Pitch.com: "Air guitarists get ready to shred the competition"

By JUSTIN KENDALL, pitch.com Photos by CAMERON GEE

Click here to read the original article at pitch.com.

Sweat soaks Eric Melin’s black T-shirt as he shouts out cues to eight men and women wailing on imaginary guitars. Melin, known in the world of competitive air guitar as Mean Melin, bounces around the room, fingers working an invisible fret board, hand strumming. The CD player blares Bon Jovi, then the Scorpions, then Jet, Rage Against the Machine and Van Halen.

Melin is rehearsing inside Salva O’Renick, a sales and marketing firm on Cherry Street in the Crossroads District, and working on choreography with a pack of newbies for an air-guitar flash mob at the upcoming First Friday. He calls for dive-bomb moves and the defiant throwing of rock fists. This is boot camp, and everyone in the room is trying to keep up with the two-time regional air-guitar champion (2009 Kansas City and 2010 Las Vegas).

Since winning last year’s Vegas regional and competing in the U.S. Air Guitar Championships, Melin has acted as a bi-state air-­guitar ambassador, hosting Aireoke nights (think karaoke but with air guitars) in Lawrence and competitions in Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Topeka. He even has taught fourth-graders at a Boys and Girls Club how to play air guitar.

Melin has persuaded U.S. Air Guitar to return to Kansas City this year for the KC regional (one of 17 stops on the championship tour), which is being held Thursday, May 19, at Crosstown Station. The winner of the regional flies to Chicago to shred at the national finals on July 23. (The U.S. champion gets a trip to Finland to play the Air Guitar World Championships.)

Melin’s local advocacy has generated a field of invisible-guitar players who want his crown. The Pitch talked with Melin and nine of his stiffest challengers.


The Reigning Champion

Name: Eric Melin

Air-guitar alias: Mean Melin

Day job: Marketing manager at a start-up social-media software company called Spiral16

The Pitch: Who is Mean Melin?

Melin: Mean Melin has evolved over the last couple years into a tireless advocate for acting like an idiot and self-expression through air guitar.

Who is your guitar hero?

More than anybody, Ace Frehley informed how I played air guitar, because I played a lot of air guitar with Kiss masks on growing up.

What’s your practice regimen?

I have a little bike in the basement that my sister loaned me, and I’ve been doing 30 to 45 minutes every morning at 6 a.m. and trying to spend at least three hours a week air-guitaring in front of a mirror. It turns out that air-guitaring is actually a better workout than just riding the bike. So it’s really been a challenge to keep up the air-guitaring because I really wear myself out. Every bone in my body is killing me when I’m done.

What’s on your training table?

I worked up two songs this year. I worked up the one that I’m doing, and then one by the Cult called “King Contrary Man,” from their Electric album, which is amazing. It’s the best AC/DC album that AC/DC never made.

Do you actually have a guitar?

I’ve never owned a guitar.

What’s your secret weapon?

The last two years, it’s been the blood….This year, I’ve vowed not to do it. Really, everything you see this year is going to be a new vibe for me, a little bit. I think my secret weapon for me, besides the blood, specifically is just intensity and aggression, and I learned that from Hot Lixx [Hulahan].

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

Megadeth’s “Wake Up Dead/Bad Omen,” which I edited on the end. That album, Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?, is — no joke — the best air-guitar album for me of all time…. I could just stand there and air-guitar the whole album. And in 1986, I did.

Worst air-guitar injury?

I had to go to the emergency room after nationals that year [2009 in Washington, D.C.]…. I almost gave myself a concussion on the stage…. I hit the floor with my head, and then everything was dizzy for a while. I couldn’t hear [host] Björn [Türoque]. He had to help me up. And I thought this was only temporary, but I was pretty dazed for the rest of the show, and my ear was just killing me…. I went to the emergency room because I wanted to make sure that it was OK to go on the plane after that.

Guitar Hero or Rock Band?

I don’t play either of those. I’m a purist. I don’t need to hold a piece of plastic.

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

I think it helps. Despite what my girlfriend says about how nerdy and silly it is, as long as she’s there at the moment of triumph, the 59-second mark of any song of any onstage performance, I think it’s impossible for women not to be swept up in that moment.

Tell me about your wardrobe.

For me, the pants have to be loose enough to do a lot of jumping around. They have to be well-stitched in the crotch area because I’ve had problems there before. And I have to go sleeveless. I will forever be a sleeveless air guitarist because I’ve heard from other people that their favorite thing about watching me is seeing my arms getting all tense and muscular and whatever. I guess that’s the one moment in my life that I can say that happens.

What is your pre-air-guitar ritual?

Drinking beer and listening to my song over and over on headphones, and going into the corner of the backstage area and forgetting that there’s anybody watching me and concentrating on my song. For me, it’s more about getting the fingering right on the air guitar, and then once you have that ingrained in the back of your head, you can concentrate on your performance. Even until the last minute, I’m thinking about getting all those little details right so that when I go onstage, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. It just happens automatically. My limbs just move.

Why will you win?

Because I’ve got deep love for the art form, and I’m not afraid to take chances.

What is your signature move?

Take the guitar, throw it around your body, and catch it on the other side right at the high note. Swinging the guitar around the body — what would you call that? The only thing that comes to mind is the “Kip Winger guitar hurl.” He was a bass player, of course, but in the “Seventeen” video, he did that move where he threw it around and caught it. Coming from him, it looked really bad. I’m not afraid of that.

Please don’t make me play …

… anything by Pearl Jam or the Smashing Pumpkins or Alice in Chains. Any of that ’90s alternative mainstream rock. It’s so serious that it’s not fun.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… slay your eye.


From Roller Derby to Air Goddess

Name: Christy Ubelaker

Air-guitar alias: Rabid Dong

Day job: Veterinary technician at the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City

Who is Rabid Dong?

A rock goddess

Who is your guitar hero?

J Mascis

What’s on your training table?

Aqua Net, attitude and a tuning spork

Do you actually have a guitar?

Yes, I won an acoustic guitar signed by John Butler.

What’s your secret weapon?

Hot pants

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

Worst air-guitar injury?

Spilled my drink … ouch!

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

Who doesn’t love a chick who can shred?

Why will you win?

Because I’m not a loser.

What is your signature move?

Knee-slidey thingy

Please don’t make me play …

… like a boy.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… melt your face!


The Former Air Roadie

Name: Amy Stack

Air-guitar alias: Stack Attack

Day job: Assistant architect

Who is Stack Attack?

Stack Attack is a former roadie for the air band FistStab. It’s my friend’s air band that we do Aireoke with. I auditioned numerous times, and they never let me in. I was just destined to be a roadie. Now I’ve embarked on a solo career as the Stack Attack.

Who is your guitar hero?

Joan Jett

What’s your secret weapon?

Big hair

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

I would say help because it’s funny, and everybody loves humor.

Tell me about your wardrobe.

I haven’t decided, but I’m thinking ripped tights and a short skirt.

What is your pre-air-guitar ritual?

Practice, usually, with the members of FistStab — they let me practice with them even though they don’t let me in the band. A couple beers and fixing my hair.

Why will you win?

Because I’m a cute girl with an attitude.

Please don’t make me play …

… Rush.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… finish my beer, and I’ll get back to you.


The Gentleman on PCP

Name: Chaz John

Air-guitar alias: Union Jack

Day job: Maintenance man

Who is Union Jack?

He’s just a true gentleman of Midwestern distinction.

Who is your guitar hero?

Marc Bolan of T-Rex and Angus Young [of AC/DC]

What’s on your training table?

PCP

Do you actually have a guitar?

No

What’s your secret weapon?

A lot more bras than last time. On my second show, there were a couple of girls who threw their bras up onstage. Maybe putting those in some kind of device to launch them. Maybe more PCP.

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

“Kicked in the Teeth” by AC/DC

Worst air-guitar injury?

Just minor bruising. Chlamydia.

Why will you win?

The cream always rises to the top, and I’m going to cream all over the stage.

Please don’t make me play …

… Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Last time was pretty brutal. I think the bras were the only thing that saved me.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

…. do another rail of PCP.


The Hungry Man

Name: Craig Lee

Air-guitar alias: The Manther

Who is the Manther?

The Manther is a silly, bloated, jackass reincarnation of every great guitarist that ever lived.

Who is your guitar hero?

A combination between Jimmy Page and Prince. A lot of people think of Prince, they think of “Little Red Corvette” or something, but he’s one of the most amazing guitarists alive.

Do you actually have a guitar?

I don’t. But if I did, it would be a Gibson Les Paul Sunburst model, like Jimmy Page’s, with four whammy bars.

What’s your practice regimen?

A full schedule of doughnuts, pizza and honey mustard. Just the art of lifting the pizza to the mouth is half of what’s needed to pull off an awesome air-guitar lick.

What’s your secret weapon?

The awe-inspiring Rubenesque shape of my belly.

What is your signature move?

Dropping my pants at the end of my gig.

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

The Manther doesn’t need help.

Why will you win?

Because I’m already to the point where I speak about myself in the third person.

Please don’t make me play …

… “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… grab that world-championship trophy.


The Old Rokker

Name: Mark McGinnis

Air-guitar alias: Johnny Rokker

Day job: Running a loader for Cripple Creek Rock Company

Who is Johnny Rokker?

I’ve been going by Johnny Rokker for 30 years. I’m just a frontman, and frontmen are a different breed.

Who is your guitar hero?

Angus or Malcolm Young

Do you actually have a guitar?

No

What’s your secret weapon?

Know the damn song, have some rhythm and style, and actually look like you’re playing the guitar. I see these guys, and they’re just flailing about like spider monkeys on meth.

Worst air-guitar injury?

Just real guitar injuries. That’s how I got a mouthful of no teeth. The bass player didn’t see me coming, and he drove the mic through my mouth with the headstock of his bass. Missed one word of the song that night. Kept right on singing.

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

Oh, hell, it doesn’t do either. If you go on Facebook and look at my pictures, you will see that I am not a handsome man.

What is your pre-air-guitar ritual?

As many vodka tonics I can drink before I do it.

Why will you win?

Because God is on my side. It helps that I have no shame. I really do — I have no shame.

Please don’t make me play …

… anything death metal.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… make a public embarrassment of myself.


Stiff Competition

Name: Nick Colby

Air-guitar alias: Peter “Stiff” Dickens

Day job: Harvest Meat Company

Who is Peter “Stiff” Dickens?

Who isn’t Peter “Stiff” Dickens? He’s the common man. He’s been doing air guitar since the early ’70s, mostly in small clubs, but he’s working his way up to big venues. He’s the people’s man. He’s trying to bring air guitar back to the bedroom, back to the bed, jumping up and down with a tennis racket.

Who is your guitar hero?

Stiff Dickens is a real Peter Frampton fan. Mostly Frampton Comes Alive! He also is a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young [fan], but mostly Crosby. Colby prefers Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page — pretty much any Jimmy.

Do you actually have a guitar?

I have a Jazzmaster and I have a Telecaster and then, of course, a couple of basses.

What’s your secret weapon?

My charming good looks

What is your signature move?

My signature move is mostly my high kicks.

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

“Touch Me I’m Sick” by Mudhoney

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

I don’t get lucky that often anyway, so it can only help.

Why will you win?

Because I was born to win.

Please don’t make me play …

… anything by Guns N’ Roses.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… go to the bathroom.


The Barracuda

Name: Amber Jacobs

Air-guitar alias: Sage Steele

Who is Sage Steele?

She’s a very fiery person. She’s very passionate about what she does. She’s a little unsure about things. She was married at one point. She used to be Sage Steele-String, but she got divorced, so she had to drop the String.

Guitar heroes?

Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys

Do you actually have a guitar?

I’m actually a bass guitarist. I just have a cheap Ibanez, but it gets the job done.

Is this sort of a fulfillment of some dream to be out front?

Absolutely. I’ve found that when I play bass guitar, I’m usually off in the corner. I don’t get to move around much. I don’t feel inspired to jump around. With air guitar, there’s a complete hammy side of me that just wants to come out front and be the center of attention.

What’s your secret weapon?

Being a girl, in general, helps. Air guitar is definitely a male-dominated field, and so, pretty much any girly thing that we can do to play upon femininity.

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

“Barracuda” by Heart

Worst air-guitar injury?

I actually did have to go to the chiropractor after my first competition. My neck was very, very sore. It got popped and cracked in a few places and was much better.

Tell me about your wardrobe.

I’m still in the process of picking out my song, and I have costume ideas for each that would relate to the genre of music…. I haven’t nailed it down completely, but I’m thinking some Rolling Stones, possibly the Black Keys, if I can find just the perfect song. It may end up being “Barracuda.”

Why will you win?

I’m really trying to amp up my airness this time around because I’ve always kind of been down for that. My goal is to get everybody else as pumped up about the performance as I am.

Please don’t make me play …

… anything by Dream Theater.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… go tune my air guitar.


Gordon Gekko With an Air Guitar

Name: Brian Reeves

Air-guitar alias: The CorpAIRation

Day job: “I sell hot tubs.”

Who is the CorpAIRation? I wasn’t sure if it was Gordon Gekko or the Million Dollar Man from 1980s wrestling.

He’s an amalgamation of all of those things. The CorpAIRation is a dude who stepped straight out of 1984.

Who is your guitar hero?

Dimebag Darrell. As a kid who went to high school in the mid-’90s, I really got into heavy metal. I loved Pantera, and Dimebag Darrell was the guy who made me want to be a heavy-metal guitar player.

What’s on your training table?

Pizza, wings and whiskey

Do you actually have a guitar?

Six guitars

What’s your most prized one?

My Les Paul

Tell me about your wardrobe.

Suit and tie and a big cell phone. I don’t have to go to a lot of work to get into costume, but everyone looks at me a little weird when I show up at the bar…. The suit and tie is a great way when you’re a bigger dude, like I am, to totally get away with not having to look like a svelte rock star.

What’s your secret weapon?

The cell phone sells the whole character. It’s bizarre how this little piece of plastic seemed to put that character over-the-top for people. I have Peter “Stiff” Dickens to thank for even supplying me with the phone. The night I used that character in Topeka — the night I won in Topeka — was the night I was basically doing the CorpAIRation for the first time. And I met up with Nick Colby — Peter “Stiff” Dickens — beforehand, and we were going over there together, and I told him, “You know what I need is one of those huge, block, 1980s Hot Tub Time Machine cell phones.” And he goes, “Dude, I think I have one of those up in the attic.” So he goes up there and comes down with two for me to take my pick from.

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

“The Light That Blinds” by Shadows Fall

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

I’ve been with the same girl for 11 years and married for six, so I think that hurts my chances more than my air guitar does.

Why will you win?

Because greed is good, but to air is divine.

Please don’t make me play …

… the Doors. I hate the fucking Doors with a passion.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… whip this out.


The Guy Named After the Guy From Cheap Trick

Name: Nielsen Nacis

Air-guitar alias: Thunderball

Day job: “I work for an insurance company. I’m the guy you call when you get into an accident.”

Who is Thunderball?

He’s just this character that comes out in striped pants and a black shirt. He has all of these scarves, and he’s a really eccentric rock star who wails on the air. The first time I used him was an impromptu thing. VH1 used to have this Rock Honors gathering, and the first annual one, they did an online air-guitar competition, and I did it last-minute, and it was an online voting thing nationwide, and I got second place, and they sent me a free guitar. It was a Gibson Flying V with an embroidered strap that says VH1 Rock Honors.

Who is your guitar hero?

Jimmy Page, and I love Joe Perry from Aerosmith.

Any advice?

Air guitar doesn’t come from your brain; it comes from your crotch.

What’s your secret weapon?

I don’t know that I can tell you. It’s all spontaneity.

What’s your go-to air-guitar song?

I do a lot of Van Halen. I’m thinking about Skid Row, for some reason. They’ve been coming up a lot on my iPod. Maybe “Youth Gone Wild.”

Does air guitar help or hurt your chances of getting lucky?

It definitely hurts it. Thankfully, I’m in a relationship.

Tell me about your wardrobe.

Last time, I had these sweet striped pants. Capes always look cool. I also have some of my girlfriend’s scarves.

Why will you win?

It’s all about intensity and getting crazy and people going, “What the hell is going on?” It’ll give me some edge. It’s all about getting up there and going crazy enough that people wonder if you’re OK.

What is your signature move?

The bridge: laying on my back on the floor and making a bridge with my head and legs.

Please don’t make me play …

… anything past ‘98.

Finish this sentence: Excuse me while I …

… try out an answer for you.

  • Amber Jacobs as Sage Steele

    Amber Jacobs as “Sage Steele”
  • Christy Ubelaker as Rabid Dong
    Christy Ubelaker as “Rabid Dong”
  • Nick Colby as Peter Stiff Dickens
    Nick Colby as “Peter ‘Stiff’ Dickens”
  • Nielsen Nacis as Thunderball
    Nielsen Nacis as “Thunderball”
  • Amy Stack as Stack Attack
    Amy Stack as “Stack Attack”
  • Brian Reeves as The CorpAIRation
    Brian Reeves as “The CorpAIRation”
  • “The Manther”
  • “Peter ‘Stiff’ Dickens”
  • “Thunderball”
  • Cameron Gee

    “The CorpAIRation”
  • Cameron Gee

    “Mean Melin”
  • Cameron Gee

    Craig Lee as The Manther

    Craig Lee as “The Manther”
admin