The Lumineers on Opening for 'Legendary' U2 and How Fans Hijacked 'Ho Hey'

Wesley Schultz of the Lumineers talks U2 summer tour and their current Cleopatra World Tour


The Lumineers didn’t think anything could shock them after their meteoric rise to fame following their 2012 breakout hit, “Ho Hey.” But when they learned that they sold out not just one, but two shows at Madison Square Garden this month for their Cleopatra World Tour (following their sophomore album), they were floored.

“It blew my mind,” lead vocalist and guitarist Wesley Schultz tells PEOPLE. “MSG is this right of passage — this gauge of how well you’re doing.”

“I remember listening to the Jay Z song [“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”] where he says, ‘You gotta pardon Jay, for sellin’ out the Garden in a day, I’m like a young Marvin in his hey.’ I used to sing that driving around in my car while I was working as a bartender and waiter and barista, and to have now done that, it’s pretty surreal.”

The surprises continued when the Lumineers were recently asked to join U2 for their upcoming 30th anniversary tour of their most beloved album, The Joshua Tree.

“We felt so spoiled and lucky for all the breaks we got after our first album, and now we’re opening for U2. Everything is like that movie, That Thing You Do I feel like I’m stuck in a movie,” Schultz says with a laugh.

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For the band, this opportunity gives them another chance at opening for a veteran act.

“When we first started out, we were offered some pretty amazing opening slots from bands I grew up listening to and we pretty much said no to all of them because we were intent on playing to our own audiences,” he says. “So I feel like this is a second chance at getting closer to and learning from a band as legendary as U2.

“They have this amazing staying power and timelessness. I was a kid when Joshua Tree was all over the radio. It’s almost like it’s always been around me.”

And he’s not the only one excited about the group’s sought-after spot.

“I’ve gotten more calls from random people coming out of the woodwork about tickets to the U2 show than I ever had for any of our shows!” he admits. “So it shows you they span generations. Their music lives with people.”

Along with fellow band members Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek, Schultz has gotten used to playing packed arenas — a major departure from the living rooms the trio played when they first started out. But they still strive to create an intimate feel at their shows.

“With a house show, there’s so much room for nuance, but we’re still trying to create a level of intimacy,” Schultz says. “I saw Bruce Springsteen play at Giants Stadium a long time ago and I had maybe the second-worst seats in the building, and I felt like I was right next to him. I think it was the stories he told, how he brought you in.”

Schultz admits it took him some time to come around to the idea of sharing stories between songs.

“I felt like these songs are paintings. You don’t get to go to a museum and hear the painter describe to you what he meant by each brush stroke or the inspiration for the painting, so I was reluctant to share anything,” he says. “I thought the songs should stand on their own. But I think a song like ‘Charlie Boy,’ (about his uncle who died in the Vietnam War), for example, has been an important story for me to share.”

Another song that now has new meaning is their monster hit, “Ho Hey.”

“It’s evolved greatly,” Shultz says. “I heard this quote from Bono, actually, where he said a lot of people use the song ‘One’ as a first dance at a wedding, and he said that’s when he realized people put their own imprint on a song because that song was about a really bad breakup.

“The same is true for ‘Ho Hey.’ It was about breaking up with a person and breaking up with a city — leaving New York. It’s a pretty sad song. And just yesterday, I met a fan who said he proposed to his wife while playing that song. So when I play it now, it’s almost like I’m playing a cover song. It doesn’t feel like our song, it feels like their song. It took on a life of its own.”

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