Music Feature

U.S. Air Guitar Champs, Johnny Brenda's

by Kim-Thao Nguyen
So...why exactly have you not gone to one yet? Photos by Kim-Thao Nguyen
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One hot, late-spring night in 2010, my girl friend and I found ourselves overwhelmingly squished between a crowd of fowl-mouthed spectators chucking beer and insults to the flashing lights of Johnny Brenda's. While we both knew what we signed up for ("U.S. Air Guitar Championships" could mean only so much), it is clear that what we saw exceeded any expectations of normalcy: grown men, big and small, be-speckled in glitter and pearlescent spandex; overgrown beards and sweaty nostrils flaring to the speed of their pounding fingers; a clear cult following, and even more, a clear, albeit twisted, culture.

Now in 2012, we're in too deep to turn away. My girl friend has now traded in her name for the title of President Baberham Lincoln, and has earned the fame as a lauded performer in the Air Guitar East Coast circuit. I find myself excited every time this night rolls around, as if it's some sort of deep, dark secret that has violently been blown out of the water. 

What of it? Yeah, I like seeing these dudes every year. I like taking cover in the front row by the stage, where the best shots are crisp, but not without the risk of beer-soaked toes and an occasional rain of spit or glitter, whatever the performers choose to spout that night. I like the playful mix of silly and serious, with the returning host and face of USAG, Bjorn Turoq, leading the evening with an easy grin and biting humor. I like the back and forth banter of the three guests judges, sparing no extreme vulgar remarks toward the performers or an unruly crowd. 

But obviously, the night belongs to the shamelessly creative ladies and gentlemen of the stage. The brave performers who risk but equally offer their dignity, pride and energy every year. Over a dozen seasoned air guitarists took to Philly's stage for 2012, delivering to the increasingly calmer crowd familiar names and faces (Baberham, Doug "The Thunder" Stroock, Winderhammer, Leonitis, G T$o Money, to name a few) but incredibly amped up air performances. While the reigning winner remains the ever-so intimidating (and fantastically photogenic) Windhammer, the night ended as it usually does: a flooded stage of performers and spectators, harmoniously strumming and dancing to the blaring twangs of "Free Bird" in that oddly familiar and comfortable sea of blue lights. 

And while nearly every performer has determinedly declared to be "in it to win it," you just can't beat the sight of the onstage personas melting as they dissolve into hugs, compliments and gushing over their brothairs and sistairs. Check out the photos from this year's Philly competition (warning, there's a fake boner wrapped in tin foil).

Check out the night's results at the USAG site, penned by two-time USAG champion Hot Lixx Hulahan. 

Follow me at @keemthao

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