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LONDON — For most people the Northern Ireland capital city of Belfast is a place synonymous with The Troubles, Ireland’s decades long history of sectarian violence, terrorist atrocities and fear. But the decision to host the 2011 MTV Europe Awards in Belfast feels like a new chapter for the city, says Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly. Connolly, a Belfast native now based in Scotland, says the political transformation wrought over the past decade has made hosting an event like the EMAs possible. Snow Patrol will play a free outdoor concert at Belfast’s City Hall Sunday night, while the Red Hot Chilli Peppers will play another free gig at Ulster Hall. The main EMA event at Belfast’s Odyssey arena, hosted by Selena Gomez, will feature Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Jessie J and Queen. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Connolly, who explained the importance — and for some, inconvenience — of having the massive music awards show in his hometown.
The Hollywood Reporter: Given the immensity of Belfast’s troubled past, how does it feel to have an event like the MTV Europe Music Awards hosted by your hometown?
Nathan Connolly: You wouldn’t have thought about this being possible even ten years ago. It’s hilarious: the city is physically throbbing with excitement about the event. It shows how far the city has come to be able to host something as big as this. It’s an amazing thing for Belfast to have — culturally, musically and financially. The EMAs coming here, it’s like a mini-city itself. There’s a sense of pride, certainly for us. I don’t think anyone thought that these kinds of things were even possible.
THR: Most people know Belfast for its long history of terrorist attacks. Do you think hosting the EMAs can change that?
Connolly: Belfast was always on the map for a completely different reason, it was always negative. And this is incredibly positive. It’s changed the way people feel about the city themselves. Even the way people are talking about Belfast is different. That’s an amazing thing.
THR: What will Snow Patrol be doing at the EMAs?
Connolly: We’re playing an outside venue at City Hall. The preparations have been going on all week and it’s really an amazing thing for the city. At any level we would have felt a little left out if we weren’t here. Because we feel we’re from here, so it’s the right thing to do. But it also feels more special that we are doing a whole [set] outside the main event. We will be playing about an hour or an hour and a half. It feels like we are getting to do our own gig.
THR: What have the preparations been like?
Connolly: Really amazing. When we do our soundcheck, I think it will be like a mini-gig, because they can’t shut off the city so there will be people and an incredible atmosphere — which is frankly just about as exciting as the gig itself. It’s going to be great with the home crowd. We love playing at home. But also, to be part of something like this is different.
THR: How is that?
Connolly: The thing is, Belfast has seen big gigs before but it’s always been one artist at a time, so it’s been U2 or Coldplay or Rihanna. And the Odyssey has had some really big artists and events. But we’ve never had this amount of artists and talent at the same all in the city and all performing at the same time. I think that’s why the city atmosphere is as it is — everyone is incredibly excited.
THR: Can you describe the atmosphere?
Connolly: It’s a little bit overwhelming, actually. I’m certainly going to celebrate with a few drinks this evening, although I think a few people will be cursing us for the stage we have erected outside the City Hall. It’s been stopping the traffic for the last week.