Something's in the Air

Something's in the Air

Three names — three lousy names. That's all I saw listed on the sign-up sheet when I entered Studio A on May 24. It was the Regional Air Guitar Championships, and I was hopin' there'd be a flood of mullet-headed Guitar Center cronies lined up outside. But no — just three names were written on that sheet. Yeah, I know Miami's not the most rock 'n' roll town (Urban Beach Week, anyone?), but South Florida's never been short on ego — and air guitar's one of those things everyone assumes he's the best at. Where the hell was everyone? I drove all the way down from Pompano, and I was going to get my air guitar fix, damn it.

After bracing myself for the worst, I headed to the main room, where I spotted a tall, chubby guy carrying a homemade sign that read "Psycho Dave Rocks" (the o in rocks being the body of a Flying V guitar). OK, so there's at least one guy who takes this shit seriously. And now I know there's some dude named "Psycho Dave" I should be watching out for.

Just then, without warning, it started. Jimi Hendrix's star-spangled guitar riffs blared over the sound system while a somewhat portly guy in an Ozzy baseball shirt emerged from the back of the stage, mid-guitar solo. He bounced around the stage for about 30 seconds and then picked up the microphone; turns out, it was just the MC, Rob Goodman. Noticeably winded, Goodman laid down the ground rules (no air drums, no air backup bands) and explained what was at stake (a shot at the nationals in New York City on June 22 and a free guitar). Oh, and he defined a new term for everyone — airness, which is when the "performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes an art form in and of itself."

First up was Psycho Dave, rockin' out to Motörhead's "Ace of Spades." With his stringy black wig, Motörhead jacket, and black Converse, Dave looked like Halfway to Sanity-era Joey Ramone. Naturally, the song kicks off just before the guitar solo. Within seconds, Dave has hit every air note on his air fretboard, moshing and scissor-kicking his way across the stage. Two-thirds of the way into his solo, Dave's wig fell off. Then he looked like a Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boy. But Dave didn't flinch, and it paid off. The judges were impressed. "The airness is what stood out — and losing the wig was powerful," said one of the judges, Studio A's own Fancy, whose deadpan commentary was almost as amusing as the performers.

Curious to learn what deep-rooted angst was behind such utter rock godliness, I asked the Psycho one about it. "I've been doing air guitar ever since I was 7 years old and heard 'Here I Go Again' by Whitesnake," he said, noting that he plays only air guitar, not real guitar. "When I was a teenager, I'd go home from school and play air guitar. I was motivated by every teacher who gave me a low grade, every girl who wouldn't go out with me."

Now that, my friends, is commitment. His hair may be fake, but Psycho Dave is the real deal — a true balls-to-the-wall air guitarist. And he was just the first performer. Hell, I thought, I bet the next guy's even more of a spectacle. That thought lasted a whole ten seconds.

Next up was Bhavin Patel, an unassuming young cat whose stage name was "Big Bobby B" and song of choice was GNR's "Welcome to the Jungle." He looked like an Indian version of Fez from That '70s Show and had the humble, self-deprecating humor to match. Rather than try to match air licks with Dave, Bobby took the pampered-rock-star route, miming an air request for more volume in the stage monitors. Occasionally, he'd try to play along, though his technique looked more air ukulele. Bobby B.'s only chance at winning was to play the William Hung card, scoring points for his outsider-art element. But the judges didn't buy it, even though Fancy managed to see Bobby's inner star: "He really brought a great internal performance."

At this point, I wasn't sure what to expect from the final contestant. But then he took the stage. I'm talkin' about the Man, the air guitar messiah, Kraig Geiger. Dressed in white jeans, white slip-on shoes, a sleeveless black T, and a black Crocodile Dundee hat (on top of a real, 100-percent natural mullet), the well-built 40-something was what I'd been waiting for. Not surprisingly, Geiger got the Led out, air-noodling along to Zeppelin's "Lemon Song." More reserved than the fiery Psycho Dave, Geiger had more of a blues approach. And as Fancy so accurately stated, Geiger is an "air guitarist's air guitarist." Fats agrees.

But just as the judges were ready to tally the scores, a fourth contestant was announced — Ron Adler, an older, gray-haired guy whose wheelchair forced him to perform in front of the stage (rock clubs aren't big on ADA compliance, you know). Adler quickly scored points when his air roadie handed him his ax (which he kept on a real guitar stand). Adler got bluesy with ZZ Top's "Tush." His performance was spirited, and he was well-prepared ("I definitely dig the gloves," Fancy said). But after seeing Psycho Dave and Geiger, it was obvious who the contenders were.

When crunch time finally arrived, the four contestants lined up in front of the judges to hear the verdict: Psycho Dave, first; Geiger, second; Adler, third; and Bobby B., fourth. The contest wrapped up with a collaborative air jam. The three stage-accessible contestants let loose to Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher." And when the music stopped and the stage lights dimmed, Psycho Dave was handed his new real guitar (an Epiphone acoustic) while cameras flashed at Miami's first regional champ.

So just who is this guy we call "Psycho Dave"? Well, for starters, his real name's Dave Roberts, and he recently moved to Miami from Los Angeles, where he competed in the past two regional air guitar competitions. This is the first time Roberts won. "I'm not saying whether I'll win the nationals in New York," Roberts said cautiously. "But when I leave that stage, I guarantee everyone will know the name Psycho Dave."

Yeah, and maybe then the air groupies will become real.

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