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Courtney Christian and Abbie Bauman play air guitar.

Courtney Christian and Abbie Bauman bust out some moves a few days before the air guitar competition.

To air is... to truly jam

By Rick Moore

April 26, 2006

Maybe you always wanted to be a rocker but your parents wouldn't let you hang out with the long-haired kids in Ted's garage. Maybe the electric guitar was your obvious first choice for an instrument but your mom insisted that the clarinet was a better fit for the school band. Or perhaps you have little or no musical talent but like to pretend that you do.

Don't fret (just yet). There's an event for you--an air guitar contest for U students this Friday at 1 p.m. in front of potentially screaming, if not adoring, fans outside of Coffman Union. (In case of rain, the event moves to Coffman's Great Hall.) The contest is part of this year's Spring Jam, and is sponsored by Minnesota Programs & Activities Council's (MPAC) Recreation and Performing Arts Committees. There will be truly valuable, music-related prizes for the top performers, and there's even a celebrity scheduled to judge the proceedings--Zach from MTV's The Real World Key West.

The event is the brainchild of Abbie Bauman, chair of MPAC's Recreation Committee. Back in September, when she was dreaming up possible events for Spring Jam, the idea of an air guitar contest popped into her head. Then she started researching the activity and discovered its growing popularity and the "huge subculture of people" devoted to it. It also happened to dovetail nicely with this year's Spring Jam theme, "Movies That Rock."

Students who register in advance can pick their song and practice for their performance, which will last about a minute or so. Those who decide to enter the contest on Friday will need to jam to one of the pre-selected--albeit classic--air guitar songs.

"We're not quite sure what's going to happen, but we're excited to see what the students bring out," says Bauman. "Once people see how fun it is, everyone's going to want to jump up there and do it."

And if you're good, you'll get the goods. The winner will claim a PS2 and a Guitar Hero game; second place, an iPod Nano; and third place, and iPod Shuffle.

"It's amazing how creative people can be when they're bored with their ordinary lives," says Bauman.

If you feel like you need more background information for the event, or want to peer deeper into the subculture, check out the Web site of the U.S. Air Guitar Association, which is devoted to "taking our nation's unofficial pastime out of the bedroom and putting it up on the world stage."

If that doesn't make you want to reach for a make-believe guitar, how about some good ol' national pride? Notes the U.S. Air Guitar site: "In a time when U.S. military and economic leadership faces unprecedented criticism around the world, it is our belief that air guitar represents the one field of human endeavor that our country can dominate without controversy. The U.S. Air Guitar Championships is here to make this possible."

Contestants might also want to use Friday's contest as a tune-up for the national stage. On June 1, the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis will be host to a U.S. Air Guitar regional championship, and the winner will move on to the national championships featuring more than a dozen contestants--all trying to become the air apparent to reigning U.S. champion Fatima "Rockness Monster" Hoang. (If it's further incentive, the world championships take place in Finland later this year.)

Names such as the Rockness Monster are just one element of the style and panache that define the world of air guitar. There's also the flying hair, the intense facial expressions (with a lot of lip biting and tongue wagging), and the occasional leap above or off of the stage, with all of the risks that entails to both body and pride.

"It's amazing how creative people can be when they're bored with their ordinary lives," says Bauman. Some quick browsing of the U.S. Air Guitar site reveals how true that statement is. So just imagine, then, the creativity cocooned in the minds of college students with ordinary academic lives.

Stay tuned. Or if being in tune is a problem, just fake it.

Hosting an air guitar contest during a Spring Jam week with a theme of Movies That Rock can only enhance the University's musical renown. Read about Rolling Stone designating the University of Minnesota as one of the top Schools that Rock.