No notes were played by the artists on stage, but the message was loud and clear anyway: air guitar in St. Louis was here to stay.
As noted in our cover story last week, the Firebird hosted St. Louis' first-ever official qualifying event for U.S. Air Guitar on Friday, June 28. With paid travel and ascension through semi-final, national and world competition at stake, contestants already had plenty to prove. But the big question was this: would St. Louis provide enough "airness" to make it a yearly event?
"You guys saw a great competition tonight," says Eric Melin, host of the evening's event and a U.S. Air Guitar Hall of Famer who performs as "Mean Melin." "And I think St. Louis will get even better in the future."
About fifteen people played invisible axes at the Firebird, with several hailing from outside of St. Louis. While a few circuit veterans were present and locked-in, it was the newbies who impressed Melin.
"You had two last-minute contestants move on to the second round. Once they understood what was happening and what the judges were looking for, they let it fly," Melin says.
Judges included Robert McClimans, talent buyer for the Firebird, Julie Dill, writer for I Went to a Show, and Bryan Sutter, professional concert photographer. Before the competition, Sutter wasn't sure what the night would bring. "I'm expecting car crashes, bongos and shadenfreud," says Sutter, who was sporting a silky snakeskin jacket for the occasion.
Knowing that St. Louis was a virgin air guitar city, Melin opened the show with an example of how to rock out, violently playing air drums, air keys and windmilling an air guitar to a track he had composed. "Are you pumped up for the biggest, stupidest rock show of your lives?" he asked the audience.
Melin then explained the rules: Contestants would perform to a one-minute edit song, either previously prepared or, for last-minute entrants, chosen from about 30 edits provided by U.S. Air Guitar. The top five would continue to round two, where competitors would blindly choose songs from the "Trucker Hat of Doom" or perform a previous selection from that round. Judges award scores of 4.0-6.0 for each performance, and the highest total wins the night.
"We're looking for 'airness,' Melin says. "You can't describe it, but you'll know it when you see it. You'll get a tingle in your fucking twat."
Competition kicked off with "Ergoff the Destroyer," a teenage walk-up contestant in a Hawaiian lei and cat makeup who impressed the judges by covering the stage to Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." Another last-minute competitor, "Petey Poppa," went conceptual with his song by Pantera, graphically birthing a guitar by spreading his legs and strumming what came out.
"Childbirth is hard. When your feet went up in the 'stirrups,' I really felt it," Dill says.
"It took a lot of balls to make that happen," McClimans agrees.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.