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Airborne 

Who among us has not tuned to a classic rock station, let loose and simply shredded on the air guitar while safely alone in the car or in front of the mirror? The necessary adjunct to that question here, also, is: who among us knew that this harmless, albeit dorky-looking pastime was actually a competitive event eagerly participated in (in public, no less) by thousands? Blessed by the same gods who smile on the folks behind things like competitive rock-paper-scissors are the people who bring us the U.S. Air Guitar Championships -- a competition (sport?) currently in its fifth year and on its way to New Orleans.

The press release seems intentionally hilarious, with deadpan statements like "all guitars [in competition] must be invisible," and "U.S. Air Guitar is the official air guitar association of the United States." In fact, what was once an embarrassing secret or a teenage hobby is now an international phenomenon. The U.S. Air Guitar competition coming to the House of Blues this week is a regional qualifying round, one of 14 such events being held around the country this spring and summer. An online competition (hopefuls can send in homemade digital video of themselves throwing down; see www.usairguitar.com) is currently in full swing as well. Winners of the regionals will compete in New York City in August, along with the top three winners from the online contest and last year's defending champion Hot Lixx Hulahan. (We think it would be awesome indeed if athletes in other amateur competitive arenas adopted hard-rocking noms-des-sports -- Triple Axel Rose for a really hardcore figure skater?) The top dog from that festival of rockness will then go on to the pinnacle of the sport -- the World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland, in September. (In Europe, air guitar has been competitive and regulated for the past eleven years, compared to the sport's relative youth in America.)

Competition is open to the public, and contestants are judged by an independent panel of judges in each city. Competitors perform in one open round to a song of their choosing, which allows for rehearsal and potentially, accurate pantomime of the fingering it'd take to play a song, although they're judged equally on stage presence and "airness" as technical merit. The ephemeral concept of "airness" is explained to some extent on the Web site, which also explains, "Few have what it takes to rock a crowd of hundreds or even thousands -- all without an instrument." Using those three criteria, judges thin the herd, and in the second round, the top players from round one are hit onstage with a compulsory surprise song, which they must muddle through as best they can. According to the official rules, performances are scored between 4.0 and 6.0 to one decimal point, with 6.0 being a perfect score. Air roadies are allowed, but must leave the stage before the performances. Backing bands -- real or invisible -- are not permitted. Air drumming is out of bounds, but according to Nat Hays, a publicist for the event, air bass is kosher (though probably not advisable, since guitar traditionally lends itself to theatricality better than the rhythm instrument.)

Some indie film fans may remember Air Guitar Nation, a documentary that passed through New Orleans all too briefly this winter. The film chronicles the birth of the American competitive air guitar field and the intense lead-up (think Rocky Balboa training montage as you air guitar "Eye of the Tiger") to the first annual championships. Filmmaker Alexandra Lipsitz followed the two favorites for the inaugural title, Bjorn Turoque and C. Diddy, as they practiced headbanging, imaginary power chords and hair-raising solos until finally hitting the stage to see whose name would become linked to the sport forever. Who won? Let's just say Bjorn Turoque (get it?) is emceeing the regional qualifying tour and recently wrote a book, To Air Is Human, about his philosophy of the sport and offers tips for aspiring air rockers. A former software producer from New York City named Dan Crane, Turoque has appeared on numerous late-night talk shows to talk about his experience as a competitive air guitarist. He's also written about it for publications like The New York Times and Slate and spoken about air guitar at Seattle's Experience Music Project. He's also the founder of a fast-growing bar pastime called Aireoke, which is just what it sounds like. Newcomers to the sport may not reach the same level of success as Turoque/Crane -- after all, there's not a lot of room at the top. However, the event at the House of Blues is sure to (air) rock -- in fact, probably the most the building has ever rocked without a single musical instrument on the stage. U.S. Air Guitar Regional Championships

10 p.m. Sat., June 23

House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 310-4999

Tickets $12

Register to compete at www.usairguitar.com.

click to enlarge Air guitar competitors shoot for maximum "airness."
  • Air guitar competitors shoot for maximum "airness."
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