In a kilt and leather Viking helmet with duct-taped-in Heidi braids, Erik Peterson takes the stage in San Diego. The song: "Who's Your Daddy?" by Finnish heavy metal band Lordi. As the second challenger, he gives it his best for 60 seconds, even incorporating his signature jump splits.
But it's a panel of Simons for judges, and they show little mercy. "They're like, I don't remember the Vikings wearing kilts," he recalls. "They said they might have seen up my kilt a little too much." On the air guitar competition's blog of the bout, a judge writes, "With that outfit, you could technically invade yourself from the north."
Peterson competes as Tone Loki. "I don't know why I did the Tone part," he says. "[Loki is] the Norse god of mischief. Maybe it's too braniac or something." By day, Peterson is an Albuquerque high school teacher, and he was already in San Diego at the time of the competition attending a teacher's conference. He was hoping to win a regional round and make it to the U.S. finals in San Francisco. After that, team U.S.A. travels to Finland, Peterson's ultimate destination.
The Air Guitar World Championships has been around since 1996 and is part of the Oulu Music Video Festival. Guitarists are scored on a scale of 4.0 to 6.0 based on technical merit, stage presence and "airness," which is how much the performance transcends its air-guitar nature and becomes a thing of art.
That night, Peterson didn't make it into the top five, and therefore didn't find himself in the second round—a round in which, unlike the first, the judges choose the music and the hot lixx maneuvers are improvised. So, he figured, What the hell?, and drove to Phoenix that night for another round the next day, Saturday, June 28.
The Phoenix show was some kind of hell, a desert-asphalt city in a venue, the Brickhouse, with no air conditioning. Bettie B. Goode flew in from Brooklyn to compete, and another air axman flew in from Portland. Still, the show was nearly empty, reports Peterson, and though he changed his song to Everclear's "Rock Star" and followed the advice that "more skin is better than less skin," he still came in fifth of nine.
A friend in Phoenix rang him up the next day and asked about Peterson's run. "How does it feel to know there are four people in Phoenix that are better at air guitar than you?" he asked.
Aside from the jump splits, Peterson has a signature move in which he holds one foot over his head while playing the imaginary frets with his other hand. Then he falls from that position while strumming on the way down. Next year, he intends to enter again, and he plans to pick a song with more guitar in it, and to practice a lot more before he gets there.
The national finals will be held Aug. 8 in San Francisco.
"I was telling the air-guitar guys, Dude, you gotta come to Albuquerque next year."
To see footage of top-ranked air guitarists and learn more about the contest, go to usairguitar.com.