Nothing Like That Fresh, Rocky Mountain Air. . . Guitar
Denver brought the old-school US Air Guitar vibes this year. After a couple years in the same venue, the third time was surely the charm for 3 Kings’ Tavern. Denver old-timer-turned-organizer Jesse Isengard (John Humphrey) held up the task of promoting and hosting this year’s Denver regional for the fourth year running.
Coming back from the World Finals in Oulu, Isengard and fellow air slingers focused their efforts on recruiting new blood in Denver—and their efforts paid off.
With a stacked deck of ten competitors, many of them making their debut, the night was anyones for the taking. Along with fresh faces on-stage, we welcomed a widespread panel of judges to decide the winner from the pack. There’s no shortage of talent required in judging an air guitar contest, and Denver had a bevy this year.
From improv (Matt Wallington) to punk rock (April Cava), veterans of the air guitar scene (Rachel ‘Stabitha Christie’ Meyers-Hawk) and Open Air radio queens (Alisha Sweeney), our judges’ table was as qualified as ever to judge this invisible contest. Air guitar even got a fine art boost thanks to Platte Forum artistic director Rebecca Vaughan.
It was a night of high kicks, higher ABVs (thanks for the badass Belgian boost, Bruz Beers!), head injuries, and holding your breath while the puck dropped in Round Two.
Read on to see how we do it in the Mile High City, from wildcard to returning champions.
ROUND ONE: NOW THAT’S HOW YOU TAP THE ROCKIES
Following a quick, “Creep”y opening routine by our master of airimonies, we launched into the competition in short order. Starting with four venerable (and viable!) wild cards, including the notable newbie Pissed Cringle (David Lenoble), we got the air circulating quickly before launching into the deck of designated guitarists.
Chosen randomly backstage, luck dealt the Ace of Spades to two-year champ Agnes Young (Rachel Sinclair), the first non-Wild Card contender. Agnes debuted a new, ‘gamblin granny’ persona this year, breaking the bank with a mash-up of Girl Talk and a bitchin’ Brian Posehn cover of “The Gambler.” Though Ms. Young seemed to be taking the piss with this take, she was rewarded with excellent scores that launched into round two.
From there, we picked up steam quickly. Co-organizer and 2016 champ Pork Sword (Cameron Hawk) got in touch with his progressive side, earning a ‘Yes’ from judges for his frenetic fretwork. Newcomer Lam’Ozzy Osborne (Cameron Whiteside) got snaps for his prop work and deep breathing exercises—and even successfully kept his evil bun in the oven through 60 hilarious seconds.
Two more first-timers, Hanneurysm (Hannah Drager) and Florida Man (Jared Powell) comprised the spectrum of air guitar talent. Hanneurysm played it cool with high kicks, latex leggings and a ton of Heart in her debut.
Meanwhile, Florida Man made it to Denver on a day pass, semi-competently shotgunned a beer and launched into a drunken ode to the light of his life—Coors Light.
They both proved that sometimes coworkers do make the best cannon foddAIR, and we expect to see them back and kicking even more ass next year!
These newbies narrowly missed the round two mark and we hope these ambitious new arrivals will represent the future of air guitar as Denver knows it—and looks like we’re gonna need a bigger beer for at least one of them.
This year’s road warriors hailed from Colorado’s neighboring states: Stack Attack (Amy Stack) made the trek from Kansas City, Kansas; and a smiley, saccharine companion to Utah son Bottom Ramen (Matt Thomas) who put the ‘LSD’ in Latter-Day Saints.
Their contrasting styles widened the pool, bringing out the smiles of the Sunflower State and summoning Satan and Beavis himself. Stackhouse’s enthusiasm and Aquabats launched her into the compulsories.
Six String Sal (Saladin Thomas) made his presence known with a theatrical rendition of A7X’s “Bat Country”. With plenty of dreadbanging and shredding, Sal was back in a big way and headed to round two.
Then, Ramen laughed his way to the back of the stage, and took a gnarly header from the Plinko board stashed away for round two. Don’t worry. He’s allllright, folks!
Next up to bat, some of Denver’s most veteran performers returned to stake their claim for air guitar fame.
After Six String’s shredded was done, tall drink of wat-air Dr. Rocktopus (Ian Burke) brought a new character and tons of energy to his fresh take on System of a Down’s “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.”. Our tower of power mixed things up a bit and it’s always great to see what fun things he cooks up in the air lab.
Last up, final contestant and long-time fan favorite Vince Vairga (Myles Green) dropped trow, mooned the crowd and still knocked the judges dead to a stirring Bad Religion edit. Vince kicked (and showed) seriously ass and secured a spot in the second round.
ROUND TWO: HAVE A PLINK ON ME
Following an affirmative, Christ-friendly halftime show with all the ‘yeah’s he could muster, we returned for an ‘anything goes’ round two. This year saw the return of the handmade Plinko board to the Denver stage. As we called back Stack Attack, Vince Vairga, Six String Sal, Pork Sword and reigning champ Agnes Young, they were treated to a choice:
An airtight cut of Rage Against the Machine’s, “Know Your Enemy” or take your chances with a 90’s-riffic Plinko board.
It was a no-brainer: Plinko for everyone!
Stackhouse turned sour to Pantera. Vince channeled his Vedder to “Even Flow.” But with an average score of 17.3 between them, it came down top three contestants as they returned to the stage and took their chances on a Plinko chip (air hockey puck, natch).
Sal’s luck would put his money on black...metal, that is. Treated to a tongue-in-cheek take on the term, the look on Sal’s face when Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” unexpectedly started—and stopped—was priceless. As was his performance!
No stranger to this song, Sal gave it his all and confidently caught his breath at the end of a breathtaking compulsory performance, pleased to find the first 6.0 of the night from the judge’s table. An on-odds winner since his debut in 2016, Sal picked up some more members of his Cult this night.
Following that staggering act was Pork Sword, a competitor who’s been known to master any compulsory song thrown his way, way back to the ‘Trucker Hat of Doom’ days of his Kansas City origin.
The Sword dropped his air hockey puck, summoned ‘The Devil’s Music’ and made a Faustian bargain with Danzig. His bloody, back-assward moves were perfectly equipped for the brooding edit of “Mother.” With multiple 5.9s to greet him, it would take a monumental, maternal effort to sheath this Sword.
Pork’s near-perfect score made the outcome clear: it was either him or Agnes for the win. All eyes were on AG’s favorite Grandma as she Plinkoed--not once, twice, but three times (possibly due to human airror), and was rewarded with an appropriately maternal rendition of “Mother”.
Hey, sometimes persistence pays off!
And so it went with round two--Agnes disrobed her jacket, locked her feet, swung her hips, and moved all her chips into Danzig’s ripply care. She brought a paranoid bent to the same song that Pork Sword had slayed moments before, and the judges saw fit to award her with multiple sixes.
Agnes Young is your returning and still reigning Denver Champion!
With full hearts and empty lungs, contestants, fans and judges stormed the stage and proceeded to tear down the house in ‘Round 3’s “Freebird” finale. That’s just how we do it in Denver, y’all!
Special thanks to Pork Sword for co-sponsoring this event (wouldn’t happen without him), Denver’s Bruz Beers for sponsoring the event and keeping our contestants hydrated, and 3 Kings for having us maniacs back three years and running.
Also, don’t miss this amazing photo gallery for more shots by the great Tina Hagerling with the Denver Post. Huge thanks to her for making us look damn good!
As we speak, Agnes is packing her fanny pack and counting coins for her third turn at Nationals. Along with your host, runner-up Pork Sword and his better half Stabitha Christie, we’re making a pilgrimage to Nashville in August.
So if you’re in Music City that weekend, come say hi to the Denver Crew!
MJ optional. Hugs mandatory.
Written by Denver Host, Jesse Isengard
All photos by Tina Hagerling with the Denver Post