I did it. I flew myself to Columbus, OH, met up with my sister and drove over to Washington DC this past weekend so we could go and witness The US Air Guitar National competition. Part for research and development and part for an excuse to hang out with my sister- I’m so glad I went for a long list of reasons. Mostly, I learned a hell of a lot. Way more than if I had just stayed home and watched the competition online. It wasn’t all good.
Here’s what I learned
It’s about balance.
You have to have an equally good costume, stage presence, song, and technical ability. You can have the raddest costume and character but if your song is lacking in the guitar department- you’re toast. You really can’t lean on the costume and special effects if you’re song doesn’t have enough guitar in it. Doesn’t work. There was a particular performer who had everything there- costume, character, stage presence but the song came on and I was like, “Really? Where’s the rad solo?” and it never came. Did the song go with the theme? Yes but it’s not about the theme. It’s about the guitar.
Know your venue.
I’ve got all these amazing moves in my head that I want to master- death drops, splits, floor slide and guess what- none of it would have mattered. The stage was so low the judges would never have seen it. They could really only catch what was from the waist up. Maybe even chest up. SO much was lost on them with the fancy floor work of the performers at Nationals. One performer had the forethought to ask the audience to make a space so the judges could see but by him doing that right before his set- it made it awkward. So if you’re going to ask folks to move- make your friends do it so you don’t have to step out of character while on stage.
That said- I watched the darkhorse competition a few nights before and they had a quite different problem- the stage was the tiniest stage (maybe 4 feet wide) in the corner of a tight bar. That’s a totally different routine. You’ve got to be prepared for that.
Know your judges.
I’m not sure if there’s a way to find out who’s judging ahead of time or not. But this was the biggest eye opener for me. There were three female judges on the panel- two of which were really obviously judging the female competitors differently than the males and it was total bullshit. Bull.shit. I was appalled. I’ve been told that those particular judges won’t be asked back next year but it still speaks to a larger issue that the female competitors ARE seen and judged differently than the males. This totally effects how I approach my character, costume design, song choice… everything. Ugh. More about that another day.
Energy must be immediate.
You really have to walk out onstage like you’re high as fuck on cocaine and ready to party. The saunter in just doesn’t jive well. The crowd wants to see 60 seconds of the most bananas possible controlled chaos punching them in the face as soon as you walk out there. The audience is drunk and they want to rock.
Your character has to be relate-able.
The judges at this competition didn’t seem to like things that they saw as too schticky. They had no love for The Lumberjack or The Grandma or The Retro High School Basketball dude all citing that they didn’t like the schtick. BUT they did crown the Middle American Mom the winner. Why? She was a pretty damn good air guitarist. But was she the best one there? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s because the contrast of a high waisted, bad hair cut, mom with a brown bag lunch playing air guitar is so rad that it just works on a level no one can describe. But it seems like a tricky tricky gamble.
Try to be original.
SO many performers spit something out into the air during their performance hoping for a wow effect. I was over it. When I saw the footage of Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard performing at the World Championships in 2011 where he drinks from a horn then spits out the water perfectly synchronized into the air with the guitar- I was like, “Oh shiiiiit. Damn, that’s good.” but it ended there. Because as a performer, I know that everyone else who saw that thought the same thing and would try it too. Maybe he wasn’t the first to do that- probably not. But still. OLD. And if you’re performing and you see everyone else is doing the same thing- think of something else quick.
It’s all in the face.
Well maybe not ALL in the face but a lot of it. You’re in a venue- people in the back can barely see your facial features so make whatever expression you’re making HUGE. Connect with your people AND the judges.
There’s so much more to say. So many thoughts going on- game plans, changes in direction, etc that is swirling around in my brain that I need to sort out. In the mean time- here’s a picture of me and the 2016 World Champ and totally sweet person- Airistotle!