Air heads

Boston crowns an air guitar champion
By IAN SANDS  |  May 15, 2006

Long ridiculed and parodied, air guitar is in the ascendance right now. As heavy-metal concert videos and the popularity of Guitar Hero both attest, playing the notes on an instrument may be vastly overrated: what we actually long to do is make faces and whack at the whammy bar. (A Finnish university has developed a “virtual air guitar” program that can turn these frenetic gestures into actual sound.) So when I heard that Harpers Ferry would be hosting the Boston regionals of the US Air Guitar Championship (a division of the World Air Guitar Championship, which is based in, yes, Finland), I was intrigued to see how far my brethren have taken the practice.

Early on during the prelims last Saturday, it was apparent that the competition would be fierce. God of Fire had been employed to warm up the crowd — bassist Seth Diamond doubled as one of three judges — and during their set, one contestant could be seen shooting wild glances at his neighbors, as if marking his territory. This contestant’s stage name was Grande Rocko Lotto, and when it was his turn to perform, he appeared in a flowing red cape and cued an Aerosmith song. Then he plucked at the tiniest air guitar I’d ever seen anyone pretend to hold. (A rule of thumb cited by veterans is that one’s air guitar gets smaller as the song goes on.)

Thirteen contestants performed to 30-second snippets of songs they chose, mostly ’80s metal standards. Many participants seemed to be former metalheads who’d spent time analyzing old Headbangers Ball clips. Jamie Stern wore a smug smile and a jacket/tie combo that he yanked off to reveal a red jumpsuit with the words “Lick My Legs I’m On Fire” in large letters. His sister, “Shocka Khan,” performed next and had competitors drooling over her booty shakes and leg kicks during “Paradise City.” Both siblings advanced to the next round, as did Southie rep Mike “The Godfather of Air,” Rocko Lotto, and a contestant named Deuce T. Rockena. Local radio personality Chris Rucker informed these five competitors that they would have to tackle selections from AC/DC’s Back in Black. The performances were, as you might expect, less enthralling than the first batch. But when the Godfather nailed all his chord changes and a tricky solo and was declared the winner, a few displeased spectators launched bottles in his direction. As bar security rushed to protect those in harm’s way, this reporter made a silent vow to stick to shredding in front of the mirror.

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Ian Sands: isands[a]

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