Denver US Air Guitar Qualifier keeps it in the family

The following is a guest post from Diane Cletus (John Humphrey), last year's Denver champ, and a halftime performer at the 2013 Denver US Air Guitar Qualifier:  




Make sure you click here to read what new convairt and competitive pole dancer (!) Kim Brokling learned by attending the Denver competition. It’s a treat to see this thing through fresh eyes.


Short-notice. Shoestring budget. Slightly sloppy. Insufferably charming. Terms that describe not only air guitar itself, but some of the professions so many of our champions hold (here’s looking at you, non-profit audio/video editors).


The Denver Air Guitar Qualifier was all of these adjectives, and yet, the show was a surprising success. Cornered with the unfortunate date of July 4th, the city’s most combustible performers had to compete with authentic fireworks last Thursday night. Nevertheless, Colorado’s most overcommitted air guitarist--and Hall-of-Famer--Magic Cyclops, was up to the task of organizing, promoting, hosting, and spacebarring the whole thing. He even DJ’ed the after party himself! But I digress.


In spite of the competing razzle dazzle, the night had plenty of promise for Denver talent. For a city of just over two million, the Denver area has had an impressive string of champions since 2004. There’s twin mixologists Big Rig (Randall Layman) and Dreamcatcher (Ryan Layman), nine-toed NYC expat Bettie B. Goode (Taryn Kapronica), fan favorites Duke Thrashington (Brian Shapiro) and Magic Cyclops (Magic Cyclops), and most recently, gender bender Diane Cletus (that’s me!). Fortunately for this year’s competitors, none of these glory hogs were competing last Tuesday, opening the door for some fresh air. It was anybody’s game in the mile high city. And in 2013, America’s spilling all sorts of new blood in the pursuit of Airness.


Our crew was as motley as ever this year, with plenty of rookies, wildcards and roadies-turned-rock stars throwing their hats into the ring. The fact that the number of entrants doubled 48 hours before showtime suggests how hectic things were. As a matter of fact, our first contestant heard about the competition mere hours before curtain call. Opener Ty Fury (Ty Fury, no kidding) approached an 80’s butt metal edit with the fervor of a soon-to-be-deflowered virgin. Had he not drawn the ace of spades, I’m confident Fury could’ve appeared in round two; but sobriety, she is a cruel mistress to the judges.


Kicking it up a crotch, longtime Denver competitor Dick Diesel (Jerrod Dewey) took to the stage with a new schtick in tow: our trusty emcee’s evil twin, The Tragic Cryclops. One of the most ‘meta’ performances this judge has ever witnessed, Cryclops had clearly done his homework leading up to this tongue-in-cheek routine. The blind one strummed, stumbled, and, yes, wept his way through a dizzying edit of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” and Magic karaoke favorite “Cracklin’ Rose”. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Speaking of, the judges, all personal friends of Magic, loved the tribute and sent the jockular homo packing for round two.



Although air guitar is a sausage fest in some cities, Denver left plenty of room for our pink tacos, too. Flying all the way from New York to grace us with her presence, Lady Airabella (Sara Alize Cross) cast a patriotic light on the night’s festivities, before launching into a sassy take on “Killer Queen”. Her majesty’s adept fingering--a trait many male air guitarists would do well to research (amirite, girls?)--coupled with a kickass edit reinstated her as the Duchess of Air Guitar. Lady Airabella would go on to be one of three women in round two, shattering the fuck outta that glass ceiling.



The only remaining veteran of the evening was one El Mariachi (Andrew McArthur), a flamenco air guitarist (how many of those we got in this sport, anyway?). This year marked, to my knowledge, Señor Mariachi’s first appearance since 2008, when we shared the stage during the compulsories. But like Chuck Norris before him, El Mariachi wasn’t resting--he was waiting. His return to the stage brought a frenetic energy, perfectly coupled by his headbanging Inigo Montoya wig. Setting the crowd en fuego, El Mariachi was given the highest scores of the night, and set for a dramatic return in round two.



As you were warned, the newcomers were the real story of the night. Rounding out the ranks were two Chicagoan wildcards who may or may not have been coerced into entering the show over a few stiff drinks at Lucille’s that morning. The first, a mustachioed mystery man calling himself Noah Strings Attached (Josh Metzer) carried a classic rock staple, “Brown Sugar”. His strumming was technical, but a little too tight, to borrow a phrase from my gynocologist. Noah’s special lady friend, the incorrigible newcomer Roberta Plant  (Brittany Degrees), rocked her street clothes, timid entrance and unfuckingbelievable blond ringlets to “Communication Breakdown.” The performance stunned all in attendance, and the judges showered Plant with a whole lotta love...a wildcard was poised to conquer Denver in the compulsories!



Other rookies made a big impression on the night, to varying degrees of success. Dividing the night in half was perhaps the most conceptual bit of the evening. Scott Baculum (Rachel Sinclair) made his/her air guitar debut a statement with what may be (we think not? - ed.) the first air Guitar Hero performance in USAG history. Scott clicked, clacked, booed and awed away through a spot-on Rock Band-style edit of the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes”. Somewhere, Peter "Stiff" Dickens was looking down on us, drinking. This judge saw sparks, but the elderly gentlemen next to me must’ve been slouching, as the routine went right over their heads. If you watch only one video linked in this review, make it Scott’s.



AC Slaytair (Marcus McArthur) rocked nostalgia to the hilt, blazing the Saved By the Bell solos in a leotard and Mario Lopez mullet. Though his edit was short on guitar, he more than compensated with his sizable...stage presence. The final competitor of the night, Airspray (Mandy McArthur) made a real splash with a saffron scuba costume, but busting out a fucking Ringo Beatles song (“Yellow Sub”, natch) was the jaw dropper of the night. Her act, which I’m trying to refer to as anything but ‘zany’ here, was a hit with audience and judges alike. Both McArthurs would go on to join their mentor El Mariachi (see a trend?) in round two.



Round one was promptly followed by a Flying Burrito Brothers’ halftime show by lil’ ol’ me and Magic Cyclops’s tribute to America (biggest indoor fireworks display in the state!). When the sparkler smoke cleared, the judges’ scores were tabulated for a round two line-up like this:



Last Name

First Name

Stage Name

Round 1 Score









Tragic Cyclops





Lady Airabella





AC Slaytair





Roberta Plant





El Mariachi



Taking a cue from previous competitions, Master of Airimonies Cyclops gave returning competitors a generous choice: roll the dice with a random song or stick with his original edit of “Nervous Breakdown” (a tribute to Black Flag’s own mental lapses, as of late). To the surprise of no one reading this far, guitarists and fans alike demanded the random option. The sole exception to this was the courageous (generous?) AC Slaytair, who might be the only wrestling star in Belside history to T.K.O. California state champ Greg Ginn.



As the sparkler smoke cleared the air, the night took a stumble into awkward territory. Without the aid of, say, a Plinko game to sort out the songs for us, nervous competitors were forced to endure long pauses and stage banter while our MC drew his songs out of the digital hat. And what unusual rabbits emerged from that abyss. Sticking with the ‘Merica theme, round two contestants were subjected to Cletus Butcher Brand(tm) edits of Violent Femmes, Weezer, and an excruciating David Bowie mash-up...I wouldn’t say it did the competitors any favors, that’s for sure. Airspray lost her footing in round two, Tragic broke character in the face of nerd rock, and Lady Airabella scrambled to recover from a spill (which one judge rewarded with the first 6.0 of the evening!). Again, no quarter was given from these edits.


When Slaytair finally broke the spell of the random song, Magic threw some serious curveballs at the night’s cream of the crop, including his personal edits of Queens of the Stone Age’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and some insane speed metal edit which seemed to be coded in El Mariachi’s DNA. Although our wildcard Roberta gave the Queens her best effort, the night belonged to a new royal family of Denver air guitar: the McArthurs! El Mariachi, one of the most humble air champs in recent memory, gave a commanding performance, and emerged as the deserved winner of the night. Slaytair pulled into second and earned the right to join his brother in Chicago, assuming Zack doesn’t leave him stranded at the Max.  As the Midwest semi-final draws near, one can’t help but wonder what tricks this matairdor will pull out of his boots to set himself apart from the other Spanish-inspired air guitarists he might encounter in Chicago. As they say on parts of Federal Blvd, ‘Lo mejor de la suerte, ‘Extraño’ Alfredo Garcia!’



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