US Air Guitar Championships; regionals, Washington DC

Speaking of fun stuff to do, I went to see the Washington DC regionals of the US Air Guitar Championships last weekend. I’ve somehow never been able to get out and see one of these epic shows in the past, despite living in one of its epicenters, the SF Bay Area for eight years. So I finally got my taste here in the Nation’s Capital.

Now I figured an air guitar regionals would be prime hipster territory, but at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, it certainly was not. I’m finding Washington DC in general is not prime territory for these folks, though I did see a few people who made me feel comfy.  We stood at the back of the venue in the dark, close to the bar, where we like it.

I attended with my jauntily mustachioed friend Tim, getting there maybe halfway into the first round of performers.  As we wandered in a lady passed by us and told us we should move up to the front, near the stage.  Our gut reaction was, of course, “who the fuck are you to tell us what to do?” But the comment was casual, and I speculated it was because she was with the press and thought we might brighten up their videos and pictures.

The crowd was largely bro-ed out white dudes. And pretty drunk.  One of the judges lamented the fact that air guitar is a largely male-dominated “sport” but couldn’t quite put his finger on the why. I can’t either. If I’d gotten there early enough I would have jumped on one of those wildcard spots to take the stage and play “Sinister Rouge” by Bad Religion.  But that’s me.  I think I saw two female performers, the most memorable of which was Babe-raham Lincoln.  She had glitter. And big cue-cards to get a good chant out of the audience.  Crowd rapport is high on the judge’s list of criteria, along with accuracy (in terms of hand-placement and strumming pattern), flair, and a cognizance of the air-guitar itself, i.e., its (meta)physical size and dimension and how it interacts with the human playing it.

There were two returning favorites, Adam “Tommy Fretless” Lee and Lance “The Shred” Kasten.  Tommy Fretless was DC’s winner last year, but to be honest I couldn’t see most of his performance because I’m short, and he was on his knees or back a lot, and The Shred made a very interesting music choice, a mix of old (like, 50s) music and modern, and made it look effortless on that invisible guitar.  He was also dressed up like a 50s soda jerk and chucked candy at the audience before he started his song. I nearly lost an eye to a Tootsie Roll, but I sure the fuck picked it up and ate it.  Also, The Shred is in his fifties, I think, so it made his acrobatic performance all the more entertaining.

Babe-raham, Tommy Fretless and The Shred, along with three other fine musicians whose names I didn’t commit to memory, all made it to the second round based on judges’ scores, which range mostly in 5._ and seem to top out at 6.0.  I missed the part of the show where the scoring was explained, and no one repeated it, so I had to infer from context.

There were three judges sitting in the balcony, just over the stage so they could see the nuance of every performance perfectly well.  One, I’ll call Aries (not his name – I didn’t catch it), who looked like a bike messenger from LA and sounded like a WHFS DJ from my childhood, was the most acerbic, but he was cheek-pinchingly adorbs, so he could get away with it.  Hot Lixx Houlihan actually won the WORLD Championship of Air Guitar, and was the man cueing up the music and being the yang to Aries’ yin. Then Adam Liptak was the old guy judge. As the Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, I don’t know what he has to do with music.  Then again, the bunch of kids bounding around onstage who truly DON’T play the guitar have about as much to do with music as Liptak, so maybe I should just shut my big mouth about that.

There was a brief intermission between the first round and the second (and final) round.  For this sort of halftime there was entertainment in the form of Matthew “Airistotle” Burns (regional Air Guitar winner of New York) and Rob “Windhammer” Weychert (regional Air Guitar winner of Philadelphia) doing a dueling guitar skit.  Airistotle looked just how the kid who won from New York should look: super skinny with dark hair, dark-framed glasses, black t-shirt, jeans and quite probably Converse sneakers.  I fell in love with him at first sight.  His music choice was classical, Spanish-style guitar.  Windhammer looks like Scott Ian of Anthrax, and I would classify his music choice as death-metal-y.  Windhammer and Airistotle checked these two clashing music choices in and out quite amusingly, and I sort of bobbed up and down on my toes with my knuckles to my teeth for the sheer joy of it.  They dueled with the fiery tunes of their imaginary guitars, then came together in rock to play “Party Hard” by Andrew WK for a minute before closing out the halftime break.  I probably could have left then. My life was pretty much complete.

But the regional finals were interesting. The six contestants (six because there were multiple ties in second and third place) had to all listen to one song clip, randomly chosen by judge Hot Lixx Houlihan, just once, and then return to stage to air guitar along to it with mere minutes to prepare.  This was wheat from chaff time.

All the performances were great at this stage, but you could get a clear idea about who was kind of a one-trick pony and who had the chops to win this bitch.  The stand-outs for me were the returners, Tommy Fretless and The Shred, and another dude I forgot the name of, but had abs you could grate cheese on. Dude, if you read this, send me a message. Seriously.

Fretless won with a perfect 6.0 across the board, and will go on with all the other regionals winners to battle for world domination.  The World Championships will be held in Finland (!) this year, and seem to be or have been dominated by Asian countries in the past.  Perhaps a Karaoke carryover?

All-in-all a fun-tacular night. I’d recommend hitting up an Air Guitar event when it’s near you.  Hopefully the event will continue on in future years, as they were without sponsors this year and had to scale back a bit on city stops.  Go buy a t-shirt.

Air Guitar’s what’s up.


About ckstackhouse

Author of suspense books, creative consultant, blogger on culture and publishing.
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