Vermont Beardies contestants at ArtsRiot in Burlington
Last night, ArtsRiot
in Burlington was packed — with beards. It was the first annual Vermont Beardies competition, in which participants raised money for Make-A-Wish Vermont
by showing off their luxurious facial locks.
The event itself was an informal affair. Contestants had about an hour to display their fuzzy features for the judges, who included Jonathan Goldsmith, the former "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis ad campaign. Goldsmith and ArtsRiot employee Ben Rutter were charged with collecting the funniest — or most poignant — beard-related stories. At another judging table, Wish Kid Noah Cohen evaluated beards based on how many plastic clothespins they could hold.
At the end of the evening, Goldsmith and Make-A-Wish director Jamie Hathaway announced winners in three categories. The best "Backwoods Beard" went to Bryan Sturge. Brett Graves claimed the best "Urban" face mane. And the best "Freestyle" went to the well-maintained mustache of Louie Coli.
Cohen went on to award Sturge the honor of "Ultimate Beardie." And not just because of the length of his hair.
Bryan Sturge with Noah Cohen after accepting his "Ultimate Beardie" award
In 2013, Sturge's daughter died of cancer. "When I found out Zoey was sick, I made a promise to her that I would not shave my beard until she was cancer free," the Barre man wrote in his entry on the fundraiser's website. "Once the news was broke to me that there was no cure for her, I asked her if she would like me to shave so she could see my face again. She said, 'No, not until I'm free.'"
Zoey had been the recipient of a wish from Make-A-Wish. But she died before it came true. Only then, Sturge said, did he finally shave. Now he grows his beard in her memory.
In total, the participants collectively raised close to $30,000. That, Goldsmith said, was enough to grant three wishes in Zoey's memory.
After the awards, as the beards filed out, this reporter caught up with Rutter, who also tends bar at ArtsRiot. I asked how he liked working with the Most Interesting Man in the World. "He's a very affable man," Rutter said. "Kind of like a bartender — he can get along with anyone, because that's his job [as an actor]."
Rutter said Sturge's beard story affected him most. The bartender, who sports a large beard himself, also said he could relate to tales of whiskers trapped in beer cans.
ArtsRiot donated its room for the event. Rutter says it's not unusual, especially if an event "fulfills our social mission [of] destroying apathy." Vermont Beardies for Make-A-Wish definitely fit that bill. When Sturge's story was told, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.