Boston Air Guitar Blog

Recap: 2015 US Air Guitar Dark Horse Competition

Posted by Camille Barichello on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 @ 09:42 AM }

Portland, Oregon hosted this year's 2015 US Air Guitar Nationals weekend, which, by tradition, kicked off with the Dark Horse competition. This gathering of the "best of the rest" - people who didn't qualify through to the National Finals but still impressed on their journey there - is always really family-reunion night, a secret show that isn't publicized (so as not to take away attendance from the big show), where we can do the in-jokey things we might opt not to do on the more public stage since it's really for each other. Most years, it's the most fun night of the weekend. But while that happens, the serious contenders (and the less-likely-to-succeed crowd who are still committed to doing as well as they can) are doing their best and fighting for the last few spots in the Finals. Or, rather, the first few spots; dark horses always go first on the national stage. Either way, it's a lot of talent on a small stage, interspersed with untalented fools like yours truly to whom someone charitably gave another shot. 

 But let's talk about the talented ones! I might miss a couple in this writeup who went on immediately before or after me, but everyone other than me was just wonderful and did their best with an honestly tough situation. The bar had no monitors on the stage, so to hear your track you'd have to hear it through the regular speakers, which are pointed away from you and towards the crowd. To make it worse, the sound was jacked up, muffled sometimes, changing volume other times, and if I couldn't hear the nuances in my song I'm sure others couldn't either. The talent on display despite this is extremely deserving of accolades. Please, find a dark horse competitor near you and give them a high five or possibly a hug. They need it.

 Before we get into individual performances, though, shout-out to the always in-jokey intro routine, which this year mocked the Nordic-as-Bjorn obviously-pre-recorded schtick that the semifinals (and Nationals) all featured. Turns out you can cut that recording up to make "Bjorn" say some pretty funny stuff. And the sped-up version of the "air guitar song about air guitar" that the regular intro features is also great (especially if your audience knows what each part was before being sped up). Okay! Onward into the meat!

 First out of the gate is the promoter of the Nashville qualifier, who also competes as Giant Junk, with his rainbow skullet and enthusiastic attitude. Going first did not faze him at all; as far as I can tell, nothing does. Judging was on the Finnish model, with 5 judges giving scores only, no commentary, and the high and low scores thrown out. Incidentally, there was much discussion about whether that is the future of judging in America, and while I really like the traditional 3-judges-with-commentary setup, this way is more true to the original figure skating model.
5.3 4.6 4.9 4.5 5.0

I needed to borrow some of Um's confidence and total lack of nervousness over having to go early with a track that she had switched to fairly recently. She was just not at all concerned about possibly doing badly, or even just scoring badly, and I admire that - not that she needed to be concerned. Turned in a solid performance:
5.6 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.4

6 String General marched out in his traditional pink-camo attire, but took it off partway through to reveal a whole second outfit underneath! His performance... it has layers.
5.9 5.6 5.8 5.6 5.7

I've been talking about Jim Hatfield's routine all season so faithful readers will know that it's Peter-Stiff-Dickens-esque, but it hasn't had the chance it deserved in front of judges who didn't get that perfectly nailing a track full of (deliberate) mistakes is just as skilful as perfectly nailing a track that's flawless. But the Dark Horse judges are all insiders, administrators or current and former competitors, and they should get it.
5.8 5.6 5.8 5.9 5.8 

Lost Heartbreaker surprised by using a non-Tom-Petty song. I didn't even know he could DO that of his own volition.
5.4 5.4 5.6 5.7 5.7 

AirhabCaptain Airhab's diarrhea routine was up next and while he hoped it would go over better with the in-jokey crowd who understood he wasn't trying to win Nationals with it and just wanted to get a laugh out of the room, his scores were… not great, Bob. I understand giving someone a "5.#2" because that counts as a 5.2 and it's real, but someone else gave him a straight-up 2. That is not even on the scale. You really only see that kind of a joke score for someone going first, not being scored for real, deliberately disqualifying himself, and he was competing like everyone else. It's possible I'm more bent out of shape about it than he is, but that was really uncool of the judge who did it. It is literally saying "I don't consider you to be an actual competitor."
5.#2 4.9 2 5.1 5.3  

Grinnin' BAIRettBut my outrage doesn't stop a show, and it was on to Grinnin' BAIRett, all rainbows and glitter hotpants out of Idaho. Listen, Stroock isn't the only air guitarist who can strut around a stage in glitter hotpants. I haven't got scores for him, but he beat me, I know that!

I'm not super familiar with Marty McSuperfly, but your kids will love it.
5.7 5.8 5.5 5.6 5.7 

Rockstache commits, you guys. He is wearing a mustache shirt, and he has a mustache, and his mustache has a mustache. By his own description, he's come a long way this season - I've only seen him perform this year, so I don't have something to compare it to, but he says he used to be terrible, and here he is this year in the DC semis and Dark Horse. It's good stuff and he's good stuff.
5.5 5.4 5.4 5.5 5.4 

Andres SegoviAIR had originally been slotted in earlier in the evening, but his flight was delayed - he came straight to the venue from the airport - and he was now ready to perform. He chair-guitared a song outside of his usual go-to choices, although not, I wouldn't say, out of his wheelhouse, and captivated the crowd as always. I suspect he knows the strengths and weaknesses of chair guitar and picks the types of songs he does because they showcase his elaborate technicality. A less-technical song might not look like there was much to it if your stage moves were limited, so even if they might suit his taste, they don't suit his performance style. Did this suit the judges' taste, though?
6.0 5.4 5.4 5.3 5.4 

AIR2D2 turned in her worst performance of her short and undistinguished career, and thinking back to it (or any of the show, actually) is still making me have to take a second to compose myself every now and again, so while my performance didn't warrant any accolades, I think I deserve a little acknowledgement for writing this and not crying on an airplane while I do.
5.0, 5.1, 4.7, 5.1, and a completely weird and possibly typoed 5.7. I don't know if you can make a typo when you're writing on a whiteboard, but I assume that's what happened here. 

Because I was feeling as "Empty" as my song after my performance, I was bad at paying attention during Arora Nasty's turn. So it's lucky that I saw her in an earlier livestream, because she throws down. She rocks out so hard, you guys, and her crazy-eyes game is very strong.
5.6 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.5 

 Optimus Shred was up next. His headdress is pretty real - those spikes are hard and sharp, so it's a good thing this is an individual sport. This may also have contributed to the airline "losing" his luggage. I think they may have considered blowing it up for security.
5.6 5.5 5.0 4.9 5.2

pork swordPork Sword was freshly back in the country after several months in China, and he acknowledged that part of his life by writing a translation of "pork sword" in Chinese on his shirt and, in a creepy-awesome move that I LOVED, he had a pig mask on the back of his head, which you saw every time there was a bass part of his song… because he turned around and played those parts backwards. Amazing. What a move.
5.8 5.9 5.9 5.9 5.8 

The current holder of the official US Air Guitar Fake ID, Air-o-Dynamic, went up next, with the blessing of his mom, King Slayer. The future looks bright for air guitar, because the kid ripped it.
5.7 5.7 5.8 5.8 5.7 

Van Dammage was up next. We were all looking forward to see what he would do since he wasn't sure he'd keep his VAN DMG character from Chicago semis (although I wished he would), because it didn't really go over with the judges there. He had some options to choose from, and he decided ultimately to go with the classic - and tonight he did not disappoint. He came out in a really nice serape with a bandanna and hat obscuring most of his face… and then quickly got shot, died, and came back from the dead as a zombie. First of all, awesome. Second of all, he knows how to plan out an edit and routine, because he didn't use up too much valuable playing time in the theatrics. He gave us enough to know what he was doing, and then he got into the song.
5.8 5.6 5.9 5.8 6.0 

In case you were wondering, Kara Picante's featureless mask is as scary in person as it has been over the internet. It's so dramatic-looking and her movements have drama to match.
5.8 5.8 5.6 5.6 5.7 

The Marquis was probably in the Dark Horse because he is, as the hashtag says, fucking everywhere. If he had won his semifinal, he would have bypassed the Dark Horse and gone straight to Nationals, which is one less place to be. And that would be unacceptable. This is the only reasoning I can think of, since his routine was fantastic.
5.8 5.9 5.7 5.8 5.8 

We've discussed Sonic Bitch's general ass-kickery on earlier recaps; let's give some airtime now to her second pair of pants that appear when she whips off the original pants (in some of the best tear-away pants this side of 1998). Those things are cobwebs. They are literally more hole than pant. It probably took her 20 minutes to put them on without having her foot go out through every hole. And then she was able to hop right up onstage and crush, so she's better than you.
5.7 5.6 5.8 5.7 5.7  

Perhaps trying to avoid being disqualified again as he was in the Eastern Conference Finals (too many men on the ice), Boston's Operation Rockapussy had an entirely different routine for the Dark Horse. Gone was the glitter snort; instead, he had some really great extensions in and some fantastic red lipstick - prompting comparisons (by me) to Nordic Thunder when he's in drag - and just whaled all over the stage. I wonder if this was also a shrug of the shoulders; he could absolutely have qualified through to Nationals with his original routine (not that this wasn't good, but that one was killer), and maybe he was just deciding not to do that for some reason. Still, should've scored better this time out. C'mon, judges.
5.6 5.7 5.6 5.7 5.6  

Erik Ittar took the stage next with his marionette outfit and "Master of Puppets" routine. The strings did collapse at the end, which I felt like had been a matter of time since the first time, but other than that he completely blew minds. It didn't hurt that he was another local competitor - who doesn't love cheering for their hometown guy?
5.8 6.0 5.9 5.9 6.0 

So next up was something amazing. I mentioned that the Dark Horse is the time for the in-jokes and the references; Sweetness comes along with a double reference. Strong, strong stuff. In a nod to both his own sexy-man persona and to Tyranicus, Lord of the End Times, he performed this year as Polyamorus, Lord of the Bed Times. You really don't need to know anything about his actual performance beyond that.
5.7 5.5 "" which counted as 5.6 5.7 5.6 

Thunderball got kind of thunderlowballed (ya like that?), but I guess I'm biased, having waved the flag of this routine all over this blog for like 3 months. Whatever, judges.
5.7 5.6 5.7 5.7 5.8 

Whalin Big AirI didn't even realize just how good Whalin Big Air's costume/theme was this year right away. With a death's-head mask, blue cloak, and giant golden wings, it took 3 people just to walk him onto the stage, and my awe at that was enough to override the realization that he is dressed as the 2009/2010 US Air Guitar t-shirt design (the best one, in my opinion, and the one I most wished they had sold in women's sizes). Once I figured that out, I pretty much just lost it completely.
5.8 5.9 5.9 5.8 6.0 

Since he was the last of round 1, it was time for halftime... and what a halftime. Windhammer and Airistotle came up... performing as each other. Watching Windhammer be a goofy little sweetheart is not as big of a stretch as it might be, but watching Airistotle be grim-faced and glaring just killed me. Serious contender for best halftime ever.

Round 2 comprised Sonic Bitch, Thunderball, 6 String General, Kara Picante, Air-o-Dynamic, The Marquis, Jim Hatfield, Van Dammage, Pork Sword, Whalin Big Air, and Erik Ittar. It's always ties aplenty this year - those first five were all at #5, so fifth place alone could have been a whole second round! Then, the Marquis and Jim Hatfield were tied for 4th, and Pork Sword and Whalin at 2nd. But 5 people were going on to Nationals, so a large field in the second round was ok.

The song was a Sleater-Kinney song (appropriate!), and it brought us such highlights as all of 6 String's clothing exploding off his body except his stars-and-stripes undies, followed by him drinking some of every judge's beer. That was a risky move; stealing judge beer is not a surefire way to get a high score. But his scores (that counted) were 5.8s and 5.9s, so you see how good he was. That was despite beer theft! That said, Picante followed him up and nailed the song but got lower scores, so maybe beer theft is a smart idea after all. Air-o-Dynamic also did his routine in flag underpants. Welcome to US Air Guitar, where you can be the OTHER guy in American flag tighty-whities.

I don't know if Jim Hatfield's fall was deliberate or not, but he did a sweet jump to get back up; Van Dammage definitely fell off the stage, though - he blindfolded himself, and he also risked death jumping off a speaker. Blindfolded! It's only the Dark Horse, buddy! Don't die on us!

Whalin had changed out of his extravagant getup and was back to his usual rocker-dude-with-really-cool-pants look, and Erik Ittar had ditched the strings (but did chug a beer before getting onstage). It's smart to strip it down for the second round; you get your chance to be theatrical in round one, and round two focuses on your actual skills.

After all was said and done, the overall winner was Erik Ittar! He's more than a jaunty suit and a set of strings! Accompanying him to Nationals would be The Marquis, Whalin Big Air, Pork Sword, Van Dammage, and Jim Hatfield! That's 6 people but Mathromancer wasn't here to help us count!

photos of Pork Sword and Airhab's butt by Glory Wholesome; photos of Grinnin' BAIRett and Whalin Big Air by me

Tags: recaps, dark horse, 2015 season