Boston Air Guitar Blog

Recap: 2015 US Air Guitar Atlantic Conference Finals

Posted by Camille Barichello on Tue, Aug 04, 2015 @ 09:44 AM }

All right. Two Conference Finals down, two to go. The two in the bag were the bigger ones, pulling in competitors from all over and sending (now) 5 air guitarists on to Nationals. The remaining two, the Atlantic and Eastern Conference Finals, pull in a smaller but still dedicated slate of performers, and send 3 each. Today we're going to talk about the Atlantic semifinal, in Washington, DC, last Wednesday.

First. The Central and Western Conference Finals both had some problems. The Central Conference had math problems and got the rankings wrong, and wound up sending the entire second round on - which was then made the rule. The Western Conference had timing problems and went back on their stated plan of taking 8 people to the second round and choosing the 5 to advance from among them. Emotions were pretty raw going into this semifinal, and it was very important to make sure that the plan and procedures were clear. Everyone watching was on edge and crossing their fingers that this time would work out. The plan tonight was to do the classic semifinal: 5 people in the second round, top 3 advance to Nationals.

The livestream more or less worked this time, so I can offer a full rundown - and there were a reasonable number of competitors, as mentioned.

First out of the gate was Fah King Rocker, who did fine, but when he was getting his scores, whispered in Bjorn's ear: it turns out that the track that had played was his last year's song which he had sent in by accident, not this year's song. He still got a score - 5.0, 5.3, 5.2 - but was told to go get his correct song so he could have a chance with that.

He was followed by the always-awesome T. Slaypool, wearing either a wig or a miracle, with hilariously stiff movements all over the stage. Was his cat sweater enough to catapult him past the drawbacks of going early? Well... 5.7, 5.6, and a 5.3, so... maybe.

Randy Solo had great hand movements and jumped around the stage. My legs were tired watching him. He also busted out some confetti, and although I think all 3 judges had judged before, this somehow blew minds. It's air guitar! People throw confetti more often than they change their underpants! Anyway, he got 5.2, 5.6, and 5.3.

It's pretty obvious this semifinal was going down in DC, because up next was Air-Rock Obama. Although unlike the actual prez (as far as I know), he was wearing Sesame Street pajamas. His routine was bookended by the Sesame Street theme song and involved a really good behind-the-back throw. He got a 5.5, a 5.4, and a 5.8 from a judge who was beginning to establish herself as the high-scoring judge.

Rear Admiral Kickass windmilled his way to a pair of 5.6s and a 5.2, from a judge who was beginning to establish himself as the low-scoring judge. On that front, I say, just wait.

For real, guys, is Leonardo Air-Vinci a gymnast? He did what my notes refer to as a "really sick jump" (apparently I turn into a teenage boy on a dirtbike when I'm writing competitor notes) and then a front flip, all while wearing the most American of pants. That said, he had time to do acrobatics in his routine without sacrificing playing the actual pretend guitar, because his edit did not have a great deal of actual guitar in it. He bagged a pair of 5.6s and a 5.7.

Dream Crusher had begun his air guitar career a few weeks earlier as a walk-on, but he had some great moves and a strong behind-the-head section. I wonder whether his edit was one he made and practiced to, or if it was the walk-on track he had picked originally, because I found that it ended really abruptly; he'll have time to work on that side of things in the off-season, but I'm pretty sure he'll be back for more. 5.5 and two 5.7s.

Here is something DC likes: a splits jump. Dick Diesel is a DC mainstay, and he nearly always does one, and tonight was no exception. He rolled out in his sequined robe, then burst out of it, beating his chest on the drum parts, and put on a fantastic show for the people. The judges concurred: two 5.7s and a 5.9.

Shreddy BoopShreddy Boop brought us back to some Green Day and even began with the violin bit, then got cracking with her routine. She did great, used the whole stage, and had one of the better throw-and-catches I've seen. The judges reward her with two 5.8s and a 5.9. 

It was Rockstache's birthday! Happy birthday, Rockstache. He started out playing a little classical... until he wasn't. The judges felt that a pair of 5.6s and a 5.7 were a decent birthday present; the crowd disagreed. But, speaking as someone who has competed on her birthday, you don't want a good score just because of the date. You don't want to worry that you only got that score because it's your birthday and that you didn't really deserve it!

Doug "The Thunder" Stroock, being the only air guitarist for whom I use quotes in his name, came up next. He reused a move from last year, but I like how he did it: he started out on some soft rock baby-making music, posing and flexing, then did the guitar-eating move he made famous on the world stage. But here's what happened: the stomach acids turned his song to ROCK. By the time he horked his guitar back up, he was shredding like no tomorrow. The judges approved, for two 5.9s and the first 6.0 of the night!

DC's elder statesman of rock, The Shred, took the stage to do a very Shred-like routine. He is partial to a mashup of various popular songs (he has young daughters, who no doubt keep him apprised of the hot songs of the moment), which he did again this year - including the metal version of "Uptown Funk." He also had a little Whip/Nae Nae interlude, which is a totally guitar-free moment but he kept it brief enough that it didn't interfere with his ability to get scored on, you know, actually playing the air guitar. Oh, and a splits jump. I told you that's a DC staple, and it's also a Shred staple. A 5.8 from the first judge, but the next two? Sixes!

Philly's Leonitis had to follow that, and he did valiant work with his silver skull-paint and dramatic moves, but the judges were clearly still on a Stroock-and-Shred high and handed him a 5.5 and a pair of 5.6s.

The "last" performer of the first round was Witness, a gentleman who had been sitting at the bar in the Nashville venue on the night of their qualifier and whom Nordic thought looked enough like an air guitarist that he was essentially dragooned into competing - and he qualified! He took the stage in a kilt and a Prince Charlie jacket (fellows, it's important to wear the correct formalwear for your outfit) and then removed the jacket with the most perfect timing I've ever seen - managed not to miss a single note and was super smooth about it. I also understand that people saw his bum. Clearly he is meant to be part of this little family. Anyway, he had tons of energy and great ideas for a back-and-forth part of the song, and the judges rewarded him with the same score as The Shred: 5.8 and two 6.0s!

But Witness wasn't the last performer really - Fah King Rocker got his chance to return to the stage to play his actual correct song. It was a better performance than his first one, but you could really see the effect of going early on scores: this one didn't totally crush the original one - that one wasn't bad - but this time his scores were 5.5s and a 5.7. Absolutely no chance they would have given him a 5.7 right out of the gate.

The halftime entertainment started with some drunken walkons, which was weird. Walkons at the semifinal level: no. I don't know what happened next because I was eating hummus in solidarity with the performers (green room staple!).

But then began the second round, and things were about to take a sharp left turn. The competitors in round two were, in ascending order, Rockstache, Dream Crusher, and Leonardo Air-Vinci tied at fourth place, Dick Diesel, Shreddy Boop, and, in a three-way tie for first, Stroock, The Shred, and Witness. So far, so reasonable. Nobody appeared to be annoyed that neither the top 5 individuals NOR the people who inhabited the top 5 spots were in the second round (this was 8 people, inhabiting the top 4 spots). The song was by a DC band that has played the 9:30 Club more than anyone else. That's cool. But.

Leonardo Air-Vinci took the un-coveted first second-round spot, and while maybe his wasn't the most transcendent air guitar performance of all time, he didn't deserve what came next: the first judge smirked into the camera and gave him a 4.5. What even. The other two judges gave him more typical scores, but this marked the beginning of a theme for the second round: that same judge was throwing around scores a full point lower than everyone else's, thereby ensuring that he remained in charge of the rankings (with scores close going into round two, he could mitigate any differences in score by the other judges to essentially set the standings himself with his way-out scores). But the point is more that scores in the 4s are considered very bad - reserved for joke performers, abject beginners, or people who screw up egregiously - and they're basically unheard-of in the second round of a semifinal. After all, by virtue of being there, these competitors are already understood to be very good. It is a bit weird that half of the available scores are considered more or less off-limits, and maybe this should change, but that's got to be a cultural, event-wide shift. You can't suddenly change the metrics you're using to choose scores in the middle of a competition.

The crowd started grumbling immediately and did not stop as he continued giving four-scores to the next competitors: 4.5 for Dream Crusher, because "this is the big leagues," 4.7 for Rockstache, an honestly unconscionable 4.8 for Dick Diesel with his 'Stot hops and guitar swinging (seriously, that was straight out of Airistotle's Nationals-winning routine last year) and a BACKFLIP. Kid did a backflip. Even by the low-ceiling standard he's using, that was significantly more impressive than the routines that preceded him; it should have been scored significantly higher.

He was practically generous with Shreddy Boop, giving her a 5.0 (she did do a really great job and the other two judges rewarded her for it). And then, The Shred repeats the move that got him his broken ankles back in the day, leaping from the speakers - a splits jump, of course; if The Shred does a routine without a splits jump in it, he develops a very uncomfortable rash - and gets what amounts to accolades from Low Scores McGee over here, a 5.2! The other two judges don't mess around, and give him sixes.

Stroock proceeded to nail the song and he knew it - pumping his fists after he finished his routine, which also included a ripping-off of his pants to reveal some very revealing hotpants - but you knew what was coming when the low judge rearranged himself to go last instead of first. And, indeed, 6.0s from the other two judges, but from the low judge? On the grounds that "the other guy was, like, 60" ...a 5.1.

It could not be more obvious that he was waiting to see what the other judges gave Stroock so that he could give him a score that would keep him below The Shred. Not to diminish Shred's victory - but this judge had clearly made up his mind and manipulated the scoring system to ensure that his guy won. There are three judges for a reason: it isn't just up to one person's preference. Some people like different styles and that's fine, of course; you should give a higher score to the person you enjoyed the most! And all of his scores were technically legal, if rather insulting according to the current norms of air guitar culture. But what was a problem here was his unilateral control of the outcome. It was calculating and it was uncool. Basing it on age was also aggravating - didn't we just get done telling judges not to base scores on people's characteristics that they can't change? - and while this judge later explained further his reasoning in preferring Shred (he just liked his style better, which, fine), the crowd and the competitors on that night only know what you tell them.

So, The Shred advances, and so does Stroock, of course; tied at third are Witness and Shreddy Boop, and they are all heading to Portland! I'm especially pleased about that - after all the commotion about how the winner was determined, two people who have never been to Nationals before are also going! But holy crap, this scoring situation. Quel crapmare. How can we ensure that one judge can't take over scoring? Should the solution be to use the full range of scores for every performance, so that a 5.0 is an average performance rather than a terrible one? That's going to require buy-in from everybody involved, judges and performers and the audience too (there's a strong contingent of a returning audience; people know what kind of scores to expect). I don't have the answer, but we need to talk about it.

Next up: the New York semi, aka Eastern Conference Finals; I have an imperfect memory of that one since I was in it, so part of the evening is a blur. I'll write it on the plane to Portland, because Nationals weekend is coming up RIGHT NOW.

Shreddy Boop photo by je_berg on Instagram

Tags: semi-finals, dc, recaps, 2015 season