Twelve Air Guitarists Walk into a Kansas City Bar...

What happens when you take twelve U.S. Air Guitar veterans from around the country, haul them to Kansas City, throw them some beers and set them in a restaurant with an empty stage?

The first official U.S. Air Guitar Qualifier of the 2019 season—pop-up style.

Even to those there, the idea sounded far-fetched. Can we really put an entire show together in a few hours? After all, most organizers spend months putting an air guitar show together.

But when you have a table filled with a some of the country’s best competitors including world ranked favorites like Flying Finn and Cind-Air-Ella—plus the organizational savvy of the legendary Facemelters on your side—amazing, spontaneous air guitar competitions sometimes, well, just kinda happen.

It all started with a Midwest meet-up in KC where a few out-of-towners visited the Paris of the Plains for some off-season hangs. Little more was on the mind aside from brewery hopping and the customary shenanigans.

Instead, everyone ended up at The Brick, a classic local venue with some tasty, Guy Fieri approved eats. That’s when they noticed the empty, lonely stage almost beckoning them on a Saturday night. Apparently, a band canceled their show last minute and the staff didn’t bother filling in their slot.

So, what if a crew of air guitarists did the work for them?

At first, the conversation was filled sentiments like, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we put together a show right now?” and “Are we seriously thinking about doing this?” As soon as Flying Finn pulled out his phone and started practicing his track, it was clear that yes, this might actually be happening.

Then, the bar OK’d the show, the official fee to USAG was paid and the KC show was officially booked as the first show of the 2019 season.

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Now—with the show time set at 10—there were three hours to pull it all together. As all longtime air guitarists, everyone had at least a few tracks on them. There was also Team Facemelter, aka Lisa Farnan (Private Melter), who’s judged countless competitions including Worlds, and Jason Farnan (Lt. Facemelter) could host a legendary, last-minute show to a room of literal turkeys.

All of the elements were there, and after some quick errands for costume changes and after-party beer runs, everything was set to begin.

Lt. Facemelter kicked off the show in traditional USAG fashion with a great opening bit. Intrigued by the unexpected spectacle, a crowd had started to accumulate as their interest began to pique away from their beers and deep-fried Twinkies, towards the impromptu air guitar show. Several patrons were even quick to volunteer for the opening air band bit, and three walk-ons jumped at the change to compete. Before the show started, the line-up was full.

Thanks to the spontaneous nature of the show, there was an incredibly fun vibe from the start. The last-minute officiation of the show and the fact that each competitor actually paid the registration fee was enough to keep things mildly competitive—but fun was undoubtedly the main goal of the night.

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Many competitors came up with parodies of their popular stage personas or just went all-out silly like Thunderball (Neilsen Nacis), who graced the stage as Kitten Boots. It was great to see him in any fashion, as it’s been a few years since he’s formally competed.

Speaking of which, another KC favorite—The Corp-Air-Ation (Brian Reeves)—also came out of the woodwork for this one...because why the hell not? Even with literally no preparation, Corp brought the heat and proudly wore his metal heart on his baseball tee sleeves.

Continuing the new name trend was Pickle Stack (a.k.a. Stack Attack or Amy Stack). With a name nodding to her favorite party shot—the pickleback—she continued her streak of always fun and energetic performances.

Next up was Flying Finn (Andrew Finn), whose new name —Your 2019 Air Guitar Champion Flying Finn—is presumably meant to be more prediction than satire. And with Finn’s performance, a reprise of his classic “Stone Cold Crazy” routine, it doesn’t seem to be that farfetched of an idea.

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For lack of a better term, it was spot on. The transitions were clean, the moments were polished, and it all seemed incredibly natural. Some may think it seems cocky, but when your cockiness seems deserved, who really cares? He also used his fringed coozies to recreate his signature fringed sleeves. C’mon?!

The 2017 Road Warrior Glory Wholesome (Whitney Young) also came out of retirement for this special occasion and didn’t look like she missed a beat as she rocked the stage. Glory never fails to bring the fun and she embodies all of the best parts US Air Guitar—that sense of unadulterated fun over unwavering competitiveness. Glory, glory, hallelujah.

Some other USAG favorites graced the stage with joke names that could perhaps be better than their real ones. The man often known as Iron Dragon (Justin Fox) competed as Purple Fuck Boi, which might be this writer’s new favorite air guitar name.

National Finalist Pork Sword (Cameron Hawk) competed as Hammy Knives and showed that even without all the blood and pig masks—he’s still a damn incredible performer. And despite barely recovering from a nasty winter bug, Stabitha Christie (Rachel Meyers-Hawk), couldn’t say no to taking part in a night like this. She was re-dubbed Rocking PneumoniAIR, made it through a minute of upbeat punk rock jams—and didn’t die.

Not everyone swapped out the names though, and with a cause as great as the one championed by 65 Roses (Steven Fuller), why would you? After each performance, 65 Roses talks about his name, how it relates to his own kid’s experience living with Cystic Fibrosis, and how everyone can help with the cause. He always shreds it and has the audience cheering for him by the end. It’s no doubt that KC is on his side.

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But even with the presence of all these USAG vets, there were a series of walk-ons that gave some impressive performances: Buster Cherry Jones, Darlin’ Nikki, and Mosh Gilbert. All three of them brought massive amounts of energy to the stage, and one of them (Mosh) almost got kicked out for diving from a stage monitor! But after everything was cleared up, he was the one walk-on to advance to Round Two.

Two of the more memorable performances, however, came from KC vets—one who is a champ many times over, and one who—though he has never won—never fails to leave some kind of mark. These were Cind-Angst-Ella (Beth Melin) and What’s the World Coming To? (Ryan Magnuson).

What’s the World Coming To? It really is a great question. And when you see him perform onstage, it’s definitely something that crosses your mind. Previously known as Night Goat (partially because of his Melvins obsession), he’s always dressed up as some kind of animal with a mask that tends to flop around until it falls off completely.

On this night, with no animal mask in sight—he somehow managed to take a sports jacket and turn into one creepy looking headpiece. Talk about ingenuity! In his typical fashion, What’s the World Coming To? headbanged to mashups of 90’s funk and grunge until his costume fell away onto the stage—yet he never paused the rock.

In the end, though, the KC air guitarist with the most wins in recent years ended up being crowned champion yet again—and deservedly so. Cind-Air-Ella (Beth Melin), who snottily graced the stage as Cind-Angst-Ella to the exact first minute of “Cherub Rock” by Smashing Pumpkins. This was a tricky move, considering the best part of that song is definitely the guitar solo, which doesn’t even happen until three minutes in—and there was no time for editing.

However, this is CindAirElla we’re talking about and she’s never short on stellar, jaw-dropping moves. A series of impressively fierce kicks launching into the initial core riff of the song was the perfect build-up. But one thing that really continues to impress about CindAirElla is her pacing. She always knows exactly when to go for the big move. And as Cind-Angst-Ella, it was appropriately even angrier than usual.

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Despite her jeering and apathy towards authority, the judges were all in love and she again pulled out the win in KC.

The night was also a testament to the drive and passion of the air guitar community: Their drive to spread the love of air guitar everywhere they go, and the passion that allows them to do it—wherever there might be an empty stage waiting.  

Kansas City was the just first show of the 2019 U.S. Air Guitar season. Think you have what it takes to win? Prove it at a show near you. The winner will perform at the U.S. Air Guitar National Championships or Dark Horse Competition in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday, August 3rd. Then the National Champion will represent the U.S. at the 2019 Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu, Finland from August 21-23.  

Rob MesselThe Brick