U.S. Air Guitar's Kansas City regional competition is Friday at RecordBar

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Thunderball is ready to rock. - CAMERON GEE
  • Cameron Gee
  • Thunderball is ready to rock.
Kansas City finally boasts the reigning world champion of competitive air guitar, Eric "Mean" Melin. Before Melin assaulted Finland with his "airness," he worked his way up the ranks at U.S. Air Guitar competitions like Friday night's regional qualifier at RecordBar (1020 Westport Road, 816-753-5207).

Melin won't be competing - that's a perk of being the champ - but upstarts like "Thunderball" Nielsen Nacis (pictured) and Peter "Stiff" Dickens will be in the hunt to advance to nationals, also in Kansas City, August 9, at the Midland. 

I've judged several air-guitar competitions in Kansas City since 2010. It's fun, but it's also surprisingly serious business here in the air-guitar capital of the United States (a moniker to go along with Sporting KC's claim of "soccer capital"). OK, not too serious.

Melin has built a community of dedicated air guitarists. They put a lot of work into their routines, practicing for hours in front of mirrors, recording themselves on video and strutting in front of friends. They've worked out the edits of their songs. They've perfected their costumes and characters. And some have traveled hundreds of miles just to compete for 60 seconds (and, if they advance, another minute). That's a lot of work. In a few seconds, a judge can make - or crush - someone's dreams.

So, as ridiculous as it sounds, judging isn't something I take lightly.

Here's how U.S. Air Guitar does it: with a figure-skating scale (lowest score 4.0 to a perfect 6.0). Competitors are judged on three criteria: technical ability, stage presence and airness. 

The first two are self-explanatory. As for airness, well, it's like the Force in Star Wars or "the zone" in basketball. It's a power that a competitor somehow taps into in order to find a higher level. You can also define it the way U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined obscenity: You know it when you see it. 

"It's where the art of mimicking the guitar transcends just faking the guitar and becomes an art form unto itself," former world champion Hot Lixx Hulahan told me in 2009 (see "Air-Guitar Hero"). 

And that's what should be on view Friday night. I'll be judging again, along with two-time national finalist "Flying Finn" from Des Moines and Pitch music editor Natalie Gallagher.

Doors open at 8:30 p.m. The show starts at 9:30. Tickets cost $8.

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