Channeling Hendrix

Air guitar aficionados take to 9:30 Club stage at competition Wednesday

May 31, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun reporter

A few years ago, Kriston Rucker read a story about the World Air Guitar Championships and felt left out.

Finland, New Zealand and several other countries all competed in the tournament, which selects the world's best air guitarist each year. But the United States didn't participate - which disappointed Rucker.

"It just seemed kind of shocking that the United States was not involved," he said. "We kind of felt like if there was anything left in the world that the U.S. deserves to dominate, it's air guitar. That's been our mission ever since."

Rucker and friend Cedric Devitt founded the U.S. Air Guitar Championships in 2003. Since then, the event has steadily grown in size. Wednesday, it comes to the 9:30 Club as part of a 14-city national tour.

At each stop on the tour, a panel of judges will grade contestants on three points: technical ability, stage presence and "airness" - which Rucker calls the "je ne sais quoi factor."

"You kind of forget it's air guitar, that it's pretending to be something it's not," he said. "It just becomes wildly entertaining. That's not easy to achieve."

Each contest is open to the public, and usually, about 20 people enter per event, Rucker said. Each competitor gets 60 seconds to prove himself in front of the crowd. The top five to 10 make it to the second round. In Washington, members of the local rock band Army of Me will judge the performers.

To give the best possible performance, competitors should select a 60-second clip that starts off simple and builds to a crescendo, Rucker said. Clips that peak at the beginning or fade out at the end can be a letdown for the crowd.

Rucker himself refuses to get on stage and rock out.

"I have a good eye for talent, but I know enough about it to know that I have no business being up on stage," he said. "I have too much respect for the sport."

But American air guitarists have had some success on the national stage. Devitt entered the world championships in 2002 and placed fourth. And in 2003, a competitor from the U.S. championships went on to become the best air guitarist in the world.

As the championships continue to grow, Rucker hopes to see more talented performers at each event. There's no end in sight, he said.

"I think the event has taken on its own life at this point," Rucker said. "The bigger it gets, the better the quality of performers. We're trying to get the word out, to get people to enter and force their friends who are really good at it to get in."

The U.S. Air Guitar Championships comes to the 9:30 Club on Wednesday. Tickets are $10. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The club is at 815 V. St. N.W. in Washington. For more information, call 202-393-0930 or go to

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