The world of competitive air guitar in the United States has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in 2003 when only two coasts were ripping faux chords. Nowadays, a nationwide shred-a-thon draws guitar mimes from around the country, and hosts competitions in 17 cities. Each regional winner competes in the Chicago nationals, vying for the chance to bring back the golden crown from the mother of all air guitar championship competitions in Oulou, Finland.
In fact, the Europeans have been serious about their air guitar for quite some time. The Fins have been holding the world air guitar competitions since 1996 to honor the practice as a true art form and a message of peace. (You can't hold a rifle if you're playing air guitar, right?)
In the U.S., however – the birthplace of both rock music and air guitar, mind you – it's always been kind of a joke, something tighty-whitey-clad teenagers do in front of bedroom mirrors. Made legendary by Joe Cocker at his Woodstock performance in 1969, and then popularized by hair metal enthusiasts of the 1980s, the art of air guitar has yet to reach its cultural zenith here in the states – but we're working on it.
Joe Cocker keeps busy in between vocals at his 1969 Woodstock performance. When asked what he was fingering, he replied: “I've always wanted to play guitar, but never learned.”
The San Francisco leg of the U.S. Air Guitar Championships  will jump kick all over the Golden Gate this Fri/24 and Sat/25, and is open to all competitors.
Here's how it works: Participants battle imaginary axes in two rounds: rockin' air licks to a song of one's own choosing, and then to a surprise song from the judges. They are scored on a scale from zero to six, just like in figure skating (would that ice skaters shared the air guitar competitors' goofy self awareness.) The judges look for technical skill (the accuracy of the notes noodled), stage presence (rock god channeling), and something called “airiness,” that certain je ne sais quoi that transcends the act of air guitar into the upper echelons of high art. In the end, the two scores are totaled and the winner with the highest score from on both nights will represent San Francisco in the upcoming national throwdown.
Think you have what it takes to emerge victorious? Enter here . And be sure to check back for my play-by-play coverage of this weekend's competition.
U.S. Air Guitar Championships
Fri/24 and Sat/25, 9pm, $20/free for competitors
628 Divisadero, SF