Encores have become a given during live shows, but special guests offer the added element of surprise to a performance. Whether it’s a collaborator on a recent album, a friend, or family member brought out for a surprise duet with the headliner, seeing artists unite onstage is like seeing the bonus tracks of an album come to life.
Artists across ages and genres have come together for surprise encores making musical history, and the tradition continues today. Even though we live our lives through screens, with streaming services that allow us to re-watch performances online, or see them in real time from anywhere in the world, nothing beats standing among the crowd — especially when a legend enters the stage for an unexpected duet during the finale.
We’ve rounded up our picks of some of the most powerful performances with surprise special guests in recent memory:
Jay Z, Coachella, Indio, CA, 2010
Special Guest: Beyonce
We can never get enough of Beyonce, and the crowds can’t seem to either. A year after releasing his groundbreaking and acclaimed album The Blueprint 3, Jay Z took the Coachella stage and became the first-ever rapper to headline the popular SoCal music fest. During the encore he brought out his wife Beyoncé to sing a duet of “Young Forever.”
We also can’t fail to mention this incredible moment during Coachella 2014, when Beyoncé’s sister Solange welcomed her to the stage for a choreographed dance to “Losing You,” which Solange typically performs with Blood Orange.
You need to watch it for yourself to fully appreciate the love and dance moves: Solange and Beyoncé dancing at Coachella
Mumford & Sons, Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN, 2015
Special guests: Dawes, The War on Drugs, Hozier, My Morning Jacket, Danny Clinch, Ed Helms
At the same festival where they dressed up in animal costumes and roamed the grounds covertly filming the music video for “The Wolf,” Mumford & Sons played an epic set that culminated in an explosive encore of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The band indeed had some help from their friends, welcoming to the stage members of Dawes, the War on Drugs, Hozier, and My Morning Jacket, Danny Clinch and actor Ed Helms to perform the song.
A fan captured the event: Mumford and Sons Performing at Bonnaroo 2015 with a Little Help From Their Friends
Billy Joel, Fenway Park, Boston, MA, 2014
Special guest: Zac Brown
Entering the two-hour stretch of his characteristically long performances, The Boss brought Zac Brown (Zac Brown Band) onstage for a spirited duet of “You May Be Right,” during the encore of his 2014 performance at Fenway Park in Boston. The two alternated verses before a sold-out crowd. Known fans of Joel, Zac Brown Band often performs covers of his song “Piano Man.” Brown would perform on the same stage the following day.
Watch the epic performance here: Billy Joel Zac Brown Fenway Park You May Be Right
Smashing Pumpkins, KOKO, London, England, 2014
Special Guest: Marilyn Manson
During a tour in 2014 supporting their album Monuments of Elegy, Billy Corgan and co. played their first UK show with a brand-new touring lineup. Performing classic songs like, “Butterfly with Bullet Wings,” and “Disarm,” the band ended their set at KOKO in Camden with “Ava Adore,” and brought out enigmantic industrial-rock herald Marilyn Manson. Promoting his own then-to-be-released album The Pale Emperor, Manson also performed his song “Third Day of a Seven-Day Binge,” onstage that night. Fans keeping a close watch may have anticipated his guest-spot during the show, as he made reference to it earlier that month, noting the bands just might end up together onstage as they were both in the UK.
See footage from the performance here: The Smashing Pumpkins – Ava Adore (LIVE) 3-Cam Mix December 5th 2014 in London with Marilyn Manson
Andrew Bird, The Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA, 2016
Special Guest: Fiona Apple
As part of his tour supporting his brand-new album Are You Serious, Andrew Bird played two consecutive to a sold-out crowd at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. To the delight of many fans, Bird invited Fiona Apple onstage for part of the performance and again for an encore. Apple is featured on Bird’s track “Left-Handed Kisses,” off of Are You Serious, so hopeful fans were awaiting her entrance to the stage.
See them “Left-Handed Kisses” live: Andrew Bird & Fiona Apple – “Left Handed Kisses” – Live at The Theatre at Ace Hotel
James Taylor, Taco Bell Arena, Boise ID, 2016
Special Guest: Carole King
Known to be an extremely personable and jovial performer, folk hero and five-time grammy winner James Taylor made a great impression on the crowd in Boise, Idaho in July. Currently on tour across the US, with stops in Boston and Nashville, Taylor brought out frequent collaborator Carole King (they two recorded a live album at the Troubador in Los Angeles in 2010) for an encore at the Taco Bell Arena, and fans noted it as the best part of the show.
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