When Poison frontman Bret Michaels told C.C. DeVille to pick up that guitar and talk to me in the 1987 hit song “Talk Dirty To Me,” kids everywhere — including myself — mimicked the 27-second guitar solo on a broomstick, with a spatula or, if no prop was around, in the air.
Air guitar has been around probably as long as the guitar itself, but the dawn of MTV and popularity of hair metal in the ’80s helped propel it into an art form practiced by glam-rock wannabes who head-banged in the front row at concerts and played alongside their heroes — in the air.
There actually is a U.S. Air Guitar organization as well as international competitions held throughout the year. And now — thanks in part to one of the plays featured in this year’s Humana Festival — there is a local group known as Louisville Air Guitar.
Co-founder Eli Keel, who also freelances for Insider, tells us he was inspired to form the group after seeing the play “Airness,” which was all about the competitive air guitar world and one of the favorites of the Humana Fest. He teamed up with fellow “Airness” fan Emily Tarquin, artistic producer of Actors Theatre, to form the organization.
“I saw (“Airness”) and loved it, and emailed the national organization to see if anyone was hosting an event in any nearby cities,” says Keel. “It turned out several air-guitar gurus — including former national champion Lt. Facemelter — were coming to Louisville, so I spent the weekend showing them around.”
Keel even participated in an Aireoke event the cast held after the play’s run. He was hooked instantly, he says. The act of air guitar can be freeing, and if you channel your inner Slash properly, it’s entertaining for everyone involved.
“For me, the secret is to reach down into my guts and pull out every crazy dream I ever had about being a rock star and to put 100 percent of that into my performance,” he explains. “It’s not ironic either, it’s just embracing that crazy feeling music gives you and putting it on stage, with zero shame or judgement.”
Keel says the Aireoke events will be held about once a month and won’t involve competitions — at first. The idea is to give Louisvillians a chance to discover the art form and hopefully shake out a few performers.
“After we build a pool of passionate people, then we’ll start looking at hosting some competitive events,” says Keel. “The big plan is to have an official qualifier for the national competition next summer. That means we can send a Louisvillian to nationals, and possibly on to the world championship in Norway.”
Keel will be the MC of Saturday’s first Aireoke, but if people are shy to sign up, he’ll most likely perform his favorite go-to song, The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl.”
He and Tarquin hope there are other rock wannabes out there searching for the spotlight and, by offering them a stage, they can help grow the art of air guitar into a favorite pastime — like karaoke.
“Aireoke isn’t overlooked so much as it’s still growing,” says Keel. “But air guitar lives anywhere someone has air guitar in their heart — so basically everywhere.”
The inaugural Aireoke will take place from 8-10 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, at Butchertown Social (formerly Louis’s The Ton), 1601 Story Ave. The event is free and open to those 21 and over.