Air guitar serious business 

Whistler's Johny Utah compets in provincial air guitar competition in Vancouver

By Nicole Fitzgerald

Whistler can boast many famous people.

On the mountain, Brit Janyk rules the super G as a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team.

In the recording studio, EMI recording talent Ali Milner croons original jazz piano ramblings.

On the stage, Whistler gets ready to launch its newest superstar. His instrument of choice may be invisible, but his talent is highly visible as Cole Manson heads down Highway 99 to compete in the provincial finals of the Air Guitar competition in Vancouver this weekend.

“I am going to make it a show rather than a random dude showing off,” said Manson, whose alter ego Johny Utah rocks out a mean air guitar.

“I am feeling super confident.”

Air Guitar may be Whistler’s next claim to fame. Manson won the Whistler competition last December, moving him onto the finals in Vancouver this weekend. The provincial winner will be flown to Toronto to compete nationally this summer. The national winner will represent Canada at the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland in September.

Air guitar has risen from amateur entertainment thrashing out with friends to hard rock tracks at home to a professional craft embraced by 17 countries worldwide.

Manson has always taken his air guitar talents very seriously. With the finals so close, he will work his guitar whenever he hears a song on the radio. Air guitar musicians always travel light, requiring nothing more than a carry on of a passion for music, confidence and agility on stage.

Manson stood out from the pack of head bobbers and leg strummers at the Whistler competition this winter. Some rockers forgot about their guitar all together as they cart wheeled and somersaulted to crowd applause. Most were costumed, but not Utah.

The early Beatles had their bowl cuts, ZZ Top the long beards, but Utah is all about the subtle rattail with black T-shirt and jeans — no accessories necessary, only raw talent needed.

“I’ve been growing out my rattail for it,” he said, adding: “I’ve got seven or eight inches there.”

Jamming to the radio is also getting Manson in shape for the world finals where air guitar masters must compete to a surprise set song.

“You need to have a bit of raw talent there,” Manson said.

For the provincials, Manson is repeating his showstopper Damage Inc. by Metallica.

“I keep training to my song,” Manson said. “The more I hear it, the more fine tuning I can do with it. Even though I only perform to a minute of it, I practice the whole song, so I am more in the mood when that minute comes up so I can really rock it out.”

He always tunes his guitar before every performance.

So what makes a great air guitarist?

“It’s got to have theatre and comedy as well as technical air guitaring,” Manson said. “I think we are judged on overall ‘airness.’”

Crowd response is taken into consideration at the provincial judging, so Manson invites Whistlerites to join him on his trek to Vancouver to better his chances of moving onto the national finals in Toronto. To join the Whistler bus, call 604-966-8118.

“I’ve been rocking to air guitar as long as I can remember, as long as I’ve been listening to music,” he said. “I was never afraid to play air guitar to a good song. It’s a pretty natural thing. This competition is perfect…. Air guitar is about technique, not about how you make a goof out of yourself.”

Serious business when you consider more than 5,000 people could be cheering on Manson if he makes it to the world finals.

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