By Lisa Harding
Whistler’s reigning air guitar champ, Cole Manson (aka Johny Utah) is off to Toronto after winning the Air Guitar Regional Championships in Vancouver Saturday night.
Clutching a beer after his big win, Manson was all smiles. “I’m stoked. But I expected this. One-hundred per cent confidence. I had no doubt whatsoever.”
In December, Manson won the Whistler air guitar competition at the GLC with just minutes of preparation. Since then, he has been busy practising, pulling out his air guitar whenever a good song comes on the radio.
On Saturday, a confident Manson followed 11 other competitors to repeat his winning routine to Damage Inc. by Metallica. New to his 60-second routine was his pre-show: he pulled his imaginary guitar out of a phantom case, then tuned his air instrument before Metallica raged through the speakers. Manson synchronized his strumming fingers to the music, and like his Whistler show, spewed water into the crowd, and tossed his air guitar above him — before spinning and catching it on cue. The crowd lapped it up. Manson was rewarded with the only perfect score of the night.
“You can tell I’ve put some effort into it and making it into a bit of a show instead of random air guitaring. There’s some technical air guitaring.” Manson said.
A good air guitarist is “pure, spontaneous talent,” according to Manson. “It’s skill, show, theatre, comedy — all the elements.”
Judges look for originality, technique, stage charisma and “airness”. The top six competitors move on to the compulsory song — where air guitarists must perform to a song revealed at the beginning of the round.
All six faked their way through Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train, but only Manson brought a roadie on stage to hand him his air guitar — and seven attractive women to dance behind him.
Those groupies were part of Manson’s huge cheering section — matched only by fans of Vancouver favourite, Simon Fulber. Fulber’s alter-ego, Sven, didn’t make the top three, but the crowd loved his routine that involved running into a wall, stage diving and rolling around on the floor.
Manson never considered Sven a threat. “The guy was over the top. It’s a different level of air guitaring. It’s guys like him that help me win.”
Though he prides himself on not wearing a costume, Manson has adopted a silver chain and black glove to “add a bit more flavour” to his Johny Utah uniform of a T-shirt, jeans and sunglasses. His most important accessory? His friends say it’s his eight-inch rattail.
Twenty-four-year-old Kelsey Damage confided Manson believes his rattail brings him luck. “His biggest fear is someone cutting off his rattail at a party.”
Manson claims he isn’t superstitious, but says he needs to keep the rattail because it’s a part of Johny Utah.
The next step is the Canadian Air Guitar Championship on July 27 th in Toronto. Finalists have already been selected from Toronto and Montreal, with future competitions yet to be scheduled for Calgary and Edmonton. The national winner will represent Canada at the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland in September, a competition that now attracts entries from 17 countries.
Fellow competitor Jodi Pongratz (aka Pomegrant Vixin) admits Manson deserves to represent B.C. at the national competition.
“He was really technically sound. I was actually surprised at how professional it could be.”
Manson says winning Vancouver was his goal, but believes being the best in the world is within his grasp. “I can taste it… I just have to do it step by step.”