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Party on Garth: local wails way to air guitar championships

POULSBO — When he takes the stage in Finland later this month, Garth Donald will have one minute to show the world his skills on the air guitar.

Yes — that’s air guitar — a.k.a. not really any guitar at all. But for this North Kitsap High School 2002 graduate, taking his adroitness of impersonation to the Air Guitar World Championships, held in Oulu, Finland, is a dream come true.

Donald will compete — as one of only three Americans — in the ninth annual championships, held Aug. 25-29 at the Oulu Music Video Festival. In a one-minute qualifying round, he’ll blare “Walk all over you” from AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” Album and wail — with absolutely no musical accompaniment.

“I’ve got one minute to prove myself to the world,” he said. “That’s the scariest thing I can imagine.”

If the judges approve, he’ll move onto the final round, consisting of two competitions: a one minute pre-arranged song and a one minute impromptu performance picked by the judges. But Donald said he doesn’t like to think about not making it to the final stage.

“If I flew out to Finland and I didn’t make it past the qualifying round, I would be really, really disappointed,” he said.

Donald said he likes his chances with the AC/DC song, saying it is an apotheosis of what a good song on air guitar should be.

“You have to pick a song that has not too much distortion and must be real solid technical guitar work,” he said. “It also has to be fast paced so people can enjoy what they’re listening to. After that, it’s all choreography.”

Donald’s air guitar career began at a North Kitsap High School talent show assembly in 2000. To the tune of AC/DC’s “DT,” Donald mimed along, ripping into fake guitar solos and pretending to sing at the top of his lungs.

“The whole time I was looking around and the audience was dead silent,” Donald said. “But as soon as it was over the (crowd) erupted, and I thought, ‘Wow — I can’t believe how much they liked this.’”

The idea came from watching great musical acts who play excellent music — and for Donald, that means AC/DC. He decided to have a band that didn’t play its own music, but knew how to rock on stage.

“Why don’t we cut the middle man?” Donald said he thought. “Instead of creating a fake band with really lousy music, why don’t we take stuff that we like and make a performance out of it?”

Backstage after the talent contest, Donald and his friend Chris Tallon were approached by another friend, John Larabee.

“(Larabee) came up to us and said, ‘You guys, that was awesome! You know what would be really cool is if you opened for a real band,’” Donald recalled.

Sure enough, local artist and Poor Richard’s lead singer Nate Paagard approached Donald to open for a show the band was doing at the Kingston Community Center. Donald’s yet-to-be-named air guitar band would end up opening for Poor Richard on more than one occasion.

A fortnight before their first show, the band decided that there was no half-way point in their efforts — it was either all-in or all-out.

“We all got together and we decided that if we’re going to do this, we’re not going to look like dorks,” Donald recalled. “We’re going to take this seriously.”

Band practice was disciplined, going two to three hours each day after school, practicing song selection and choreography, wailing out fake solos to prominent — and mostly 1980s — bands such as Faith No More, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. A band name was also assigned: The Doomboogerz.

With each performance they gave, the band’s success grew. A band logo was created — and was tattooed onto a band member’s arm. The Doomboogerz played in “Battle of the Bands” contests in Seattle — versus other groups that actually played instruments.

“From the very beginning, each step was something completely unbelievable,” Donald said. “It was kind of my dream come-true.”

The band’s results in concert were varied, he said.

“In our short career, we had shows where we did spectacularly and had shows where we were booed off stage,” he added.

“Man, we don’t have instruments!” Donald recalls his fellow members telling him. “We’ve been fooling the crowds this entire time. They love us and we’re not really doing anything!”

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