Six years ago, charity began on a bar stool at Duffy’s Tavern. A bearded gentleman and his also-bearded friend sat, drinking, comparing their beards as bearded men are wont to do, and an idea was sparked. Jeremy Votava left that bar feeling rosy cheeked and altruistic, and decided that a formal competition should be established, one that would also benefit a charitable cause… something local where an immediate difference could really be made—but what?
2008 was one in a series of difficult years for high school arts and music programs. As the economy of the Great Recession continued to slump, deep budget cuts were threatening their very existence. It’s a strange thing about our culture: when times are tight, the first thing to be devalued is developing the creative mind; the very thing responsible for the greatest leaps in human achievement. Like anyone lucky enough to have their life enhanced by the arts at a young age, Jeremy found the idea that a generation could grow into adulthood robbed of that experience disheartening. Raising enough money to make a difference to those kids was not only attainable, but a natural fit for him and the community he’s a part of.
For Jeremy the gateway-art had been music, picking up the drums at age 16 and playing in his first band, Grimace. (When pressed about whether this was after the beloved McDonald’s purple-buttplug-guy, he dodges the question with jokes and claims it has more to do with grunge and rock-faces. Likely story). Now, in adulthood, having the expressive outlets of music and theatre is an incredibly valuable part of his life, as it is for the artistic community he’s grown to be a part of.
The same is true for beard-touching enthusiast Ann Fox, whose experiences in theatre began in childhood and continue to brighten her world to this day. Ann joined with Jeremy to form the Chico Beard Collective, and in cooperation with the North Valley Community Foundation (the nonprofit that distributes the tax deductible contributions to the schools), they began a tradition of scruffy excellence.
The month of Novembeard is coming to a close, and with it rise the hopes of many a beard-challenger. For the past four weeks, 26 contestants have been furiously willing their whiskers to explode from their face-follicles with all their might, while also competing to bring in the most contributions of cash, and items for raffle and auction. Each year has brought an increasingly higher turnout of contestants, and these 26 brave souls make up the largest group yet.
Which is great news for the students who desperately need these contributions. To determine exactly what’s needed, Ann and Jeremy contacted the administrations of Pleasant Valley and Chico High, and they in turn asked the teachers to compile wish lists—each one totaling thousands of dollars apiece, a sad testament to the continued lack of funding for education. It’s tough to teach painting without brushes, or guitar without guitars. Without contributions like these, students who can’t afford to provide their own materials would be hard pressed to explore their creative potential.
The Chico Beard Collective may not be able to solve everything (at least not yet), but during the first five years they raised somewhere between $2000-$3000 per year—totalling at around $13,000 so far—taking a big bite out of that need. This being the biggest year for participation ever, the hopes for topping previous fundraising are running high.
Around 8:30 on Saturday the 29th you may find yourself heading down to Duffy’s. What a coincidence, it’s the night of the Novembeard Bash! Three bands! Beard pageantry! Amazing items up for raffle and auction! What a good idea it was for you to come here. At the door they’ll ask you for a $5 donation (feel free to insist on giving more, but you might as well spend it on raffle tickets since it all goes to the same cause).The first thing you’ll see is that there’s crazy stuff piled everywhere. There are prints by some of our best local artists like Matt Loomis and Aye Jay, rare and interesting collectibles, and who knows what I can’t see the future. Every year the donations are amazing and unique. The second thing you’ll notice is the beards.
Now that the competition has grown, some of the pageantry had to be scaled back. Where once there was “the foam test” (the cling of Guinness foam to the upper lip), long speeches, and a swimsuit competition wherein the contestant also held an evening gown out in one hand while in the other they twirled a flaming baton and sang “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” now there is a simpler introduction, judging, and of course the grand choreographed finale with the twirling umbrellas and tear away pants, culminating in the ritualistic sacrifice of the winner.
The judging is a mysterious process that happens backstage, presumably because it involves a lot of fondling, and is based on several factors: length, thickness, and color. Length and thickness are matters of fact; out of the three, color is the most controversial. Is it better to have a calico beard like last year’s winner, Dan Beveridge, or a snowy white beard like first year winner Matt Brown? Is it less about color than general finesse? Does it all come down to that Je ne sais quoi? Not only are they making the impossible choice about which beard is the “best,” they also choose a “worst,” and risk angering the recipient of the “Wolfman Award”—angry wolfmen are dangerous and scary! I don’t envy the judges, it’s a terrible, terrible burden they bear.
SO MUCH MUSIC
In some ways, the Novembeard Bash is more about partying and winning cool prizes and making out with bearded strangers than it is about contemplating the solemn social obligation of charitable giving, and for that I blame the bands—of which there are three this year.
The soulful and sultry Lisa Valentine will open the show with an acoustic set. Her voice is a force of nature, a wildfire, a firenado, an erupting volcano shooting red, molten rock into a churning lightning storm. Whatever it is, it’s hot, and I’m calling it right now—she’s going places. Not only can you drench yourself in her passionate, gorgeous voice, afterward she’s stepping behind the bar and she’ll pour you a nice, cold drink to settle you down. Then you can go make a Pandora station out of her; it’s so good.
If you’ve never heard The Maker’s Mile before, they’re like if you threw Sublime in a blender with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who happen to be their first two listed influences on their facebook profile—nailed it), and maybe a cup of yogurt and two vitamin boosters. This funk/hip-hop four piece will be coming in fresh off their Happy Hour performance at LaSalles, and I expect them be in top form.
And finally, The LoLos (ahhhhhh). Who doesn’t heart the LoLos? I heart the LoLos. They’re all the nice feels and light grooves and pretty people. If this lineup were a meal the LoLos would be like a lemon chiffon pie with a big plop of vanilla whipped cream on top for dessert. If this lineup were a bunch of beards, the LoLos would be one of those crazy beards shaped like a windmill on one side with whimsical curlycues on the other.
Tonight (Monday the 24th) is the final beard checkpoint and a special bonus fundraising opportunity for people who like pizza and don’t mind if part of their purchase goes to a good cause. If you’re hungry, stop by Round Table Pizza Clubhouse on Pillsbury Road between 5:00 and 9:00pm, and casually mention Novembeard when you place your order. It won’t be awkward, I promise. A portion of the evening’s sales will be donated to the Novembeard funds. If you’re not hungry, they also have a bar, in case you want to sit down and hatch any ideas.
Join the Chico Beard Collective,
Lisa Valentine, Maker’s Mile, and The LoLos
for the Novembeard Bash
Saturday, November 29th, 8:30pm