Michael Von Poutine is one of those classic rock stars. He struts out under the lights, covered in a heavy cloak. Shrugging it off of slim shoulders, he reveals a black vest hanging open over his bare chest. Long, nimble fingers strum to the beat of a metal cover of an 80s power ballad.
"We know it's silly. But holy crap, we have fun."- Mike Daniels, Edmonton air guitar champ
He's got the look. He's got the stage presence. He's got the infectious energy.
He's only missing two things: a guitar and any idea how to play one.
"Yeah, no. I am not a guitar player in the least," said Poutine, real name Mike Daniels.
What he does have is a title: Edmonton's Air Guitar Champion. But's he's aiming higher. Saturday night, he'll be against other simulated shredders in the provincial championship in Calgary, where he will do a symphonic metal cover of Journey's Don't Stop Believing.
If it works out, he'll be on his way to the national competition and, if he does not in fact stop believing, a shot at the ultimate title: Air Guitar World Champion.
"We know it's silly," Daniels said. "But holy crap, we have fun."
It's fitting that Daniels got into the hobby in a strange way. He used to be a frequent visitor to what he calls "geeky conventions." During one of them, someone shot a video of him dancing in a robot costume.
When Daniels went online to find the video later, he stumbled a similar video: a man in a similar costume during the world air guitar championship.
"[I] stumbled across this guy who was dressed up in silver spandex and he was jamming out to a song by Daft Punk," he said.
"I was like 'holy crap, that's a thing?' So, I checked it out."
Pretty soon, he was hooked.
Pretend guitar, real judges
While the world championship has been held annually in Finland since 1996, Alberta's competition only began last year.
Tyler Gardner, who founded Air Guitar Alberta, said he was inspired after competing in a national championship last year.
"Air Guitar is something that everybody does," Gardner wrote in an email.
"I have been shredding air ever since I heard my first guitar solo"
While the guitars might be imaginary, the competition is real. Daniels said both the judges take the performances seriously. There is a technical element: while they don't need to get the chords correct, they get points for appearing to play along in time with the song.
Just as important, Daniels said, are stage presence and airiness, "which is basically going and taking your performance above and beyond just recreating."
Daniels said he modelled his Poutine persona after European rockers like Sweden's Yngwie Malmsteen, although he wanted to give it a distinctively Canadian name. He said the main goal is to get the audience onboard with watching on stage not play a guitar.
"If the crowd knows that you're having a good time, they're going to have a good time too."