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We get a ton of great concerts on Eventbrite, so maybe it’s fitting that a different kind of rock show—one in which the guitars are invisible—would use us too. The US Air Guitar Championships are a national competition that sees the country’s top fake axe-slingers do battle at real—and major—venues, including San Francisco’s famed Fillmore and New York’s Irving Plaza, where this year’s national finalists face off on July 22. Rock anthems blare, fingers fly—it’s such frenzied fun that you nearly forget there are no guitars actually present onstage. “I liken it to pro wrestling,” says Kriston Rucker, one of the annual event’s organizers. “The performers have their personas.” As with pro wrestling, those personas each have rabid fanbases—”Hot Lixx Hulahan” and “William Ocean” are big stars—eager to support their heroes.

We were excited to chat with the US Air Guitar folks because we see this as what great events are all about: an incomparable live experience that has developed its own strong community. In short, they’re a model of how a truly engaged community can help a unique concept take off. So what are some of their winning strategies? We saw 3 key elements to their success.

Great storytelling

The strong individual identities of their performers have powered the Championships’ success. Just as important is the way they’ve shared and publicized those stories. “Our website is basically built around our blog,” says Kriston. In that blog, they give the riff-by-riff tale of each event (a series of regional qualifiers feeds the national final), building tension and keeping the community excited both before and after the events. The website is also stuffed with hilarious videos of top performances (be sure to check out their YouTube channel, too).

A national presence

Did we mention those regional qualifiers? No matter where you live, there’s probably a US Air Guitar event happening in your area. That creates a low barrier to entry. It also creates a sense of local pride akin to that of sports teams. And it makes it easy to get involved as a performer. That’s a big draw, Kriston says. “People want a chance to be a rock star for 60 seconds… You get to play the Fillmore!”

Strong social media connections

Social media has allowed the Air Guitar crowd to swell even further. Followers of the same star performer can connect through Facebook and Twitter all year, generating crazy buzz for the actual events. The performers themselves can engage with fans online. And this year, the Air Guitar team will even tweet scores during the event itself, so that those who can’t attend will be clued in to the live happenings. It’s just one more great way to keep people connected and engaged.

Check out Hot Lixx Hulahan in action:

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