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News Mon Jul 25 2011

Nordic Thunder Takes Home the US Air Guitar 2011 National Title

us air guitar devil hornsThe US Air Guitar National Finals were held in Chicago for the first time Saturday night, and all around were signs that this was Chicago's time to shine. And it was four-time Chicago regional finalist Nordic Thunder who stood triumphant in the end, ready to represent the United States in the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland, in August.

Nordic Thunder (Justin Howard) had plenty of supporters in the packed crowd at the Metro, but he wasn't alone. Five of the finalists were from Chicago, including the defending national champion, RomeoDanceCheetah (Matt Cornelison), Thundergland and Mr. Serious (brothers Matt and Lee Barats), and Dry Ice (Aaron Alonso). But although the hometown crowd might have given an advantage to the local guitarists, it was anyone's show to win on the strength of their performance. "You could take a 21-sided die and assign a number to each of us and that's about as even a chance as we each have," Mr. Serious said earlier in the day.

Even so, several finalists told me Nordic Thunder was considered the favorite to win. "It's very flattering to hear -- to have my peers and my best friends feel that way, it's very flattering," Nordic Thunder said. "But this is a competition, and I know that it can change on any routine. Everyone's bringing their top-notch shit tonight, and competitions are won by a tenth of a point, so I really do think it's anyone's game. I'm feeling a little more at ease knowing that this is my city, I've won here, I've played the Metro here several times and have been successful here, and I'm just looking forward to an awesome night.

"I feel like the planets are swirling around and creating a storm of their own, and I can't ignore that -- but at the same time nothing's for certain. This is going to be a hell of a show, and I'm just stoked to be a part of it."

Click here for even more photos from the US Air Guitar National Finals.

Melting Faces, Taking Names

After an introduction by emcee Björn Türoque and judge Hot Lixx Hulahan, the show got started, with retiring veteran Chuck Mung of Seattle taking the bullet by going first. From there, 21 more competitors from the regionals and Thursday night's "dark horse" heat battled to out-rock each other, with varying success. Thundergland and Mr. Serious landed in the middle of the pack with identical scores. Dry Ice's wildman performance and crowd excitement were enough to tie for fourth with Lt. Facemelter (Jason Farnan) and the injured Tommy Fretless (Adam Lee), whose broken ankle and swollen foot garnered far more respect than sympathy from the judges. Defending champ RomeoDanceCheetah stood alone in second place after a rousing performance. Tied for first were Portland's Tony Tapatio and our very own Nordic Thunder.

The second round saw 10 guitarists performing the same compulsory song: "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue. Denver's Dreamcatcher, more a fan of classic rock and jam bands, protested the choice by playing air Russian roullette instead of air guitar, but the rest of the performances within tenths of a point of each other. New York's 19-year-old Airistotle nearly came up from a tied third place to nearly take the whole shebang, but Nordic Thunder stood his ground and delivered the performance of a lifetime, climaxing with a skin-scraping knee slide that took him the width of the Metro stage. The crowd erupted, and the judges gave him a score two-tenths shy of a perfect 18, putting him over the top to take the championship.

Asked how it felt becoming the top air guitarist in the nation, Nordic Thunder said, "I love having sex -- I mean, most people do, it's a pleasurable thing. But to be on a stage at the Metro, one of the best venues in all of Chicago, in one of the best cities in all the country, it's ecstasy at its finest. I mean, the energy from the crowd that I was receiving and giving back, it's just a joyous, awesome, amazing -- I don't know how to put it into words. Great. It's better than sex, and I love sex."

"I've never made the second round in the US finals," he continued, "and I told myself if I make the second round this year, I will win. I had that mindset and it really paid off."

Nordic Thunder will compete against representatives of more than 20 countries at the world finals in Finland on August 26, the main event of a four day festival of air guitar. In the shorter term, he'll be on "Lopez Tonight" on Tuesday along with Tim Gunn, Jenna Elfman and Shaggy.

"Finland was one of the coolest-slash-weirdest experiences I've ever had," said RomeoDanceCheetah. "It's kind of a crazy thing to feel like you're representing a country on a world stage in front of lots and lots and lots of people."

The Future of Air Guitar in Chicago

The win for Nordic Thunder is the culmination of a career in air guitar, one that has left a mark on his body -- but has also left him excited for the rise of Chicago as a center of air guitar greatness.

"I think about the future -- my body's fucked up," he said before the show. "I've got two herniated disks in my back, I've had a ruptured disk, I've had knee surgery -- these are all air guitar-related injuries. I would love to win tonight, the first time the championships are in Chicago, in front of my home crowd, and walk away with that and come back next year as a mentor to all the Chicago air guitarists and make Chicago be the stop where people fear, they look forward to and can't wait to see. There's a crop of awesomeness here, and I think if we could all cultivate this together, Chicago would be unstoppable."

Backstage after winning the national title, he confirmed his plan to go out at the top. "I've accomplished my goal. I'll defend my title next year, and that's it. I'll continue to be a part of this because it's fuckin' awesome, but... my back won't hurt anymore, my feet won't bleed, it's gonna be great."

"I'm equally stoked about that as I am about winning the title, because I love this culture and this lifestyle and having fun with all these people. So now, flip the script on the other side -- I feel like I've gained and earned the respect of the fans of Chicago, now I've gained and earned the respect of my peers, and that's fucking trippy, dude. So Chicago next year is going to be fucking awesome."

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Arina / July 26, 2011 11:21 AM

He should have gotten the perfect score!

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