Marcus Connolly/ The Paisano
“I call it ‘the Wiggler’ because it moves when I talk,” laughed Rob Witthauer as he shifted his upper jaw back and forth, bringing his curlicued mustache to life before a crowd of amused spectators and judges.
Witthauer, along with many mustachioed and bearded men, wwa contestant in 3rd Friday’s 1st Bearded Love Concert and Contest, a fundraising event celebrating San Antonio’s facial hair aficionados and eccentrics.
Much of the praise goes to the heart of the festival, which lies in the collective of hirsute gentlemen who form the Alamo Beard Club established in July 2012. It’s a simple story. A group of guys meeting at a bar, putting their drinking to good use, and establishing a club based on the group’s mutual appreciation for facial hair and their desire to reach out to their community.
The men meet three times a year to plan for events such as Bearded Love, which they were invited by the city to host. Categories included partial beards like muttonchops and chin beards, mustaches and full beards under and over six inches. Proceeds go to Network for Young Artists, a charitable organization that fosters music programs for Texas youth communities.
Christian Oyler, sales/acquisition officer of the Alamo Beard Club, considers it a great honor to be a part of the organization.
Sporting an orange beard that hangs from his chin down to the middle of his shirt, Oyler said, “It’s really mostly about the people you get to hang out with. I would call us mostly a social club, with a charitable cause. We meet once a month to plan our two annual events and then to fill out whatever events we get invited to such as this one.”
Travis Park, this year’s festival venue, was the perfect spot for both serious competitors and spectators .Numerous Lights strung about through the leaves and branches of the park’s trees kept the darkness at bay while festival goers wandered along the pathways to investigate a new booth, art-piece or food truck lining the outskirts of the park.
Catering to the festival’s name, many of the booths sold products and paraphernalia pertaining to facial hair care and styling. Each booth offered signature products such as “Chill,” Urban Beardster’s home-brewed beard juice or “Panty Puller,” Boo’s signature beard balm.
Throughout the night, local singers and bands offered an uptempo break from the sounds of competitors eager to show their largely muffled faces.
Kayla McKenzie began with sultry acoustic covers of some Taylor Swift favorites, as well as some of her own solo material. The Brian Volante Band was close behind with some tunes to raise the volume a couple notches.
Not to be outdone by the old-timers, young new rock outfit Donella Drive hit their stride deep into the penultimate hour before the winners of the competition were announced.
The combination of aggressive hardcore mixed with the heavy atmospherics of bands like Deftones and Glassjaw channeled through frontwoman Ella Macias in a voice that cut through the cold and made onlookers stand at attention, or just outright bang their heads.
Closing out the night, local favorite The Heroine brought their band’s swaggering version of rock and roll to an audience who had waited patiently for a finale worth staying for. Whether it was the loud guitar sounds found in the best arena acts or Lynnwood Presley King’s rough-and-ragged voice that would make Dave Grohl blush, The Heroine may have caused a couple of singed hairs on some of the audience’s faces that night.
After hours of anticipation, the winners were announced, with none other than Rob Witthauer standing victorious among his fellow “Best Mustache” competitors.
Stopping to take a picture with the judges, “the Wiggler” made a special encore appearance. Witthauer’s jaw slid back and forth once more to entice the competitors to bring their A-game next year.