June 28, 2007, at The Independent
Better Than: Watching American Idol
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Watching someone play the air guitar is stupid. But place that air guitar player in front of a packed crowd at The Independent and it becomes stupidly awesome.
A typical Air Guitar Championship performance goes like this: a guy comes up with a stage name (for example, Rock-Ness Monster), he gets on stage wearing clothes that are too small for him, pretends to play the guitar, and jumps around the same way he must have when he was thirteen and heard Van Halen for the first time.
After the show he hangs out with his air groupies.
Contestants are given just one minute of a backing track in which to bend the air strings, shred the air neck, strum the air pick, crank the air whammy bar, and possibly even smash the whole thing into tiny bits of air. A panel of judges scores contestants and the winner is given a shot to face off against winners from around the country and ultimately make it to the Air Guitar World Championships held in Finland.
The audience at The Independent ate it up. Wielding cups of beer and giant foam hands giving the universal symbol of rock, the crowd was actually entranced by the air antics on stage. They cheered for the most rock star shredding, and booed for timid performers who failed to channel true rockage. In response to one performer who was dressed in cut-off jeans and a tiny leather vest left over from the 60’s, a few audience members yelled, “Go back to Burning Man!”
The night’s air set list included everything from Danzig to Foo Fighters. The MC was Bjorn Toroque (pronounced “byorn to rock”), a former air guitar champ and comedian of sorts. The US Air Guitar Championships were made popular in part by the 2006 documentary Air Guitar Nation which chronicled Toroque’s rise to air fame and his rivalry with air guitarist C-Diddy. Toroque also wrote a book called To Air Is Human.
The best part of the show was when Mr. Toroque invited anyone who happened to have brought his or her air guitars with them to come up on stage for the finale. I had left mine at home but I jumped up there anyway just so I could breathe the rock air. The stage was instantly packed with people who danced, nay, rocked to Lynnyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. When Skynyrd hit the last jangled chord, the night’s magic ended and everyone’s air guitars disappeared into uh, you know, thin air.
Personal Bias: I can actually play the real guitar but I started on the air guitar.
Random Detail: It smelled like weed in the judges’ corner.
By The Way: The US finals are in August in New York