Kansas City: land of BBQ and bitchin’ air

Date:June 8th, 2018
Venue: The Record Bar
City: Kansas City, MO
Host: Eric “Mean” Melin

Ever since the city first entered the US Air Guitar fold in 2011, Kansas City has been a hub for the sport. Not only is it home to 2013 World Champion Eric “Mean” Melin, but his enthusiastic presence and passion for air guitar has been more than influential to people in the area. Friday’s show was yet another one for the books, but as Melin himself said, it represented “a changing of the guard.”

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First off, Melin’s hard work with sponsorships and promotion has always led to not just a huge crowd, but many competitors. In the past, it hasn’t been uncommon in the KC area for competitors to be numbering in the 20s. 

But as seen in other cities recently, this year appears to be a transitional one for USAG, with many long-time vets sitting out from competing for various reasons. However, this left room for a good number of eager first-timers, with some traveling all the way from places like Nashville to compete. And of course, returning 2017 KC champ CindAIRella (Beth Melin) was back to defend her title. 

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Melin’s air guitar shows have always been very multi-faceted, with spectacle-laden opening performances that really get the audience juiced up. However, Melin took a simpler approach this time. At the start of the show, he just walked out onstage without saying anything, and immediately launched into a 2-minute Viovod routine that hammered a huge does of metal into the skulls of onlookers. After the ceremonial air band portion, the show kicked off with new local favorite Night Goat (Ryan Magnuson). 

Donning a wig and beard that make him comparable to the troll in Billy Goat’s Gruff while slamming mercilessly to a Melvins track, Night Goat once again rocked way too hard to keep his wig and beard intact for longer than 15 seconds. 

He literally and figuratively loses himself in every performance, almost as if he’s shedding his old skin to be born anew. While this could be charming for some, the judges weren’t super enthused — plus, going first is usually a big hinderance in these USAG shows.

Up second was 65 Roses (Steven Fuller), whose rocks in honor of his son who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. While he did a great routine to a beloved Boston song that really got the crowd going, he admitted afterward that Air Traffic Control had queued up the wrong track – even more amazing considering the great reaction he got. Way to go with the flow, 65 Roses!

Next up was Smiley Rod (Justin Malgadi), an NYC native currently located in Nashville. It’s always a bummer to travel so far only to draw to go third, but Smiley Rod showed no trepidation about his placement in the lineup. He came out slamming his chest to a hardcore track, twisting and contorting himself onto every part of the stage. 

Though the crowd loved his enthusiasm and Melin gave him some great feedback on stage, “the judges weren’t warmed up yet,” said Melin, and Rod was left with an underwhelming score. Better luck in your further air guitar travels, Rod!

KC native Eddie Hands Flailin’ (Travis Arey) was also dealt a bummer of a blow. After killing it with a one-minute OFF! song and stripping off his robe to reveal an anti-Trump message that went over well with the crowd, he missed the 2nd round by a mere tenth of a point.

Though there were several other first-timers who made a great impression throughout the night, this is where the competition between USAG vets started to heat up. Next was current KC champion CindAIRella, who did an inspired edit of Radiohead's “Just” and made it to the second round. But in the end, despite a tight, technically proficient performance to Faith No More's “Epic”, she couldn't pull out the repeat win. As Radiohead sang—"that's what really hurts."

In the end, the night belonged to newcomer Air Lindbergh (Cole Lindbergh) and The Virgin Airy (Rachelle Landreth). They tied for 1stplace at the end of both the first and second round and both got their fair share of 6.0s. 

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Lindbergh evoked The Spirit of St. Louis with his ferocious airness. Even though he was the true air guitar virgin, it was The Virgin Airy (aka the air guitarist formally known as Sonic Bitch), who had all the technical ability, stage presence, and that unmistakable glow from actually being 6-months pregnant. Was it immaculate conception? Naw. Though an air guitar god in his own right, it was just Thunderball (Nielsen Nacis).

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Still, her airness was clearly blessed by the Lord. The Virgin Airy ended up beating out Air Lindbergh in an intense air-off to Andrew WK's “It’s Time to Party,” giving her the KC air guitar crown for the first time ever. And damn—what a way to announce your pregnancy to the world? She’s now officially punched her ticket to the 2018 U.S. Air Guitar National Championshipsin Brooklyn, NY on August 4th.

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All in all, it was an evening full of surprises and changes. Perhaps the one downside of an uber-talented and active air guitar scene like Kansas City is lack of new blood having the chance to really snag the spotlight. With a brand-new KC champ, and a barrage of brand-new faces, things are only looking up for Kansas City, and it will surely remain a hub of U.S. Air Guitar for years to come.

All photos by Pat Paulsen

Kriston Rucker