Welcome to the anti-sausage fest: 2013 Portland #USAirGuitar Recap
This year’s annual US Air Guitar battle at Dante’s promised to be different. The gang of usual suspects would not take part. There would be no Hot Lixx Hulahan, no Bjorn Turoque, no Air Traffic Control, no Nat Hays. Air artistes didn’t know what to expect. Did Kara Picante, a finalist at last year’s Dark Horse, have any idea how to host a qualifier for the San Francisco Semifinals?
Picante and her partner-in-crime, PR pro and air spectator Cherry Airlexis, were keeping their plans close to the vest. What people did learn was that the proceeds would benefit a local children’s education program. Also, prizes were going to be bigger … with $400 going to the winner and $300 going to the second-place finalist toward their travel expenses. That’s right, Team Picante was sending TWO people to the Semifinals! But they weren’t going to make it easy. Among other breaks from tradition, they increased the number of judges to four and changed the rules of the second round.
Temperatures soared to record highs in Portland (for Portlanders, anyway) that night. I don’t know how hot it got, but it was muggy as hell. A climb to one of the catwalks to scope out camera setups drenched my shirt inside a minute.
Team Picante learned quickly all the last-minute, on-site difficulties that arise when putting on such an event (kudos to the US Air Guitar guys for going through this show after show). “When are we starting?” was a question making its rounds throughout the green room and on the main floor until finally I could only say, “It’ll start when it starts.” But when it did start it was soooo worth the wait. The video will say it better than I can. Seriously, watch this and the video at the end of this post.
Thanks to multimedia storyteller Kat Nyberg, for climbing up to that hot-as-hell catwalk and capturing the opening act. And props to Picante’s backup dancers, The Hussies, composed of dance-team veteran D-Diablo and dancer Coco Loco, for moving like creatures from another world and giving Picante’s piping-hot number that extra spice.
Still out of breath, Kara Picante thanked her sponsors and introduced herself as the Mistress of Airemonies. She then invited members of the audience to sign up as Wild Cards. Even as she said this some goofball who’d been skulking around in a Mexican wrestling mask sprinted onstage, ready to perform. “Um, who are you?” Picante asked. “Mystairio,” the masked man piped into the mike in eunoch falsetto. Even Whalin’ Big Air — a man with a digital reader board for a belt buckle said, “Oh my God, this guy’s going to be a weirdo.”
Mystairio gave the “Go” sign. Then as the song started he whipped off his mask, spun round and revealed himself to be “Air Guitar Nation” star and self-proclaimed “second-best air guitarist in the world,” Bjorn Turoque!
So not everyone present had seen “Air Guitar Nation.” But many had, and went nuts during his sixty-second performance. Compliments to Bjorn and his hosts for keeping his appearance such a well-kept secret. Back with his hat on and sweaty mask off, Bjorn gave up any claim to competing and took over the emceeing for the night.
I don’t remember when exactly they were introduced, but here was the final lineup of judges: Radio personality Dan Bozyk; drag persona Pagan Holladay; Chuck-ony Mung-aTio (two-headed judge made of Airpocalyptic entities Chuck Mung and Tony Tapatio, whose judging counted for one total vote); and Kara Picante.
#usairguitar "you sat on my face" pic.twitter.com/GTZ528rCa7
— Kristiana Kroneck (@msgutterbunny) June 30, 2013
Except for the occasional mike-hogging by the Chuck-ony Mung-aTio mutant (which, granted, could be freakin’ funny) the judges were pretty much straight and to the point. They’d been advised beforehand that their job was to find two contenders to represent Portland in the Semifinals in addition to reigning champion, Tony Tapatio. Which meant that if Lefty had competed — and he was seen playing video poker before the show started — he would be scored based on the standard criteria. This went not just for Lefty, but for all competitors.
Now, onto the first round: It began with legit wild card and first-time air guitarist, Tina Turnair, who brought great enthusiasm and hair to the stage if not the most polished technique. Next came Whalin’ Big Air, who started with the “Superman” theme music. The remaining competitors were Finger Lickin’ Good, Grinnin bAirett, Left Coast Money, Jeremy Battlesquirrel, Eric Ittar, and first-time competitors Sahexy (sister of former Portland/now L.A. competitor, Arora Nasty) and Death Unlimited.
Moments that stick out: Finger Lickin’ Good’s performance; Grinnin bAirett’s grinnin’ and bearin’ it (ALL of it — which prompted Picante to say, “You do realize this is a fundraiser for a children’s charity… and that what you did just now would probably get you banned from standing within 100 feet of a school”); Eric Ittar’s onstage tiff with Picante (Ittar, whom Picante judged low for plucking to Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”: “This is a guitar contest, not a rock contest”; Picante: “This is an air guitar contest, not a debate contest,” and dropping his score two tenths of a point); Battlesquirrel’s fast-pitching little sausages into the crowd (which along with Picante’s confetti got her docked for pay by the venue); and Sahexy’s sa-hexxiness, which earned her, along with Big Air, Finger Lickin’ Good, Left Coast Money and Battlesquirrel, a spot in the second round.
Also a couple “fake” wild cards snuck themselves into the mix. First was “Popi,” of Mexico City, who turned out to be Tony Tapatio. Unable to resist the stage, Tony planted an impostor in his judge’s seat and strutted and danced for the crowd like a watered-down version of his own hot sauce. The other was “Umairican Girl,” who ripped off her disguise to reveal herself as Seattle champion Um, but had trouble with her costume. Still, she seemed to have had another victory in mind. The halftime show changed direction this year, with a rock’n’roll bellydance by the mesmerizing, sword-as-a-hat-wearing Zighala Zura.
Second round: The rules were different this year. Fun for the crowd, nerve-racking for the competitors. Each pre-registered entrant was given a list of 10 possible songs to study the weekend before. They wouldn’t know which song they would perform to until a minute before their turn, and they had not heard any of the cuts in advance. Songs were drawn by each competitor from a popcorn bucket dubbed the “Bucket O’ Doom.” No one was at an advantage. Looks of resignation, determination, and deer-in-the-headlights hit the stage in rapid order.
They all did their best (Battlesquirrel being caught by surprise by a near-the-end pause in the cut of “Master of Puppets”). Finger Lickin’ Good kept his lead with a strong turn, while Whalin’ Big Air and Sahexy wound up in a tie for second place. Big Air lost the coin toss and went first in the tiebreaker. Because of a song misplay Sahexy took two wild stabs at an upset, dropping to her knees, bouncing and shredding like a madwoman both times (“I’m so out of shape,” she gasped between songs, but didn’t show it once the music started). Whalin’, however, crushed “Man on the Silver Mountain,” and took second place, behind Finger Lickin’ Good, the winner of the night.
In the end, only two contenders won the opportunity to compete in the Semifinals in August. Hopefully, however, all the competitors had a great time. After all, they each got their own photo shoot with a professional photographer! What with Picante and The Hussies, Mystairio/Bjorn Turoque, a fun panel of judges, some hilarious fake wild cards, the predictably unpredictable real competition, a packed crowd and a floor covered in confetti and smushed sausages, what more could anyone ask for in a Portland Air Guitar show?
#usairguitar pic.twitter.com/qrVMCh91rO — Kristiana Kroneck (@msgutterbunny) June 30, 2013
— Kristiana Kroneck (@msgutterbunny) June 30, 2013