Playing an imaginary guitar can be theraputic in more ways than one, as a Westmoreland woman has discovered

COURTESY OF JOHN DOVER - On Saturday, July 16th, Westmoreland resident Kara Picante Muir played air guitar on stage in the U.S. Air Guitar National Championships, held at Dantes on West Burnside Street in Portland. As one air guitar performer remarked in the past, To err is human; to air guitar is divine. She has freed herself from stage fright, inhibitions, and the fear of losing her dignity. And, after battling stage-4 colorectal cancer for three years, she is feeling more energized, and better than she has in years.

Kara Picante Muir, 52 years old and a longtime Westmoreland resident, describes herself as an introvert and a "weirdo" who has evolved into an uninhibited competitive air guitarist. She uses the stage name of Kara Picante. She gave herself the last name "Picante" years ago, and now finds it appropriate. "I'm spicy!" she grins.

Not familiar with air guitar, or its background? It is the art of playing an invisible, imaginary guitar — an absurd masculine parody of rock and roll. It is said to be exceedingly fun, because the "guitarist" can get enjoyment out of being ridiculous and uninhibited: "Rocking out, in a hilarious way."

Some consider it to be weird, but "air players" assert that it can be very freeing and therapeutic. It often includes the players donning elaborate costumes, constructing fantastical personas, and performing comedic pantomimes of famous rock and roll solos. And players love to go to ridiculous extremes of expression.

The background of air guitar reflects both comedy — and a theme of peace. In vaudeville and in later musical pantomiming, air guitar players performed on stage, bringing laughter from the audience. And the first Air Guitar World Championship was held to promote peace in 1996, as part of the Oulu Music Video Music Festival in Oulu, Finland.

This year, the U.S. Air Guitar National Championships were held on Saturday, July 16th, in Portland — at Dante's Night Club on West Burnside Street in Portland. Picante performed the introductory show to a packed house.

Charles Muir, Picante's husband and a former writer for the Portland Oregonian, tells THE BEE that Picante's performance promotes women in this male-centric fake sport. "Breaking into the male-centric performing world and getting up in front of hundreds of people and being kind of crazy takes courage, which can make it easier to face very scary things that can happen in [one's own] life."

Picante's personal scary life occurrence was being diagnosed with stage-4 cancer in 2019. She went through three very tough years, but placed fourth in the National Championships in 2019, while going through chemotherapy. The support of the air guitar community was invaluable. "Air guitar kept me motivated to live." That community held a fundraiser to help pay her cancer treatment costs and, she says, the contributors were supportive and inspiring in many personal ways.

Picante's comfort in performing on stage came gradually. She remarks, "In the 1990s, karaoke got me in the mode of being on stage — first performing with friends, and then I graduated to doing karaoke alone." For five years, she ran the local air guitar contests, and even performed in an "air guitar" KGW News Channel 8 segment, and appeared in an air guitar video that was featured at Huffington Post.

She confides that she has found positive creativity and a healthy silliness by performing and competing in air guitar. She is a firm believer that if more youth and adults could find such an outlet for positive, creative, silly and even ridiculous expression, our world would be a better and safer place. She promotes the original political message behind air guitar: "If everyone picked up an air guitar, they couldn't hold a gun."

In her non-performing life, Picante is the author of a children's book, "Fiona [a pug dog] Plays with her Beaver." She is also an illustrator, a crafts artist, a blogger, and a belly dancer.

Her more conventional work life has included working at Kienow's in Westmoreland — that's now the QFC Market — and working downtown in the U.S. Bank Tower for nine years as an international banker. After international bankers were laid off in 1998, Picante went to massage school and became a massage therapist for 20 years.

Can you see Picante's mastery of the imaginary guitar? You certainly can. Go online to — — for a minute-and-a-half video of Ms. Picante playing air guitar. You will certainly agree that this formerly-introverted woman has thoroughly overcome her inhibitions!

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