Hometown hero NORDIC THUNDER takes Championship Belt (photos updated)

NORDIC THUNDER (Justin Howard) spent all Friday conjuring the storms and still had energy left over to win the US Air Guitar National Finals. He will be appearing on the Lopez Tonight Show on Tuesday. Unless otherwise noted, All photos by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago.

It has taken nine years for America to recover from the shock of competitive air guitar.  Now, as US Air Guitar enters its second decade, the story of competitive air guitar is no longer that it exists, but rather how each individual contender uniquely excels at his craft and how it advances the sport itself.

Guess what’s circulating from that ceiling fan? Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago.

Saturday night twenty-two uniquely excellent competitors from across the country descended upon Chicago for a sold-out show at the historic Metro.  From the hip streets of New York to the dusty pueblos bordering El Paso, TX; from the shores of San Diego to the heights of Denver, they came here to answer one question: who is the finest professional air guitarist in America, and who will represent the stars and stripes against two dozen other countries at the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland?

After our 10-week search across the country, America roaringly answered that question: NORDIC THUNDER (Justin Howard).  Nordic Thunder was clad in presumably unwashable viking leather chain mail and smelled like six metal bands sharing an RV.  After entering the compulsory round at the top of the heap, Nordic sealed the deal with his signature Power Slide, leaving two long tracks of blood wherever his bare knees took him.

But it was a close race. 

DC’s TOMMY FRETLESS (Adam Lee), who injured himself while training, refused his trainer’s orders to sit out the finals and instead played through the pain on one leg. Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos courtesy of Time Out Chicago. The mark of a true air guitar champion is the ability to play regardless of the circumstances, because all national champs will have to perform to whatever bizarre compulsory track they are dealt by the Finns on the world stage.  Fretless’ uber appropriate choice of Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got,” and the courage he summoned to play with his dominant foot broken, took him to such a transcendental place that he possibly delivered the finest performance of his 5-year career – although to be fair, I’m a little emotional and his 2011 DC performance did impregnate a whole lot of faces.

(Tommy Fretless photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago.)

New York City’s AIRISTOTLE (Matt Burns), the youngest competitor of the season for three straight years, finished just a half point behind Nordic Thunder.  It’s funny to look back and remember that at the ripe age of 17 in early 2008, his mother drove him from their latchkey apartment in New York City down to Philadelphia because it was the only all ages event of the tour.  Everyone present that night knew they were witnessing the future of competitive air guitar unfold before their eyes.  Barely a flyweight, the kid was so thin and pale he was nearly translucent.  But the rookie was still unpolished and would not advance to the National arena for another couple years.  Saturday night, his nerdy-guy work ethic and 125-calorie diet paid off when he finished second place on the National stage.

Sinewy superstar AIRISTOTLE (Matt Burns) finished second Saturday night but took first place in the “lost virginity” contest in his hotel room later that night. Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago. 

Portland’s TONY TAPATIO (Antonio Cervantes) is almost too good looking for air guitar, Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos courtesy of Time Out Chicago.and the stereotypical crowd of husky Chicagoan air guitar enthusiasts reminded him of this with constant jeers and heckling.  Frankly, he could easily be a lead man for a sexy Latin-flavored revival of the boy band era.  But if you look past his dreamy smile and flowing dark locks and an outlined junkbox behind leopard print spandex you’ll find one amazing competitor.  First of all, Tapatio came out chewing gum and stuck it down his pants.  Then at one point in his performance he played his air guitar inside an air vagina, then he licked it, then he wiped his mouth on his ascot.  After his performance he freshened up by removing the ABC (already been chewed) gum from his genitals and popped it back into his mouth.  And believe it or not, backstage he’s both sweet and quite shy; but on stage he’s a Ravishing Rick Rude for the new millennium.

(Tony Tapatio Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago.)

By awarding these three competitors with some of the highest marks of the evening, most experts agree that celebrity judge and Godless liberal Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh, Wisconsin State Legislature) got most of the evening right, except perhaps for a serious misinterpretation of Kansas City’s MEAN MELIN (Eric Melin).  Hintz commented that Melin did “not even looking like an air guitarist.” Of course, serious followers of competitive air guitar recognize Melin as a natural and one of the sport’s finest ambassadors.  In fact, Mean Melin bleeds air guitar – but he also bleeds kitten whiskers and glee.  Anything but mean, I’m certain he won’t hold a grudge against the distinguished gentleman from Wisconsin.  To set things straight, upon hearing Hintz’s quibble USAG co-commissioner Cedric Devitt promptly dumped a beer over the judges’ heads.  The judges, who drink for free on the USAG bar tab, would later return the favor.  Afterward we all got plastered at Gingerman Tavern.  Good times.

MEAN MELIN (Eric Melin) is the heart, soul, and mustache of US Air Guitar. 
Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago. 

So while some competitors argued that all of Saturday’s judges were “unfair,” “ignorant,” and “total effing knob ends,” I’d argue that if the judges were so wrong, how were the evening’s undeniably best performers also the highest scorers? And how did the night’s best performer of all end up receiving the championship belt?

Hintz and celebrity co-judges Ben Bowman and HOT LIXX HULAHAN (Craig Bilmeier, 2008 World Air Guitar Champion) another two coastal powerhouses into the compulsory round, neither of whom managed to finish in the top five overall but both of whom clearly had more fun than the rest of us combined: San Diego’s LT. FACEMELTER (Jason Farnan) and Philadelphia’s WINDHAMMER (Rob Weychert).  Facemelter’s shore-leave-in-Saigan, “here guys have a brewsky on me” personality contrasted the legendary stone cold countenance that’s made Windhammer a terrifying fan favorite.  Even when last night’s master of airemonies, Björn Türoque (Dan Crane) whispered into his ear “kitten fart” and “unicorn money shot,” Windhammer didn’t crack the slightest smile.

LT. FACEMELTER (Jason Farnan) detonates some PBR’s into the crowd. 
Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago. 

WINDHAMMER (Rob Weychert) always stretches before not smiling. 
Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago. 

In a confidential e-mail between judges he didn’t know I’d leak, judge Ben Bowman offered this:  “What’s great about air guitar is that there’s plenty of room for all kinds of acts - the weird, the classic, the flashy and the simple. Who knew a man on crutches could captivate an audience and soar past many competitors blessed with two functional legs?  I loved it when we agreed, but I respect the disagreements, too.

“Ultimately, everyone gave Chicago a great show and air guitar looks poised for greatness in the years ahead [ … ] I loved every sweaty minute of it.  What a great bunch of weirdos.  What a great celebration of rock. What a magical experience.”

HOT LIXX HULAHAN (Craig Billmeier), who co-judged Saturday’s event, also performed a half time show with former US champ WILLIAM OCEAN (Andrew Litz). Photos of that performance will post later.  Photo by Gabi Porter.

So much more can and will be written about Saturday night, because you know what? It may have been the best National Championship I have ever quietly conducted from the sound booth.  And WILLIAM OCEAN and HOT LIXX HULAHAN’S half time show made me squirt myself; DREAMCATCHER (Ryan Layman) air-killed himself; Shred Boyardee was reunited with his brothers through the power of air guitar; ROMEO DANCECHEETAH (Matt Cornelison) changed his style 360° and still fucking crushed it; The WGN Cubs broadcasters spent an entire inning discussing Nordic’s chops; Tony Tapatio is Hot Lixx’s mom’s favorite performer; TETRAD (Michael Daniels) and DOUG THE THUNDER STRUCK (Doug Stroock), who narrowly missed their own shots at the Title Belt, did such amazing jobs as our Secret Service decoys that Metro asked me if they’d be available to bust some heads at an upcoming Altamont Revival Show … 

 - - - And I personally waited five years just to push the spacebar twenty-two times Saturday night.  I can’t explain how good Chicago felt, so here’s the best I can do:  it was an entire week of airness.  But the East Coast is nearly awake and we’ve got a shit ton of folks who will need something to read with their Monday morning bloody marys they pour into Starbucks cups while working their desk jobs.

Go get ‘em in Finland, Nordic.  You’ve got the brain and the brawn because you’re the thinking man’s neanderthal.

So major league high fives to hometown hero and 2011 US Champion Nordic Thunder, and my deepest gratitude to Chicago and all the competitors who soiled them sheets and flooded them streets all night long.

Ten minutes after the show had ended, security (black shit) remained unable to disperse the crowd. 
Photo by Brigette Sullivan for Outer Focus Photos Courtesy of Time Out Chicago. 

US Air Guitar Blogger ATC (West Hays) would like to thank the ever-dimpled BJÖRN TÜROQUE (Dan Crane), our Master of Airemonies, the face of US Air Guitar and feeder of our bellies, and the rest of the USAG touring crew for another face-melting, scrotal-shattering, doozy of a season; ZERO PROSPECTS (Kate Gray), for doing most things the rest of us cannot, like writing journalist improv at a press conference or operating a forklift for the back drop, and for learning new things like number two in public restrooms; to SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (Nathaniel Hays) for getting us on the front page of everything always and sort of staying out of the way sometimes when things get crazy; to HOT LIXX HULAHAN for taking the hardest job on the tour and somehow sending the best folks to the top every time, and for reading the blog with his mother, Janis; lastly, to co-commissioners KRISTON RUCKER and CEDRIC DEVITT, the sole reasons behind Competitive Air Guitar in the United States and the best summer job a minimally literate potty-mouthed blogger could ever ask for.