(Note from Bob: Back in the mid-1980s, I was a stringer for the St. Petersburg Times, covering pop music and interviewing musicians. A few days ago, the paper dug up my story on a very special night at the University of South Florida Sun Dome. I remember it like it was yesterday for several reasons: 1) It was probably the first time that editors trusted me to take a portable computer (too big to be a “laptop!) to a concert; 2) The strange looks said device attracted; and 3) The company of my friend Tim’s wife, Bridget. I was also very proud of the enterprise reporting that went into tracking down the kid described in the story. Hope you enjoy it, almost 25 years later!)

(In celebration of U2‘s concert Friday at Raymond James Stadium, we’re revisiting some of the band’s most memorable Tampa performances over the past 30 years. Today, we present Bob Andelman’s St. Pete Times review of U2’s concert at the USF Sun Dome on May 2, 1985 — the Unforgettable Fire Tour.)
For Matt Simmons, the sold-out U2 concert was one he won’t soon forget.

After all, how many 15-year-old kids can brag that they played guitar with the hottest band in the world, and in front of 11,200 screaming, envious fans?

It began when U2 came out for the first of two encores during its Thursday night show at the USF Sun Dome. Lead singer Bono had been talking about learning to play guitar, and how anybody could do it. With that, the band launched into a cover of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. (Click here to listen.)

Midway into the song, Bono asked if there weren’t some guitar players in the audience. Suddenly everyone knew how to play.

“Everyone we were with knew (Matt) could play and pointed at him,” explained his sister, Rosemary, 17. Bono was paying attention and soon the Lakewood High School sophomore — dressed in Bermuda shorts and wearing a sleeveless, untucked shirt — was accepting the singer’s own guitar and slipping it over his shoulder.

“I thought I was going to freeze up,” Simmons said later. “I guess I did okay.”

Much to the band’s surprise — and everyone else’s — Simmons accepted the guitar without missing a beat. As he got into the song, first Bono, then lead guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton left the stage. For several minutes, Simmons — who has played for two years and has portrayed Bono in lip sync contests — was living out the ultimate rock fantasy.

“I was totally freakin’ when they left me by myself,” he said, wondering to himself, “Are they coming back, or what?”

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