund, said he hears about two to four U2charists in a typical year. Theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer takes credit on her website for organizing the first such event in Maryland in 2004.
The Angola project, Trigalet said, was originally estimated as three wells and three latrines in the Ebo municipality of the Kwanza Sul Province in Angola. The nonprofit, though, is looking to double the expand the cost from $30,000 to $60,000 after receiving an unexpected gift from a donor.
Every year, the nonprofit honors the singer with a "Build a Well for Bono's Birthday" campaign, the title of which nods to Bono's longtime advocacy for better living conditions in the Third World. (The group's website specifies that it is not affiliated with Bono, U2 or the band's management.)
Alm, who has friends on the African Well Fund's board of directors, said his band models its live arrangements closely after U2's. He first saw the group in concert when he drove with a group of friends to Arizona in 1987 and, in the process, witnessed a piece of U2 history in person.
"Those two shows ended up being what is the color footage in the 'Rattle and Hum' movie," he said. "And I was a senior in high school, and we got out for our Christmas break on Friday, and me and some friends drove all the way to Arizona for the concerts Saturday and Sunday. And since then, I've lost count of how many shows I've seen."
If You Go
Where: Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 3233 Pacific View Drive, Newport Beach
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Free, but donations welcome
Information: (949) 644-0463 or http://www.stmikescdm.orgCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun