2011 U.S. Air Guitar Chicago Regional Championship at Double Door | Live review | photos
When was the last you seriously air-guitared? Alone in your bedroom when you were 14? In your friend's apartment a few drunken months ago? At a red light? Last week? Last night? Are you rocking your air-shred skills at this very moment?
You may not know, even as you practice air guitar in private, that strumming a phantom instrument has risen to the level of popular art in some circles, beyond the purview of the drunk or merely stoned. For some, air guitar is a sport, much like karate or chess: Gladiators compete to show how well they can shred sans the presence of actual instruments. For these people and their fanatic friends, last night at the Double Door was their Rose Bowl: These are the U.S. Air Guitar Chicago regional championships.
If you're wondering what an "air guitar regional championship" looks like, it's probably much akin to what you're imagining: Someone tearing up an invisible ax in private, but on stage, before a massive audience, with professional audio and lighting. Performers' stage names ran the gamut from "Rocky Rose" to "Old Glory" to "Cleopatra" and "Van Image," a married, competing couple. Costumes were just as ridiculous, with contestants rocking simple underwear-and-tie getups, covered in tribal mud and adorned with leather kilts. Bands covered included Sleigh Bells, Pat Benatar and everything with shred potential in between. Many entered, but only one would win, and that distinction went to 27-year-old Justin Howard of Ukrainian Village, a professional air guitarist since 2006.
"I've won before, but there was something special about tonight," he remarked after the event. "My mom came all the way from Wyoming to see the show, so just for her to see me perform was fuckin' awesome, but for her to be here to see me win is like—it's the tits, man."
It was clear that Howard deserved his top spot. Besides his encyclopedic knowledge of air guitar history and custom, he showed raw passion and talent, enough to win over a rowdy crowd and, obviously, the judges.
One surprising fact about this organized air-guitar-competition business: Its main goal is to spread peace, not just lunacy. "When the world air guitar championships started in Finland, their initiative was to promote world peace, and the saying is you can't hold a gun if you're holding an air guitar," says Howard. "And so if we all come together and act like fools for 60 seconds at a time, where thousands of people come and enjoy what's happening, it's peaceful and it's fun and everyone enjoys it."
Peaceful, fun idiocy sounds exactly like Chicago's kind of time, and it certainly was, with a sizable crowd at the Double Door. Look out for the national championships, coming to Metro on July 23. You'll see Howard there, as well as regional champions from across the nation, fighting for a chance to go to Finland to compete internationally. However, one got the feeling that even if these competitions didn't exist, people like Howard would still be shredding air. What inspired him to compete in the first place?
"Loving. Loving being an idiot in front of people and making people laugh and having fun, but also loving rock & roll and wanting to be on stage and be a rock star for the short period of time that you are," he answered. "I love everyone, everyone loves each other, this is the one thing to look forward to every year, where we get together, get drunk, act like complete fuckin' idiots and have a great time."
Getting drunk, acting like idiots and having a great time. What could be better? For everyone at the Double Door last night, the answer was nothing, and for that there was no better place to be.