A hopeful performer strides onto the stage. The sound of rock music fills the room. The lights dim, and then, the fingers start flying across an invisible instrument. The crowd roars with applause. This is the strange, exciting world of Nashville air guitar. Some participants of the recent Nashville Air Guitar Championships, which took place on May 26 at The High Watt, were veteran players, and others were new to the game. However, all were there for the same reasons: to spread peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll.
“Air guitar’s purpose is to promote world peace,” said Whit Hubner, the producer of the Nashville championships. “If you have an air guitar in your hand, you can’t have a weapon in your hand. It’s impossible. World peace is the bottom-line mission of air guitar.”
Hubner, who donned a green kilt and a contagious smile throughout the event, became involved in air guitar when he competed in the championships in 2015. Despite being a first-time air rocker, Hubner competed in several stages of the competition, was named “Rookie of the Year” and placed sixth in the country. “I had so much fun,” Hubner said. “I met so many cool people, and I just decided this was something that I wanted to do.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Hubner is producing and coordinating his own guitar show. “Nashville has always had a strong air guitar community,” Hubner said. “I have just kind of carried the torch.”
As Hubner described, a fierce and committed showing of Nashville residents gathered at The High Watt to shred, dance and etch their name into air guitar history. Dozens of spectators, young and old, grabbed a drink and crowded before the small stage to watch as the participants displayed their invisible, yet very real talents.
One of the night’s players, Nashville resident Chloe Green, who goes by her stage name Mamma Nash Trash, said that she starting air guitaring due to a New Year’s resolution six years ago.
“I said to myself that I would not turn down something I promised myself for New Years, and I promised that I would do air guitar,” Green said. “I was just drunk and thought it was hilarious.”
While Green was just one of 16 participants in the night’s contest, she certainly was hard to miss. For her Mamma Nash Trash persona, Green wore a pink sweater with leopard-print leggings, sunglasses with one lens missing, smeared and bright-red lipstick and multiple curlers in her frizzed-up hair. “The staple of my act is that I’m everyone’s favorite person that’s ever existed,” Green said.
After each participant performed, a panel of judges provided the guitarists with a score based off of three criteria: technical skills, stage presence and “airness.” Hubner announced to the crowd that airness was tough to describe, but hard to miss. “When you see (airness), you’ll know it,” Hubner said. “It’s kind of like porn.”
Another one of the night’s competitors was Nashville resident Brian Wood, who goes by his air guitar stage name Shorty McShred. Wood brought a Star Wars theme to the contest, wearing a Darth Vader costume and an afro wig.
“I’ve been air guitaring all my life,” Wood said. “I’m actually a drummer, but I’ve always wanted to be a guitarist … It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an opportunity to just let loose.”
Letting loose was exactly why Robert Sandberg of Nashville, aka Jewish Priest, decided to rock out at the championships.
“I had a friend that was doing this, and he said, ‘You’re off-the-wall and fun, and you like to live life. So come on out and try it,’” Sandberg said.
Sandberg dressed in a full priest robe, which matched well with his grey-speckled beard and square-rimmed glasses. When he took the stage, however, Sandberg’s robe came flying off, revealing bedazzled short-shorts. “I’ve YouTubed (air guitarists),” Sandberg said. “I’ve google searched it, and, honestly, I think there could be something better. And that’s why I’m here. I’m something better.”