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Austin's Beard and Moustache Competition: Q&A with Allen Demling and Bryan Nelson
For the sixth year in a row, a popular Beard and Moustache Competition was held in Austin. Misprint Magazine, a delightfully snarky read based out of Austin, has sponsored each one of these competitions thus far. Held Saturday night at The Mohawk in Austin, the event attracted throngs of beard-loving people, ready for an eagerly awaited raucous night. With categories like 'Gnarliest Beard', 'Sweetest 'Stache', 'Freestyle Facial Hair', 'Ladies!', 'Fiercest Chops', 'Best Groomed', and 'Six Month Sprint', it comes as no surprise to me that an event like this garners such enthusiasm within the community of Austin. Many people I know in Austin are involved in the 'bearding' scene--it's difficult, I reckon, to live in Austin and not meet people involved in this hairy subculture. And yet, despite knowing so many people in this town who are facial hair hobbyists, the history and purpose of the beard craze specific to Austin has too long eluded me. Thankfully, Allen Demling and Bryan Nelson, both judges for Misprint's Annual Beard and Moustache Competition and members of the Austin Facial Hair Club, took a moment to answer some of my questions about bearding and related competitions in Austin.
AD: I originally grew a beard my senior year in college because I was tired of shaving so often. That beard didn't last too long. After I graduated I lived in Chicago, and would grow a winter beard every year. I was working for a consulting firm, and after about 2-3 months of growth someone would come to me and hint that I should probably shave it soon. After a couple years working there I finally couldn't handle the cold winters and moved to Austin. Austin is one of those unique cities where there really isn't much that is unacceptable. This current beard I've had for about 6 years, which is by far the longest I've ever grown one. Right after I started growing it, Misprint Magazine started their annual Beard and Moustache Competition. It wasn't until the 3rd year that I finally won, and after that I became a judge, so shaving wasn't really an option. I don't have any plans to shave any time soon.
ES: Given the climate of Austin, it seems surprising that facial hair could take such a hold on locals. What is it that keeps so many Austin men growing and grooming despite the often hot and sticky weather?
AD: I don't think beards are as uncomfortable as many people think. Personally, I think long hair would be more uncomfortable in the summers because it lays on your neck and shoulders, whereas a beard generally dangles nicely off the chin without plastering itself all over your body. Also, as I mentioned before, Austin is a pretty accepting city, so there isn't as much "beard shaming" as there is in many other places.
ES: How did the Beard and Moustache Competition begin?
AD: The Misprint Beard and Moustache Competition originally started as a tongue in cheek parody of the burgeoning beard scene in Austin. Since that first competition, however, it has ironically become one of the biggest and most anticipated beard competitions in the country. What other competition could get Billy Fucking Gibbons to show up two years in a row? The answer is none.
ES: What's in it for participants?
AD: Really the only thing in it for the participants is glory. There are some prizes, usually from local businesses, but being able to share the stage with Matt Bearden in front of 1200 people is reward enough for most people.
ES: Bryan, your bio on the AFHC says you're studio engineer, musician, and record label owner. Can you tell us more about your musical endeavors? Has your long beard ever gotten in the way on stage, in the studio, or otherwise?
BN: I moved to Austin in 1993 attracted by the music lifestyle. I started studio work in 1995 at a studio called Sweatbox in downtown Austin, and have played in several bands along the way... Sister Run Naked, Peglegasus, School Trauma Flashback, Kytsch, The Pallbearers, Gorch Fock, Creeperweed, The Snake Trap, just to name a few... Austin is a good place if you want to play a lot of music. An interesting current music endeavor is the AFHC Christmas Album that we will release next fall... a bunch of silly, original Christmas songs about beards. Allen Demling on washboard!!! My beard is long enough so it gets caught up in my drumsticks sometimes if I'm playing drums, or gets caught on microphones too... that is annoying. If I am playing guitar sometimes sometimes I will yank out a few hairs while strumming, which might be a reason that my beard length kind of hovers around wear my strings are... when that happens it is like a sudden electric shock on my face, which is distracting to say the least. Engineering-wise, wrapping up cables is the worse. I have to tuck my beard into my shirt or else it gets yanked out by the rubber cables while I wrap them. All this being said, having a beard is pretty fun and the occupational hazards are totally worth it.
ES: You have some beard awards under your belt. How do you prepare for these kinds of competitions?
BN: Well, there is only so much preparation or training that one can do... I try to dress comfortably and try to stay focused on the fact that it is a silly concept, a beard contest. I might wear some lucky underwear, or try to think of an old classic rock song that gets me pumped. Having a bunch of my friends around always helps too.
ES: Beard-growing and the art of facial hair seem like fun things to engage in, generally speaking, but are there other elements of the facial hair community and culture that keep you involved?
BN: There are a lot of beard teams and clubs in the world now, and every major competition is a huge family reunion. The Austin Facial Hair Club stays busy nearly year round raising funds to get our team members to the various competitions. We meet twice a month and keep our merchandise up to date, those things alone keep us busy and involved. There are also several online groups for beard wearers/lovers, and a slow but steady stream of media inquiries from various sources and angles. Facial hair is fun, and it is a warm and inviting community as long as you don't take it and yourself too seriously.
ES: What is a Lifetime Achievement Award for Beardness?
BN: A few years back the other AFHC guys came up with this surprise award for me at the Misprint competition. They had gotten all of these ancient photos of me, with help from my wife, and put together a slide show of my bearded life. I was shocked; it was awesome. I am a lucky guy to have such great, fun friends.