HQ Hosts 2022 US Air Guitar Regional Championships
It is impossible to hold a gun when holding an air guitar, which means that the air guitar can usher in an era of world peace. At least that’s the logic behind the Air Guitar World Championships, an annual competition between the world’s most virtuoso air guitarists, where competitors representing their countries gather in the Finnish Arctic Circle to crown a champion.
Their motto? “Make air, not war.”
The US Air Guitar Championships is one of the qualifying tournaments for the global event, where shredders from every US city compete for their place on the national and international stages. This Saturday, June 4, HQ will host the regional championships, which will determine who from the region will advance to the next stage.
The three criteria for judging any guitar competition — from Oulu, Finland, to Boise, Idaho — begin with stage presence. That’s where creativity and character come in. Denver Air Guitar Master of Airimonies, John Humphrey, says, “Whether you’re likable or not, there are a lot of similarities between air guitar and professional wrestling. You can be an unlikable character and ooze stage presence and be interesting. You can be whoever you want. You just need to get the audience interested in your shtick.
The second criterion is technical prowess. People with technical prowess are sometimes real musicians, but usually they’re not, according to Humphrey. He says, “I tend to think that if you’re really good at guitar it can be detrimental because they find it hard to put all their musical knowledge and theories aside and play air guitar. Air guitar is very different. … Nobody really cares if you know the notes, but it should at least sound like you’ve heard this song before.
The last quality – the most elusive – is “air”. Humphrey says people often equate it to pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
“For me, ‘air’ is really what I’m looking for, something I’ve never seen before,” he says. “It’s a bit je ne sais quoi of air guitar — where you kind of forget you’re seeing someone playing their guitar, and it becomes something in itself, like performance art. It means that someone has something really special that they want to communicate with this particularly weird medium, and you don’t see that in every competition.
Humphrey finds himself uniquely qualified to judge performance art: “I studied art, so I feel like I have the right to be very pretentious about air guitar, because I paid a lot of money to get a BFA.”
Contestants are judged on a scale of 4.0 to 6.0 by each judge, with the perfect score from all three judges being 666 (because of course it is). It’s no coincidence that it’s the same scoring system used by professional figure skating – which Humphrey says makes the system “legitimate”.
In an air guitar competition, there are two rounds, and no round lasts more than sixty seconds, because “a person should not be required to play air guitar in public for more than sixty seconds,” states Humphrey. The first round is the free round, where each contestant chooses a song to perform. Then the five highest scores move on to the second round, which is the mandatory round. No one knows in advance what the song will be except the person organizing the event. The host announces the song and the contestants are forced to improvise.
Denver has a rich air guitar history, producing some of the medium’s most iconic characters in the country. For example, the 2006 film Air Guitar Nation follows the story of Denver-born Dan “Björn Türoque” Crane, who was one of the top competitors in America’s first Air Guitar competitions. The film won awards at SXSW and was nominated for the Tribeca Film Festival. Humphrey says Crane has a strange love-hate relationship with Denver and talks about it a lot.
Also from Denver is the Magic Cyclops, which is infamous for some things. First of all, he’s come in second place in more air guitar competitions than anyone else in the world. Second, he owns 11,000 air guitars, second only to a collector in Belgium, who owns five more than him. Third, he sprayed sparkling sequins on his buttocks american idol. Magic Cyclops would eventually pass the Denver Master of Airimonies torch to Humphrey.
Humphrey’s wife, Rachel Sinclair (who by fate was born with ‘air’ in her name), is also an icon, being a three-time Denver champion and the only woman to break the top five last year. at the Nationals and getting on ESPN (ESPN 8: The Ocho, that is). “We were sandwiched between the cow pie tossing contest and the mule contest, which seemed like an appropriate cast for the audience,” says Humphrey.
While there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the Ocho this year, the national championship will be held in July, in a city not yet selected. However, first, Denver crowns its own champion to represent at Nationals and possibly Worlds, this Saturday at HQ.
The 2022 US Air Guitar Regional Championships are held Saturday, June 4 at Headquarters, 60 S Broadway, 7 p.m. Tickets are $15.