TAMPA — Aaron Waxler said he'd been playing guitar for three years. Billie Joe Armstrong didn't believe him.
What, do you know like three chords? the singer asked Aaron, 10, during Green Day's concert Tuesday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre.
Aaron nodded, eyes earnest. Armstrong kept scanning the crowd. But he came back to Aaron and gave him the wave: Get on up here, kid.
And that's how Aaron, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Trinity Oaks Elementary School in New Port Richey, ended up shredding with Green Day in front of 13,000 fans.
Of all the crowd-participation moments during Green Day's concert — a young girl stage-diving on Know Your Enemy, a fan singing along to Longview — Aaron's moment in the spotlight was the most rousing. Armstrong pulls a young wannabe rock star on stage to play with the band at every show, and in Tampa, that rock star was Aaron. By the end of their performance of Operation Ivy's Knowledge, the crowd was chanting his name.
"I was like, Oh my god, this is actually happening!" Aaron, who lives in Odessa, said Wednesday. "It was awesome. You're getting taught by a legendary rock star."
REVIEW: Green Day pleases the masses with epic concert at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre Aaron, whose favorite bands include Imagine Dragons and Twenty One Pilots, is a Green Day fan. So's his dad, Erik Waxler, a reporter with WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa. They had scouted out previous Green Day concerts on YouTube, and knew what Armstrong might do. So when the moment came, Aaron hopped on his dad's shoulders to try to stand out.
Originally, Armstrong tried to teach Aaron three chords, but then simplified it to one to help Aaron overcome his anxiety.
"I was a bit nervous, because when you're looking off the stage, you can see everyone, and everyone's face is looking at you," he said. But after a quick lesson, he knew the chord well enough to hop atop a speaker at the center of the stage. "There, I'm like, I got this," he said.
At Armstrong's urging, Aaron punctuated the song by leaping off the speaker and then a drum riser. And at the end, Armstrong told Aaron he could keep the guitar ... sort of. Backstage, Aaron received a new Epiphone guitar autographed by the band; it was similar, but not identical, to Armstrong's. Walking out with it after the show, he said, he felt like a celebrity.
"People started taking pictures with me," he said. "Everyone's coming over and taking pictures with the guitar."
On Wednesday at school, he told parents and friends wearing T-shirts from the previous night; none of them could believe that was him. And as news about Hurricane Irma dampened spirits across Tampa Bay, he still found his own soaring high.
"Everyone's been talking about the hurricane and how it's going to hit certain areas, and when I got up on stage, I just forgot about everything," he said. What stuck with him is "that excitement of being up there, not only with the band, but being up on that stage in front of thousands of people."
Aside from those three years of lessons, Aaron has played in guitar camp and written some lyrics here and there.
"We're hoping this inspires him to play more on his own," Erik said. "He's got a nice guitar to play with now."
Aaron's already thinking further down the line.
"I definitely want to start taking lessons again and getting better at guitar, because you never know, this stuff could happen again," he said. "I want to be prepared."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.