Taking home the title 

Whistler local heads to Finland to represent Canada at the Air Guitar World Championships

click to enlarge Big Win Cole Manson (aka Johnny Utah) was named Canadian Air Guitar Champion in Toronto on Friday, July 11.
  • Big Win Cole Manson (aka Johnny Utah) was named Canadian Air Guitar Champion in Toronto on Friday, July 11.

We’ve all done it, though no one wants to admit it. You get caught mid-riff, wailing away on your fake electric guitar, and a pink hint of shame creeps across your cheeks.

Well, Cole Manson certainly doesn’t share the typical embarrassment about playing a bit of air guitar.

By day, this B.C. boy teaches mixed martial arts, like capoeira, a Brazilian dance form based on a type of martial arts, but at night his alter ego, Johnny Utah, steps out of the shadows and onto centre stage.

You see, Manson found himself entangled in the wonderful world of air guitar after attending the West Coast premiere of the film, “Air Guitar Nation.” After the premiere, organizers announced that the inaugural Canadian qualifying event for the Air Guitar World Championships would be held at the GLC.

“I was just like, ‘oh, I’ll go check that out. Wait a minute, I’ll go in it, that sounds like fun,’” Manson said.

Manson is the first to admit that he doesn’t have any musical background, aside from the dancing and music of capoeira. But he certainly seems to have passion, enthusiasm and confidence that you need to get up on stage in front of a crowd of people and rock out on an invisible instrument.

“It’s something everyone does, though, either secretly or they’ve done it, you know?” he said.

Turns out, Manson had a bit of a natural knack for the obscure artform. Last year, he represented Vancouver during the national championships in Toronto, and this year he’s representing Canada on the world stage.

That’s right, you read correctly: the world championships of air guitar. Who knew, right? Turns out, air guitar has quite a large following, with almost 20 countries participating in the annual international event which has been held in Oulu, Finland since 1996.

“For my first competition there was no preparation because it was completely random, I just had to think of a good song,” he explained, adding that he began to take a bit of a different approach to the competition after his first competition.

He began doing some homework, thinking about movements that would fit the music and look good on stage and researching other competitors online. Now, he choreographs the performance to his music ahead of time.

It looks like his hard work is paying off. After he lost by only 0.1 point at last year’s national qualifier, Manson decided he wanted to go to Finland anyway and enter the wildcard competition. So he held a fundraiser, and was off to Europe. He ended up coming in fifth place, one spot out of the finals.

But now he’s definitely going to get a chance compete with the best of the best from around the globe. And this time they’re paying his way.

The national competition didn’t come as far west as B.C., this year, but organizers called Manson directly to see if he would be interested in representing his province at the nationals. Manson accepted and beat out last year’s champion, as well as some other tough competitors from across Canada.

Now, he’s onto the world championships, which are being held from Aug. 20 until Aug. 22.

Manson believes song choice is crucial, adding that his music at last year’s competition – a Hendrix song – didn’t really appeal to the tastes of the European judges.

“As much as Jimi Hendrix rocks, they’re just not too into him over there,” Manson said with a shrug.

So this year, he’s changed things up a bit, mixing his own special compilation song for the competition with the help of a local DJ and friend, Rob Banks.

“It was a bit of Nirvana meets Metallica with some special sound effects. That’s what a lot of guys are doing, now – they’re making their own one-minute track.”

They’re also making another compilation for the big gig in Finland. This time, think The Ramones meet Metallica.

Manson is the first to admit that the prizes up for grabs are less than stellar — last year, the champion went home with a guitar and a cell phone. And Manson recently won a guitar at the national competition, though he’s a bit unsure about taking up a real musical instrument.

“I don’t know if I want to, it might throw off my air guitar game!” Manson said with a laugh.

So why go to all this trouble?

For Manson, it’s all about the glory.

Regardless of the outcome of the world championships, Whistler’s own Johnny Utah will be feted with a homecoming party on Thursday, July 31 at the GLC.

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