The current reigning US Air Guitar Champion (yes, you read that right) is a young, wiry New Yorker who looks like every kid who was regularly beat up in high school. But despite this (or maybe because of it?) he rocks harder than that strung-out bungee guitarist from Fury Road. Matt “Airistotle” Burns will be defending his title this Saturday in our fair city and it might just be a Portlander who takes him down.
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of competitive air guitar, here’s how it works: Contestants have one minute to impress the judges by shredding to a song of their choosing. They are rated based on a rigid set of criteria including technical merit, stage presence, and “airness.”
Hometown favorite, Tony Tapatio, lives in Seattle but grew up in Portland and holds the current Western Conference title. He’s also #1 on Airistotle’s radar: the champion says Tapatio is a “vicious air guitarist.” Tapatio is undoubtedly the West’s best contender and (amid rumors that this will be his last year competing) he is ready to bring the title to the NW. “I’m going all out. My work took me out of Portland but it’s still my home. I want to win it for Portland.” This will be Tapatio’s third national competition and he is confident his weird-sexy “masculine Prince” vibe will win over Portland crowds.
Portlander Kara Muir, better known as Kara Picante, organizes the local competitions in town and is a hardcore competitor herself. Her performance, which included an Ozzy-worthy severed head, got her to nationals two years ago and she hopes to do it again this year. (I asked Picante if she had any fierce words for her competitors and, indeed, her words were so fierce we can’t print them).
But Picante’s fate still hangs in the balance, along with fellow local rock goddess Sahara “Sahexy” Scott. Both will compete in the bloodthirsty Dark Horse competition on Thursday. An invite-only competition, this is the last chance for a select few air guitarists to prove their true mettle (and metal).
If anyone can dash our Portland hopes (and Airistotle’s) it might be D.C. legend Doug “The Thunder” Stroock. He took second to Airistotle last year and is looking for vengeance. After months of preparing the perfect “cut” (that crucial one minute of the most shreddable rock music imaginable), practicing rigorously, and working on his abs (in true rock god fashion, he will rip his shirt off on stage), he has his sights set on Airistotle’s crown. But really he says, “It’s all about having fun and rocking out.”
In the end it will take something less tangible to take down the champion (shall we call it airness?). Airistotle is an “on the fly” competitor. His uncanny ability to read the crowd and give them what they want has led him to two national championships (he also won in 2012) but he admits a third may not be so easy. “There has never been a back-to-back champ and the competition is so tough this year.” Nonetheless, he is coming to the City of Roses ready to melt faces.
In addition to being named U.S. Champion, the winner of Saturday’s competition will carry the hopes of the nation to the world championships in Finland where they will compete for the ultimate air guitar crown and a lifetime of glory.
For those about to rock, we salute you. And for a taste of what will be hitting the Hawthorne Theatre this Saturday, check out Airstotle's 2014 performance (below) at the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland in 2014.
Catch the smack-down at the Hawthorne Theatre this Saturday, August 8, at 8 pm.