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Jul 16 2012

Why I Air Guitar

I could say I compete in air guitar because I wanted to sit next to a friend of mine in class.

That’s why, in 6th grade, I chose the trombone as my instrument in the school band. During the years from there to the end of high school, I developed the habit of listening to music with my hands, miming each note as if lining my arm up on an invisible trombone slide.

After graduation, I turned briefly to the real guitar, until I realized how much work it would be to get really good at it. I also learned in that time the physicality of the instrument, and my miming habit shifted. To this day, it’s not unusual for me to stare out the window of a MUNI bus while my hands idly trace across imaginary frets whatever riff or solo is piping through my ear buds.

So when I heard there was an event which not only encouraged this kind of activity but gets audiences cheering for it, I had to get involved. I figure, I might as well receive a little recognition for something I’m gonna do anyway, so last year, I registered for the first time as a competitor in the San Francisco Air Guitar Regional Championships.

I ended up picking the stage name “Shred” Theodore Logan (Esq), a tribute to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which is a favorite of mine and one of the first clues any of us had in our lives that air guitar was even a thing.

How the competition works is, everyone who enters gets 60 seconds to prove what they can do. At the end of that round, the five “musicians” who’ve earned the highest scores from the judging panel move on to a second round, where they each perform to the same track, which none of them knows in advance.

The winner of each regional goes on to Nationals, held last year in Chicago and coming up this year in Denver. From there, our national champion is given a spot in the World Air Guitar Championships, held every year in Oulu, Finland, the home of competitive air guitar.

That means, the only thing separating anyone off the street from world domination in Air Guitar is six minutes of well-executed awesome, two minutes at a regional, two more at nationals, then two in Finland. That’s it. And you don’t have to know a note.

I made it into the second round of the SF regional on my first entry, eliminated there by more seasoned performers, but I was hooked. There’s no way I wasn’t going to be back, so I waited a year for another 60 seconds shredding it up on stage, and on Saturday, I got to go again.

This was the last regional, so many of the people serious enough to compete in multiple cities finished their tours here, bringing that experience to the fight for a single spot. Tensions were high, but also just about everyone I’ve met in the tightly knit community is super nice back stage.

San Francisco is also a cornerstone of the competitive US air guitar circuit. We’re a community who thrives on just that kind of there-but-not-there trippy event, and the roster was packed with talent.

My randomly chosen performance slot came this year sandwiched between two former SF regional champions. I didn’t have their reputations, their dedicated cheering sections or their flashy costumes, but I hoped I could ride their crowd enthusiasm.

“Be excellent to each other!” I shouted to one side of the audience, a hand to my chest with the other outstretched. “Party on, dudes!” I shouted from the opposite corner of the stage, my hands reversing position, but I’m not sure if my message reached however many hundreds of people packed into the venue.

I cued the start of my track, a heavily edited version of Hangar 18, not something instantly recognizable to the crowd, but I knew if I could build their enthusiasm over the course of it, there would be no stopping me. In the space of 60 seconds, the guitar solo built in volume, speed and intensity, and I gave it all my energy.

For one minute, I was a rock star, and the world was a blur, and I ended those 60 seconds sweating and out of breath, my mission complete.

The crowd was not blown away.

My scores were good, but not enough for a competition like that. I didn’t embarrass myself, but I can’t help but imagine my scores could have been higher if I had, in some spectacular way.

Hell, it’s such a fun event. I’ll be watching the results of nationals, then the world championships. After that, I just can’t wait for next year. 2013, baby!