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Photo by Brad Butterfield | Air guitar champion Sandy Cockburn poses with trophy

Air guitar competition comes to Northtown Coffee

No guitars, no problems

by Brad Butterfield

Originally printed February 22, 2023

Nearly forty people packed into Northtown Coffee on Saturday, Feb. 11th for the first annual Air Guitar Competition. Anticipation built as each contestant’s name boomed through amplifiers to growing applause from the crowd. Stage names like Tokemaster Flex, The Dancing Queens, Sonic Boom, Dr. Fuckinstunt and Sandy Cockburn set an irreverent tone. It was impossible to be in the room and not feel the pulse of childish excitement.

With so much at stake, and such stiff competition, three local legends were called in for the difficult task of judging the air guitarists. DJ Red (Soul Party), Matt of the Sturgeons, and juggernaut of creativity Jam, would call upon their varied experience to judge the contestants on a few important criteria. A combination of stage presence, outfit, song selection and crowd participation would be considered in the judges’ scoring. Of course, as is true for any fun in life, bribery was not completely off the table. One judge may-or-may-not have stated that the winner would be the one that forked out the biggest bribe. Just after 5 p.m., organizer Serg Mihaylo took the stage and explained the origins of the event. 

“We’re here today in part to get the word out about our non-profit, The League of Everyday People,” Mihaylo said. “We provide musical instruments and lessons to students in need. They otherwise couldn’t afford it. If you have instruments laying around, you can donate them here [at Northtown Coffee].” 

The non-profit was created in 2021 by Mihaylo, Clay Adams, and Tanasa Daniel as a way to give back and enrich their community through music. The League of Everyday People works with local music store Wildwood Music to completely refurbish donated instruments before delivering them to young students in need. 

“We like to have fun,” Mihaylo said. “Does anybody else like having fun? I think it may be the whole point of life… is to have fun.” 

With excitement in the room at a boiling point, the first contestant took the stage. Without the cumbersome constraints of a physical guitar, the performers were free to incorporate all manner of dance, floor humping and hip thrusting to garner support from the crowd. Dr. Fuckinstunt made a strong case for himself with vigorous head shaking and on-rhythm leg kicks that would make Keith Richards proud. 

Not to be outdone, the Dancing Queens proved that synchronization is an antiquated operation as they wowed the crowd with the night’s only multi-person performance. The Dancing Queens totally controlled the stage, even climbing on top of a table as the song picked up. 

Photo by Brad Butterfield | Air guitarist jams out on stage.

Every performer brought not only obvious knowledge of the craft, but enthusiasm that electrified the entire coffee house. Air guitarist Sandy Cockburn took the stage by storm as Muffin Man by Frank Zappa boomed out of the speakers. Paired with black underwear over green tights, Cockburn wore a crop-top. A silky red bathrobe and curly black wig completed the look and cemented Cockburn as the best-dressed contestant. Cockburn sailed through intricate guitar solos with ease, displaying a remarkable amount of flexibility and confidence on stage.

The  performance was made even more remarkable with the knowledge of how Cockburn prepared for the event. 

“I drank and listened to Zappa and got kinda stoned,” Cockburn said. 

After all the contestants had performed to their chosen songs, the judges decided that the contest was too close to call. The Dancing Queens and Sandy Cockburn were invited to the stage to give one last performance to the judge-chosen song: Smells Like Teen Spirit. Both acts made compelling cases for their right to the title of Champion of the Redwoods. In fact, even after this championship round, the judges felt it was too close for them to make a decision. The champion, in the end, would have to be decided by the people. 

Though it was close, the audience chanted and hollered Sandy Cockburn into eternal status as Champion of the Redwoods and winner of the 1st Annual Northtown Coffee Air Guitar Competition.

“I’ve broken so many of these in practice, it’s great to know that I can have a reliable brand. ‘Everyday People’ is the string brand you want when you’re strutting alone in your underwear,”  Cockburn said, upon receiving his honorary air-guitar strings.

Along with being crowned Champion of the Universe Humboldt, the winner on the night received three packs of air-guitar strings, $60 (redeemable at Northtown Coffee), and the Trophy of Glory. The trophy, which resembled the body of an electric guitar, was the work of local craftsman Justin Schwartzman. It took Schwartzman about a week to complete the masterpiece. The hard work and attention to detail were obvious when looking at the immaculately carved and painted trophy. In plain english, this was a kick-ass trophy and no doubt fanned the flames of competitive spirit in all of the air guitar performers soon to take the stage.

While the strings were a great bonus, the real prize was Schwartzman’s handmade trophy. Being a true champion of the people, Sandy Cockburn already had plans for it.

“I thought it would make a pretty fly belt,” Cockburn said. “I want to mount it just high enough so that the top of it stimulates my nipples as I walk around. I think it’ll be really gratifying.” 

Though each contestant performed with ease and relative grace, it is not as easy as it looks. One can’t simply buy a wig, put on some tights and expect to be crowned champion. It takes a special drive. 

“The motivation is not giving a fuck,” Cockburn said. “I grew up as a weirdo and everybody made fun of me. And when you get old enough, you just don’t give a shit anymore. The motivation is to just enjoy yourself. As long as you’re amusing yourself, others will follow. That’s kinda what I was born to do, is be ridiculous. That and fall off of things.” 

To donate to the League of Everyday People visit:

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