TAMPA — Thursday is rehearsal night for the band at Relevant Church. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing on national television on Thursday, and the guitarist wanted to watch.
So the band moved practice a day earlier.
Knowing Sunday's sermon would focus on the pitfalls of pride and arrogance, Carl von dem Bussche, the church's creative arts pastor and the band's lead singer, picked out a song he felt fit perfectly: Demons by indie rock group Imagine Dragons. Demons' lyrics — Don't get too close, it's dark inside, it's where my demons hide — exemplified how people conceal hidden flaws, he thought.
But when the band gathered Wednesday night at their church in Ybor City, it was clear that no one but von dem Bussche knew how to play Demons. The band muddled through a first try.
At the same time, another band had just finished its set at the Ritz Ybor theater, just across the alley. Some of the musicians were hanging outside the stage door, discussing a few frustrating technical problems. As they leaned against a wall, they felt a vibration and heard something familiar.
"Bizarre," said Ryan Walker, the touring keyboardist.
"That's not my voice," said Dan Reynolds, the lead singer. "But it sounded really good." Reynolds began running around the building, knocking and kicking on every door he saw.
Back inside, the church band fumbled to the finish on Demons, and only then heard the knocks. It was after 10 p.m., so bassist Mark Allen followed closely behind von dem Bussche — just in case.
Von dem Bussche swung the door open and saw five men in their 20s.
One of them asked, "What song are you guys playing?"
"It's this band called Imagine Dragons," von dem Bussche replied. "You might not have heard of them."
The men laughed.
Von dem Bussche had only learned hours before that Imagine Dragons happened to be opening for AWOL Nation at the Ritz Ybor theater that night. He had regretted rescheduling practice because he would have rather attended the show.
Now he wondered if he was staring at the Las Vegas band that has played on the Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
"So for real, are you guys them?" he asked.
Reynolds, the singer, tried to play coy but then laughed again and said yeah.
"Can we come in?" they asked.
Reynolds, Walker, guitarist Wayne Sermon and two crew members looked around, asking von dem Bussche where they were. The Relevant crew explained that they were in a church and told them they often play rock covers such as Demons.
"Hey, play it for us," one of them asked.
"We don't know it," John B. Sutton, Relevant's guitarist, replied.
But a few weeks ago, the church members had covered Radioactive, another Imagine Dragons song. So they played the loud, pounding tune for their guests.
Imagine Dragons stood and cheered.
"The vocals, man, sound great," von dem Bussche said Reynolds told him. "But you got a couple lyrics wrong."
Von dem Bussche had used an Internet site for the lyrics; the real authority set him straight. Sutton, the guitarist, asked the band to help them with Demons, so Sermon mounted the stage along with bassist Ben McKee and showed their counterparts how to play it.
Imagine Dragons hung out for about 45 minutes. Before they left, they offered tickets to their sold out House of Blues show Thursday night in Orlando.
Sutton never did get to see the Bucs.
Times staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report. Justin George is a member of Relevant Church and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 226-3368 or on Twitter @justingeorge.