Photo credit: Kyle Privette.

Photo credit: Kyle Privette.

NASHVILLE, TN – In what is being heralded as the most talent-rich National Finals in recent US Air Guitar history, and after an unprecedented double-sudden-death air-off, Portland's THE MARQUIS (Rob Messel) took the national title and settled, once and for all, who can rightfully be called America's best professional air guitarist.

It takes great balls and furious labia to strut into Music City, global mecca of there guitar, with nothing but an invisible instrument and a dream. At a sell-out show at Exit/In, from a stage that has hosted legends from Willie Nelson to Death Cab, The Ramones to Etta James, Marquis was joined by 19 of the nation's finest air guitarists to settle once and for all who would go on to represent the stars and stripes at the World Championships in Oulu, Finland.

Marquis advanced to Saturday’s national stage from an earlier underground and un-promoted "Dark Horse" competition where, on an invitation-only basis, a small number of competitors are given one last chance for a shot at making it to the finals. Earlier in the season Marquis hosted the Portland show, and thus removed himself from the competition to head off any conflicts of interest. With their hometown champ sidelined for the evening, Portland overwhelmingly attached themselves to relative carpetbagger MR. UNIVERSE (Richard Sprague) and local legend KARA PICANTE (Kara Muir).

Mr. Universe leaps atmospherically. Photo credit:  Jonathan Levinson

Mr. Universe leaps atmospherically. Photo credit: Jonathan Levinson

Against the odds, both Universe and Picante made their ways to the National stage from Portland. Mr. Universe was able to advance as champion from the Pacific Northwest semifinal with pure chops – precision fingerwork plus some husky ass wiggling – despite being a well-known performer from the rival San Francisco air guitar scene. Nevertheless, he overcame the challenge and made it to the U.S. Finals representing P-town.

Kara Picante overcame odds greater than anything seen in the history of competitive air guitar. After a high-impact first round performance to Lizzo's "Boys," she advanced to the second round in Saturday's Finals. Only later did the evening's Master or Airemonies, HYPES (Justin Hypes), reveal to the crowd that all season Picante has been in the throes of Stage IV cancer. Picante's fans in the audience were dumbfounded upon hearing the news, especially after witnessing a near-perfect first round (5.8/6.0 overall) despite what we can assume is a grueling treatment program back home. Cancer be damned, Picante nailed every lick, kick, and then stuck the landing.

Kara Picante. Photo credit:  Jonathan Levinson

Kara Picante. Photo credit: Jonathan Levinson

Earlier in the evening, 2019 U.S. Champion GEORGIA LUNCH (Brittan Diaz) double-necked it, behind-the-backed it, and even stab and resurrected it a few times. But the evening's outsized display of new moves and savant-level playing prevented her from another go in round 2. Same for Nashville's own FRIEDRICH von AIRENBERG (Ehren Congdon), San Francisco's HUMAN AIRER (Cayden Berkmoyer), Chicago's SHREDDY BOOP (Athena Kopsidas), Boston's OPROCK (Michael Lovely), 2017 U.S. Champion MOM JEANS (Nicole Sevcik), Orlando's CRUSHER (John Healy), DC's EDDIE HANDS FLAILIN' (Travis Arey), Portland's MR. UNIVERSE (Richard Sprague), and Dark Horse Champions LT. FACEMELTER (Jason Farnan), TYRANICUS LORD OF THE END TIMES (Brandon Baker), and PORK SWORD (Cameron Hawk).

Although we call it a “competition,” and despite each performer sharing that same competitive spirit with the olympic figure skaters from whence our judges derived their 4.0 – 6.0 judging scale, when it comes down to it each one of these contenders would take a bullet or give a colon to a comrade in need if it would help anything at all. In that spirit, when Kara Picante drew the 1-spot backstage, Lt. Facemelter demanded she trade with him, knowing full well that it would all but guarantee his own demise in early-round scoring. So that's how Kara Picante, the fourth best air guitarist in the country, and Lt. Facemelter, a former U.S. champion, tell cancer to go fuck itself. It's how life flips death the bird.


Back to round two. Stunningly, impossibly, San Diego champion KIT KAT (Kate Rose) was neck-and-neck with Marquis to the very end after drawing Wolfmother's "Pleased to Meet You" from the second round honey bucket (a bucket of unreasonably difficult songs for second-rounders to choose from if they deem the original compulsory either unreasonable, shitty, or often both).

Celebrity judges Jeanne Basona aka Hollywood from GLOBE wrestling, grammy-nominated Jay Knowles, ACLU mcukety-muck and Ed Snowden’s attorney Ben Wizner, and renowned academics of air guitar Tony Tapatio and Byrd McDaniel.

Celebrity judges Jeanne Basona aka Hollywood from GLOBE wrestling, grammy-nominated Jay Knowles, ACLU mcukety-muck and Ed Snowden’s attorney Ben Wizner, and renowned academics of air guitar Tony Tapatio and Byrd McDaniel.

It's an impossible ask: "listen once to an edit you've never heard, then perform it without missing a note. Also, make an already suspicious audience forget you're not actually playing anything." And yet, after taking a whiskey triple-shot from the crowd and without missing a single note thereafter – while enduring multiple miscues from the evening's dipshit AV guy – Kit Kat did just that. In between such technical perfection, Kat added her one-of-a-kind choreography wherein she seems pulled toward hell down into the stage by the devil himself, only to be resurrected by a pantomimed guitar-climb. Seems today the devil within still wanted a few more whiskeys after the show.

Kit Kat: “Don’t fuck it up, Spacebar.” Photo credit: Dianne Cletus.

Kit Kat: “Don’t fuck it up, Spacebar.” Photo credit: Dianne Cletus.

Kit Kat and Marquis were joined in their first air-off by umpteenth-time World Champion and US Air Guitar wunderkind AIRISTOTLE (Matt Burns, NYC). 'Stotle, who's cuter than a pikachu and young enough to collect all four, who's so totes adorbs that historically fans fall in love with him instantly, triggered the oddest response from Saturday's crowd:


Airistotle and his favorite lolly.

Airistotle and his favorite lolly.

But it took Airistotle about 10 seconds of performing to get the crowd from unconsciously contempt, to foggily aware, to blissfully woke. Rather than his frequent bubble-gum Vampire Weekend or similarly saccharine track, Airistotle used Metallica's "Poor Twisted Me" out of the gate and the crowd was, accordingly, fucked. By the end of his routine, throughout the packed house all that could be heard was that old familiar chant: "Stotle! Stotle! Stotle!"

Earlier in the evening, the first time I saw Agnes Young's (Rachel Sinclair, Denver) routine I was left speechless as she owned the stage with what began as a little old lady at the slots but ended with a big fat "go luck yourself" to the world. Her custom mix of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" for melodic dancing overlays with Ludacris' "Move Bitch Get Out Da Way" for attitude, both of which give way to a metal cover of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" which provided the most kinetic and frenzied part of the act. In 60 seconds, Agnes conveyed a multi-volume narrative about age, capitalism, war, addiction, and the transformative powers of metal to elevate oneself above it all. Plus it fucking rocked.

Agnes Young moves all bitches out tha way. Photo credit Dianne Cletus.

Agnes Young moves all bitches out tha way. Photo credit Dianne Cletus.

Houston's THRILLIE NELSON (Taylor Fullbright) not only volunteered to go first in the second round, but also opted-out of listening to the surprise track before performing. A true test of wit and improvisation, and adding to an evening of heretofore unprecedentedness, Thrillie decided to dry hump the compulsory by refusing the option to hear it played first. For his bravery and sacrifice, he also had to endure an Avril Lavigne fake-out before being dealt the evening's real compulsory, Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head." Although he did not take the U.S. Title, rumors abound that Thrillie's efforts have earned him a semi-official invitation to the exclusive Dark Horse in Finland later this month.

FLYIN' FINN (Andrew Finn, Lawrence) and VAN DAMMAGE (Luke Sevcik, Texas) also advanced to the second round with their own styles of guitar mastery. For Dammage, it's all roses and flamenco, mixed with an homage to Johnny Cash who is an old regular on this very same stage. As "Ring of Fire" poured out the speakers, Dammage summoned a plume of smoke from either hell or his local dispensary, before a quick guitar slap and a torpedo roll into the crowd. Miraculously, owing much to his off-season conditioning and new lithesome physique, his stage dive was caught.

Flyin' Finn, who's half Thor and half hula skirt, is unlikely to stage dive and survive. Instead, he was all tassels and rock. Multiple signature moves elevated him into round two, including synchronized double-necks, a tearaway bearskin rug, and a well-timed hanky accessory to keep even the most elegant of huskier gentlemen dry.

As for the crowd, it was rowdy as shit all night. Maybe they were playing some kind of drinking game where every time a competitor broke a venue rule you had to take a shot? (“No stage dives, no glitter, no fire, no liquids, no smoke, no beverages without a dixie cup”. . . Oopsies!) No matter how many beers were sprayed into the crowd, nor how many rounds the evening went, nobody left the venue for longer than a cigarette. And when they did go outside for a smoke, everyone was glued to our livestream so they knew when to get their asses back inside. Even the security guards were streaming the show on their own smoke breaks.

So what was the difference that separated Marquis from the rest? He used the oldest and newest licks in the book, both of which are impossibly difficult to execute: first, he selected a previously-picked honey pot that perfectly fit his country-cosmopolitan style: Van Halen's Ice Cream Man. He knew there's way more noodling in that song which is good for lanky dudes with long fingers, and somehow he kept it in his head from his one listening much earlier in the round. Lastly, he just hit every single lick of all three compulsory edits. There are off-season strategies to mastering this impossibility, like driving with unfamiliar radio to help predict patterns and create obfuscations to mask such unfamiliarities (power-clap, anyone?). So at the end of the day, Marquis' improvisation outlasted Kit Kat's exceptional choreography.


And MARQUIS will take any advantage he can, knowing that he'll be face-to-face with this bastard in Finland. I bet the other dude’s not even a real Frenchman.

Getting into the weeds a bit, I think it's fair to thank a few of the hardest working air guitarists in the business for their help with the show. First, HYPES (Justin Hypes): Our host with the most, the dude that orchestrated majority of the show's sizzle, who didn't fuck up the "and who here's a virgin?" joke despite all the money USAG Corporate HQ dumped into the pool. Next we have TEDDY RXPN (Kriston Rucker), AIR LINGUS (Cedric Devitt) SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (Nat Hays), and NORDIC THUNDER (Justin Howard) for keeping this sport strong and for keeping an open tab at the bar. Next, ANITA STAGENAME (Rachel Williams) who could get us to the moon and back with an android and a clipboard and the dynamic duo ROCKSTACHE and LADY STACHE (Charles Williamson and Jenn Burgess), who helped avert multiple in-show technical glitches as well as head-off what would have been a real internet shitstorm if not for their triple-redundancy scoring programme; WHITNESS (Whit Hubner) who’s the maestro of our hearts and the most connected guy in all of Nashville, PRIVATE MELTER for the photo hookups and constant support for luddite bloggers, SONIC BITCH (Rachelle Landreth), IRON DRAGON (Justin Fox), STONEHENGE (Lloyd Weema), SWEETNESS (Kyle Privette) . . . well shit, I guess pretty much everyone from this yearbook photo:


Tune-in to watch Marquis take the stage at the Air Guitar World Championships on Friday, August 23rd.

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