The steaming performances heated up the audience, who were soaking in their raincoats and winter clothes in a chilly weather that screamed the end of the Finnish summer in the North. The crowd danced along the rock melodies and shouted the competitors’ names.
It was the 22nd Air Guitar Championships, arranged at Kuusisaari Park in Oulu in Northern Ostrobothnia, where 15 of the world’s top competitors fingered the necks and hammered the bodies of their imaginative guitars, occasionally ripping off their shirts (if they even had one) to the muffled clapping of the leather gloves.
Each air guitarist has a “stage name” reflecting their personality and performing style. The crowd was impressed and entertained by Steve “Fran Chopin” Ruggiero (winner of the Dark Horses’ Qualifying Round) who fed them with loaves of baguette; Nicole “Mom Jeans Jeanie” Sevick (American champion) mimicking a housewife; Show-Show (Japanese champion, 15-year-old) taking over the stage with powerful sumo steps; Patrick “Ehrwolf” Culek (German champion) releasing red rose petals from his heart . . . .
The jury consisted of people in the music business and of former air guitar champions. The longest standing member of the jury was Juha Torvinen known as the lead guitarist of Finnish rock group, Eppu Normaali.
After the first round, eight contestants with the highest scores came to the second round, at which they had to listen to the compulsory song on the stage, then improvised their performances on the spot. The song of 2017’s world final was “Caught in the Crossfire” by Blockbuster. Eight different air guitar versions of the same piece of music were created in a couple of minutes while the crowd kept hitting their gloves together.
All competitors won the hearts of the audience and the jury, but there was only one trophy. Matt “Airistotle” Burns defended his champion title successfully, making him the first American to win two consecutive world titles. He received a beautiful handmade guitar as the prize. “Airistotle” is a persistent tough warrior of air guitar. Before winning his first world championship in 2016, he had scored the first-runner-up place three times in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
The second position was shared by Patrick “Ehrwolf” Culek from Germany and Alexander “The Jinja Assassin” Roberts from Australia. The youngest competitor Show-Show scored the third place in the final.
While the competition is fun for the performers and for the members of the audience, the air guitar championship has a more serious side as well. The theme of the year was “Climate Change,” and the airheads (That’s what they are called!) spread the message of clean, fresh air so that we can keep rocking in a green sustainable planet. The hashtag #MakeAirNotWar became more relevant after the terrorist attack in Turku.
According to the air guitar ideology, ”Wars would end, climate change would stop and bad things would disappear if all the people in the world played the air guitar.” The hands holding the air guitar cannot commit any crime.
The atmosphere at the Air Guitar World Championships was peaceful, relaxing, inspirational and unique in as the most addictive way. No wonder, that people keep coming back every August and consider Oulu their second home. Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard, the world champion in 2012, even ran a campaign to be Oulu mayor in 2016.
As according to the tradition at the end of the competition, the audience was invited to the stage to sing “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young with the air guitarists.
A beautiful sight to behold!