They arrived Saturday in Petaluma from across Northern California, gussied up after hours of grooming, combing, oiling and trimming to take the stage at the downtown Phoenix Theater for the 59th annual Bill Soberanes Memorial Petaluma Whiskerino.
Among 50-some competitors, there was veteran beard-master Aarne Bielefeldt of Willits, cloaked in a shimmering green-blue wizard’s cape, his gray beard carefully done up into two circular portals, perhaps into another realm.
There were first-timers, like Cooper Ackerman of Rohnert Park, gifted with a thick beard and the confidence to wear a gilded fortune teller’s dress, drawing praise and queries from event host and emcee Fred Abercrombie.
“I like the off-the-shoulder look — is that a wool shirt?” Abercrombie said, pointing to the man’s shoulders.
“No, I’m bearded head to foot,” said Ackerman, 32.
An event for pogonophiles — those who love beards — Whiskerino featured four local judges deciding between competitors vying for trophies in categories that included “business beard,” “mustache” and “best in show.”
The contest and gathering began in 1958 as a battle of the beards, but over cleaner-cut years its popularity waned. It was revived in 2003 at the city’s Saturday Farmers Market at Walnut Park. In 2007, Abercrombie and his wife, Melissa — a couple already busy with neighborhood associations, city commissions and craft fairs — took it on, charmed by its quirky, fringe appeal.
Lagunitas Brewing Co. sponsors the all-ages, no-alcohol event, which has drawn a loyal following from regional beard clubs including the Petaluma Brothers of the Brush.
On Saturday, the Sacramento Moustache and Beard Social Club once again showed up in force.
Sacramento-area teacher Justin Vorhauer — who won Best in Show in 2016 and 2011 — this year donned what for most would be an elaborate costume, but for him was a more relaxed effort: black makeup, reflective sunglasses, blue velvet cloak, yellow witch hat and an ornate wooden staff.
His muse was The Black Mage, a 1990s video game character from Final Fantasy.
“I was burned out,” said Vorhauer, who has competed in seven beard events this year.
The children’s competition was first, featuring a 3-month-old mustachioed unicorn (rumor has it she may have been conceived after last year’s Whiskerino) and a 4-year-old bruiser in a muscle man outfit. All participating kids received medals.
With a long brown beard, a man widely known as Vegas, but whose mother calls him David Adams, said no bearded man is an island.
“In the bearded community, a strong woman behind you means a lot; I couldn’t do it alone,” he said, making eyes at his girlfriend, Lorrie Peterson.
“Oh, baby,” Peterson said, as they embraced.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.