Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Tuesday, October 3

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Local Pride Where's the Ikea? (a travelogue of my trip to Sweden) »

Feature Thu Jun 12 2008

Air Guitar Heroes

Everybody knows air guitar, yet U.S. Air Guitar ( is its own animal. A combination of rock and performance art, air guitar is a creative outlet--a chance to be a rock star for a few minutes. Anybody can do it, no equipment or lessons necessary, making it one of the few truly democratic art forms around. Tonight in Chicago, locals compete for the regional championship--the winner going on to compete in San Francisco Finals on August 8. The U.S. champion of that event gets the big prize of the deal--the chance to represent the U.S. and compete in Finland at the Air Guitar World Championships, the Olympics of Air Guitar.

feature "air guitar" 6/12
Skeety Jones (2007 Chicago winner). (photo by Tien Mao)

Strange as it sounds, Air Guitar as a competitive "sport" was founded in Finland, not in the U.S., the birthplace of rock-n-roll. A group of Finnish students initiated the championship in 1996, with the ideal of promoting peace as a motto. They believed that if everyone played air guitar, nobody would hold a gun. The championship came stateside in 2002, with the help of New York branding representatives Cedric Devitt and Kriston Rucker, now the co-commissioners of U.S. Air Guitar. Having read about the Finland event in the Wall Street Journal, Rucker immediately told his buddy Devitt about the typically American event that appeared to be excluding Americans. "I was shocked that the U.S. was not represented," says Rucker. The two friends headed to Oulu, Finland to investigate then returned to set up the U.S. version in 2003.

In just five years, U.S. Air Guitar developed its own eclectic flavor. Past judges include author Malcolm Gladwell, Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live, and Jason Jones from the Daily Show. A motley crue of people are attracted to Air Guitar, from punk rockers to accountants and doctors. "I've seen old men, 16-year-old girls, architects from London," notes Bjorn Turoque (Dan Crane), a second place N.Y. winner who became MC and ambassador of U.S. Air Guitar, author of To Air is Human, and star of the film, Air Guitar Nation. "All walks of life are welcome."

feature "air guitar" 6/12
Bjorn Turoque (MC and air ambassador, star of Air Guitar Nation and author of To Air Is Human). (photo by Tommi Kohonen)

The democratic element is perhaps the biggest appeal of Air Guitar. No specific background in necessary. "There is no type of person who wouldn't be a good at air guitar," says Rucker. How it works is simple. Contestants sign up for any number of regional championship by going to the website, picking a city and signing up. Many have never learned been in a band or learned how to play an instrument. They pick out a killer costume, prepare a song and get sixty seconds to rock out on stage. If they make it to the second round they get two minutes on stage.

Although it sounds simple enough, competition is fierce and preparation is essential. "Originally I didn't train at all," notes Turoque. "I got drunk and went on stage, ended up in second place." In subsequent years, however, Toroque learned the importance of training, spending several weeks before a championship working on his moves. The bigger Air Guitar gets, the higher the level of performance is required. Contestants often watch videos of past shows to prepare. "The more people do it, the more they train and work harder," says Rucker.

And Air Guitar is growing. Last year U.S. Air Guitar championships occurred in fifteen cities; this year they're up to twenty-three. There have been two American World Champions: C. Diddy (David Jung), in 2003, and Sonyk Rock the following year. According to Rucker, winning is about exuding a certain combination of charisma and air guitar style. "You gotta be able to rock a crowd on stage. You gotta have that je ne sais quoi weirdness that's kind of hard to define."

It's not easy to be good at Air Guitar, but there are perks for those who manage to win. Winners get to be a bit of a star for a while, travel around the world, go on talk shows, etc. In the words of Bjorn Toroque: "I would say in no uncertain terms Air Guitar has changed my life, for the better. I entered this competition, the very first in U.S., on a whim in 2003, since then I've logged countless air miles, met lots of air groupies. I've been around the world, all in the in pursuit of an enviable art form."

For Devitt and Rucker, Air Guitar is a sport that belongs up there with the other American greats—baseball, basketball and football. "We're trying to create America's fourth sport," notes Rucker. "Soccer is trying to but we don't think its' going to work out." As Rucker points out, Air Guitar is more American than soccer. "Almost everybody does it, whether they realize it or not. Arguably, this is the home of rock-n-roll."

feature "air guitar" 6/12
William Ocean (current U.S. Champ) - (photo by Dan Eckstein)

Without a background in music or knowing how to play the guitar, Air Guitar provides unknowns the opportunity to perform at some of the country's biggest venues, like the Bowery Ballroom in New York, or the Roxy in LA. And for the audience, the show is immensely appealing. "I've had people come up afterward and say it was the best concert they've seen in fifteen years," says Toroque. "It's like great rock combined with a great piece of performance art, and then put into a sports environment, where it's competitive, so it's a bit of everything," says Rucker.

Open to all, Air Guitar is like American Idol yet without the necessity for extensive training and exceptional musical talent. "People expect air guitarists to be losers with mullets who live with their parents, and often that is the case. But often there are some spectacular performers out there," says Toroque. For the Chicago regional, eyes are on Nordic Thunder, the 2006 Chicago winner.

Rucker sees Air Guitar becoming more commonplace. "I think it's the kind of thing that bigger it gets the better it gets. With Air Guitar, you feed off the crowd, who legitimates you being up there. Every year its getting bigger so the more the merrier."

The 2008 Cuervo Air Guitar Championships, Chicago Regional tournament occurs tonight at the Metro. Doors open at 8pm; show at 9pm. Tickets are $14. 18 and over.


Marla Seidell is a Gapersblock contributor.

GB store

Daniel / June 14, 2008 8:15 AM

If you post about this again, I'd LOVE to see some video!

GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store


Featured Series


Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.

About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks,
Transmission staff inbox:



Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15