The year is 1973; the setting, Daly City, California.
19-year-old Scot Halpin is seeing the Who perform at the Cow Palace, supporting their Quadrophenia album. After drummer Keith Moon faints not once (he returned to the stage following a cortisone shot), but twice (he would not reappear thereafter), the band announces that they are looking for a substitute to finish out the set. Legendary promoter Bill Graham ventured to the side of the stage and vetted the young upstart with a laconic, “Can you do it?”
After a tepid “yes,” Halpin was brought to the stage, where he was given a shot of brandy to settle his nerves before being lead through blues jams of “Smokestack Lightning” and “Spoonful,” and several of the Who’s more vanilla repertoire. The show was completed, and Halpin would retire after the show. This notorious exploit garnered Halpin the “Pick-Up Player of the Year Award” from Rolling Stone later that year, and a unique place in the mythos of early ’70s rock. Here’s a snippet from Halpin’s performance of “Spoonful.”
That story is the earliest, and most notably legendary instance I managed to source of a fan killing it on stage with their heroes. On this fateful 1973 eve, the band was just trying to give the audience their money’s worth, after the concert’s doomed start, but nowadays, it’s common for bands to invite fans up on stage during their set.
Today, we honor those special fanatics who’ve recently had that spotlight shine on them, and have been able to seize the opportunity and shine back. Here are ten of our faves, in no particular order, and for more stories and historical deep dives like this, sign up for our weekly curated newsletter that collects the best of the musical internet, Soundfly Weekly.
The LA-based comedy-metal band Steel Panther have brought myriad fans on stage with them over the years. Here’s one particular standout.
The verdict is still out on whether or not 11-year-old Aiden’s cover of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” with Steel Panther was pre-arranged, but legend has it this young shredder showed up to the show with a sign that said, “I challenge Satchel to a guitar solo.” Pretty wicked kid, and pretty wicked band for giving him a shot at glory! Aiden gets bonus points for sporting a School of Rock hoodie and learning those EVH solos note-for-note.
The most recent addition to this list is YAYO Sanchez, affectionately called “KISS Guy” by guitarist and frontman, Dave Grohl due to Sanchez’s full Gene Simmons face kit. KISS Guy joined the Foo Fighters on stage in April to perform an absolute crushing rendition of “Monkey Wrench.”
An instant classic version, after a hair-raising solo at 1:55, Grohl can’t even remember the lyrics to his own song because he’s so spellbound. With Jimmy Page-esque major pentatonic licks spread throughout, KISS Guy’s raw blues power shines through at every moment in this clip, culminating at 6:35 with Grohl actually just surrendering and bowing down to him. Sorry, let me copy and paste that bit in case you didn’t read it right the first time. At 6:35 Dave Grohl bows to KISS Guy.
Avenged Sevenfold took a big risk on their Live in the LBC concert DVD by inviting a fan on stage to perform an abridged version of Pantera’s 1993 skull-crusher, “Walk.” Matteo vaults onto the stage, shirtless, with a baseball cap and baggy pants in complete Fred Durst perfection. Matteo may not have the voice of an angel, but his energy totally slaughters. He even hits some of Phil Anselmo’s signature screams, and gives the crowd a boost with his resounding shout of “ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?”
Bonus: At another show in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 2014, the band invited “Steve from Philly” on stage to play lead guitar on “Unholy Confessions.” Steve does such an incredible job that you can even hear singer, M. Shadows telling lead guitarist, Synyster Gates, “Syn, you’re fired.”
Speaking of Pantera, this bootleg concert footage chronicles a face-off between fan, Dusty, and singer, Phil Anselmo, as they battle it out to see who can scream higher. Dusty had a lot of nerve showing up at the show holding a giant white sheet hastily festooned with black paint that read: “I can sing a higher note than the guy in the video.”
Anselmo offers him a “Black Tooth Grin,” the band’s signature drink, but upon realizing he is only 18 years old, offers him a Kool-Aid instead. When they finally get into it, at 3:32, Dusty breaks the sound barrier with his supersonic squeal. Next he tries to match the late guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s artificial harmonics, and does a pretty darn good job, too, until his voice gives out at 4:33.
The Prophet Kendrick Lamar brought a couple of fans on stage during his 2015 tour to perform “m.A.A.d City” with him. Here, on stage at the Sasquatch Festival, Peyton “like Peyton Manning” Renner brings an infectious confidence and attitude with her to give a killer performance worthy of anyone’s respect. And I want you to imagine getting on stage with a superstar to perform fast-flowing rap lyrics in front of thousands of people after an 18-hour day of living a tent, showering with water bottles and eating $32 funnel cakes while staving off dehydration — trust me, I’ve been there.
Lamar is in top form, as always. He even gave a nod to the underestimated power of female artists, acknowledging that, “every time [he] brings a female on stage it almost seems like they always outdid [his] homies.”
Chris Martin makes this German fan’s day, while giving a nod to their respective countries’ “politiks,” by inviting the sign-waving Ferdinand on stage to perform “Everglow.” The pianist went the extra mile by scribbling some chords on his sign, which helped give the Coldplay frontman the confidence to put it on the line in front of nearly 70,000 and let an unknown fan take over. Ferdinand does swimmingly, with the added pressure of having to accompany a pre-recorded Muhammad Ali speech after the song concludes.
Where are they now? Ferdinand is a professional pianist living in Cologne. He has an incredibly aesthetic Instagram profile worthy of a follow.
Green Day has made a habit of asking fans to join them on stage over the years, but this performance by an anonymous hero is one for the books. After scanning the crowd, guitarist and frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong finally finds a willing participant with the secret password: “What key is it in?” “C#.” “Get your ass up here.”
Armstrong gives a little direction regarding the arrangement near the beginning and end, but this little guy doesn’t seem to need it. He absolutely crushes it, and I’ll bet he became the most popular kid at school the following morning. The band sees him off with a few souvenirs and tries to get him on board with a stage dive but, responsibly, he doesn’t go for it.
After getting called up to jam with the band during a VIP soundcheck, fan “Punk Rock Joey” gets to sit in with SoCal pop-punk legends, Blink-182, to close out their set with “Always.” Here’s yet another amazing performance that has me questioning if the bands don’t have clever PR people infiltrating local communities to scout the best young talent before they roll through town.
Jeez, the next time I go to a show, I’m definitely going to hold up one of these signs… Another shameless self-starter, Austin Christy, goes to a John Mayer concert with a sign that reads, “can I please play Belief with you?” And this is what follows. I’m really starting to question my luck. It’s absolute magic.
Iron Maiden gets an honorable mention for bringing a legion of fans on stage every night to sing “Heaven Can Wait” from their 1986 album, Somewhere in Time. Maiden outdoes every band on Earth in the devotion department, and theirs was my first ever metal show! They give back to their fanbase like no other.
Here’s a clip from their 2008 documentary, Flight 666, in which the band brings a swath of Brazilian superfans on stage to sing the gang vocals halfway through the piece, and the South American fans do not disappoint! They give everything they have to be on stage with their favorite band.
And the Winner is…
Come on, we have to give it up to YAYO Sanchez. Undisputed champion. Not only is he a topnotch player, he had the gaul to get on stage with one of the biggest rock and roll bands touring the world right now and absolutely crush it. His performance was flawless, his makeup was ACE (I mean Gene…), and he brought a ton of pro-level energy to the stage!
(P.S., not only does YAYO win this fandom throwdown, at the time of writing, he has 666 likes on his Facebook post about the concert. So he has been blessed by the Metal Gods and will rise swiftly through the ranks of Hell. Congratulations KISS Guy.)
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