Shortly after its birth as a sideshow, Air Guitar evolved into the main event.
Only in Hood River does a morning of five song-and-dance numbers eclipse every other event in the annual Homecoming festivities.
“It’s the production of the century; the highest-attended event in the valley,” said emcee Keith Bassham, who is now athletic director but as geography teacher/wrestling coach performed in the first Air Guitar in 1987 and has been a part of it ever since.
For longevity, few teachers match Evelyn Charity, who found herself in the center of a dancing throng of fellow staffers in the finale of Thursday’s 2013 Air Guitar, won for the first time in several years by the staff team. The margin over the Class of 2014 was close: 88-85. This year’s judges were Supt. Dan Goldman, board member Kateri Osborn-Lohr and retired ASPIRE coordinator Carolyn Bondurant.
Charity, who teaches sociology and philosophy, will retire in June, making this her final Air Guitar. “1991, ‘Dead Rock Stars,’ my first year, that was my most memorable,” she said.
Charity went out wearing the Loudest Pink and Orange Ensemble in the History of Air Guitar (see photo above).
“Niko Yasui said, ‘You’re just going to play yourself,’ but I said, ‘I don’t want to just look like me. I’m going with the color and this shiny bling,’” Charity said.
We asked longtime Air Guitar staffers to tell us their favorite memories of this grand Hood River tradition. Before we move on to them, the staff should heed the words of Charity about the Class of 2015, who came in third.
“They’re going to be challenging us (next year.) They kind of lost their edge because they assumed we weren’t going to be good because we haven’t been winning. The juniors are going to be after us.”
Keith Bassham, athletic director
A favorite year was when the staff did “Hair,” and repeated it at Jackson Park following the Homecoming parade. “It was a blast.”
“I can’t tell you when I started emceeing. The first three years we held it in the theater, until 1990, and then we moved to the gym. And we really did have air guitar, too,” Bassham said, referring to the event’s transformation from a small group of people standing up and imitating rock bands in time with recorded music to large groups of dancers and actors performing 6-12-minute extended skits replete with tumbling, full dance numbers, costumes, props, massive painted signs, and in-jokes.
Mike Butcher, biology teacher
“It’s just fun. It’s pretty much everyone doing their own thing,” said Butcher, who has dressed KISS-style in the past but this year brought down the house with his “Gangnam Style” dance. He and other teachers noted that most rehearsal happens as individuals in front of living room mirrors.
“With all the busy schedules we have it’s pretty much impossible to do it as a group. You compartmentalize.”
It’s pure experience for people such as Butcher and fellow-KISS guy Cary Mallon that give the Staff a bit of an edge.
“I knew the (Gangnam) song, and the moves, but I didn’t know how much would be used, and I had to time the moves to what we were doing. When you do it in practice it never seems that coherent and then you do it and it turns out okay.”
“It’s not so much how well the bear rides the motorcycle but that the bear rides the motorcycle at all,” Butcher said.
Butcher’s favorite memory was the joke he, as a devoted UW Huskies fan, played on KIHR’s Mark Bailey — a UO Duck fan, in 2003, the year the Huskies had beaten the Ducks for the second time in a row.
Bailey was one of the actual judges, and Butcher performed as “judge Bailey” in the Staff’s “Hood River’s Got Talent”-themed Air Guitar.
“I had to borrow a Duck hat, and I had a cable sweater (a Bailey trademark) and we were holding up signs with a 5, 6, or 8.”
Suddenly Butcher held up a sign reading “42-10” and “42-14”, the Huskies’ winning scores.
“No one knew what I was doing at first, but I was looking right at Mark and he understood,” Butcher recalled.
His favorite student Air Guitar bit was the 1995 seniors rolling a Honda Civic into the gym as part of “Sabotage.”
“There are so many really good ones with kids,” Butcher said. “A lot of times, you don’t think it’s going to be that great, and then you get one real performance that kind of brings it all together. It’s neat to see all the kids involved instead of just a small group.”
Evelyn Charity, sociology teacher
A couple of years ago, a former HRVHS teacher, who has played a key role in the air guitars during her many years of service here, was on a two-week substitute assignment during the time that the staff was rehearsing for air guitar. She’s practiced with us and contributed ideas, costumes, etc. Two days before Air Guitar, her sub job ended but she had rehearsed and still planned to take part. A decree went out from the administration that only students and staff would be allowed in the gym. We thought, this couldn’t mean our compadre, but it did; so we had to hide her in the gym until after the performance. It was great!
Cary Mallon, math teacher
In the ‘90s, we were the cutting edge and began to shape the event to what it is today. Now the kids are more creative and have learned a lot of tricks from us.
Easiest Rehearsal: 1991 Ode to Dead Rock stars. We never did a full rehearsal, since it was a string of one-person acts. We only needed to know who we followed. We still won!
Scariest moment: Watching as a classmate did a perfect form tackle on Tayler Krummel. He was supposed to just lift her up but also planted her on her back.
Sentimental favorite: As the Beach Boys performing an encore at Jackson Park because we had won.
Favorite role: Paul Stanley of KISS. I felt like a real rock star and I think I nailed the part.
Biggest regret: We’ve never done a Springsteen song!
Recycling: We did Hair and The Village People twice and have used the “Bus o’ Love” several times as a prop.
Best streak: I think it was Jodie Gates and Candice Hoag’s class of around 2002 won the contest three straight years.
One more thing: To be sure you’ll get adoring applause: Appear in a number with Troy Tactay!
Mary Ann Hay, Spanish teacher
I have so many fun memories of Staff Air Guitar, but there are a couple that really stand out.
I loved the KISS routine with Mike Butcher, Cary Mallon and Regena Rafelson. Their costumes and makeup were dead-on.
I loved our “Hair Guitar” that we did one year. We focused on Big Hair bands. Very funny.
I think our best AG was the top YouTube videos (2010). The spoof of our own students’ highly watched YouTube video of Shakira brought down the house. The Thriller with Michael Jackson (photo, page B1) and all the staff doing the zombie dance at the end was stellar.
Speaking of Michael Jackson (I have played him three times in my 18 years here at HRV): The first year I played him we did the song “Bad” with cool backup dancers doing a choreographed routine.
With the makeup and costume on I looked so much like MJ it kind of freaked me out. After the show, I went home because I was working halftime. I arrived home still in MJ costume and said to my husband, “Hey, let’s go out for lunch!” He said, “Like that?”
I said, “Sure!” My husband is a good sport, so off we went, walking down the sidewalk on the Heights, holding hands, me still in costume as MJ. We got some stares for sure, and the waitress at the restaurant wouldn’t even look at me. It was really funny.
Every year I think, oh man, I’m so busy, how can I find time to do another Air Guitar? But somehow we all muster up the creativity and energy to do it again.
Amirra Malak, art teacher
“This was my first year — it was awesome! I said I’d do it one time, for Evelyn, but I’ll be back.”
Jennifer Schlosser, guidance counselor and cheer coach
“It’s always the same: every year I say ‘I’m not going to do it next year’ and then I’m back in it. I can’t stay away.”