I attended the 2010 U.S. Air Guitar National Finals on Thursday, and after years of participating in competitions
, this was my first time going to an air guitar show as a spectator. I expected to stand in the crowd and take in a normal concert experience (normal, that is, except for the lack of physical instruments), but I wound up getting quite immersed in it all.
I started off in the audience. Bjorn Turoque, the emcee and the author of the book To Air Is Human
(which I'm mentioned in twice), began the show by rocking out to Styx's "Come Sail Away." He then got two fans to come onstage and join him and 2008 world champion Hot Lixx Hulahan (a vegetarian whom I interviewed for heebnvegan around the time he won the world championship
) for an air band demonstration. Bjorn Turoque and Hot Lixx Hulahan had airness
up the wazoo as they rocked out together, and it seemed that the night's actual contestants would be hard-pressed to top the sport's legends.
I thought the best performance of the night was given by The Bride of Rock. Her new husband, 2005 U.S. champion The Rockness Monster, took the stage and blew into a conch shell to call out to his bride, who crowdsurfed from the back of the concert hall to the stage in a wedding gown. She had great stage presence, and she dominated Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade." Shreddie Mercury and two-time U.S. champion William Ocean blew me away with hard rock covers of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," respectively. One contestant came on stage staring at his Blackberry and eventually threw it out to the crowd. Lt. Facemelter established himself as an air guitarist to pay attention to in the years ahead.
Toward the end of the first round, I spotted someone in a bear costume with a pink bow tie. I immediately recognized the bear, nicknamed Air Bear for the occasion, as Jacob Calle. heebnvegan readers may recall my 2008 post about how Calle, a vegan activist in Houston, broke his leg in an air guitar competition
as well as follow-up posts
about how he trotted along the shoreline in a bear suit in front of a news crew during Hurricane Ike. Calle was initially shocked that anyone in New York would be shouting, "Are you Jacob Calle?" upon seeing a bear, but once he figured out who I was, he gave me a big hug and was able to get me backstage. Before you knew it, we'd made plans for him to stay with me his last night in town.
Getting backstage meant I got to talk to quite a few of the contestants, retired air guitarists, and a judge: Jewish, vegan comedian Myq Kaplan, whom I interviewed for a heebnvegan post earlier this year
. I'd been out of the air guitar world for a few years, but it was great to be back for one night only. For the second round, I got to watch the performances from the side of the stage! For the compulsory routine, the remaining contestants all had to perform to Guns N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," the same song I sang and air guitared to at an Amsterdam coffee shop last summer, when I was pronounced the best air guitarist there (even though there was no air guitar competition as part of the karaoke event). And I was just a few feet away from the competitors for the air-off (featuring The Cars' "Just What I Needed"), in which Romeo DanceCheetah defeated Dreamcatcher for the championship belt and the right to represent the US of A in Finland.
Following the air-off, the contestants, the air guitar legends, and audience members packed the stage to air along to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." It was a larger-than-life experience getting to rock out next to Hot Lixx Hulahan and Romeo DanceCheetah (as one photo below shows) as well as other accomplished veterans of the sport.
Last night, Calle stayed at my apartment, and he seemed to prefer my couch to when he used William Ocean's knee-pads as a pillow a few nights earlier. It was surreal to chat with someone who shared interests in veganism, animal protection, mascot costumes, and
air guitar. He said he thought that Romeo DanceCheetah was a fitting champion based on his first-round performance of Daft Punk's "Robot Rock." I pointed out that Michael "Destroyer" Heffels of Holland had won the 2005 world championship
with the same song and that Romeo DanceCheetah's rendition was inferior. I thought it stood a poor chance of winning the gold in front of Finnish judges and fans who'd seen the same thing, but with a better gimmick, five years ago. To settle the matter, we watched (and at times rewound) YouTube videos of the performances and compared the two. In the end, we had to agree to disagree.