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John Lamb, Published August 02 2009

Nashville gets a handle(bar) on facial hair

With the area’s biggest country music concert series starting this Thursday, it’s time to go over your WE Fest fashion checklist:

•Cowboy hat? Check.

•Sleeveless T-shirt? Check.

•Sleeveless snap-button checkered shirt? Check. check. Check.

•Mustache? Check!

Cowboys can keep their hat on, but they’ll want to show off their facial follicles.

Mustaches are the must-have fashion statement for male country performers this year, with all three headliners, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn and Tim McGraw, sporting ’staches, as well as marquee acts Trace Adkins and Big & Rich.

The relatively unknown country act Heartland could even find a spot on this year’s bill with its new single, “Mustache.”

It’s true that facial hair is currently sprouting a resurgence. Actors grow beards between shoots, and “beard rock” is a label slapped on loud indie bands whose members look like lumberjacks.

Last November the Hotel Donaldson hosted a mustache-growing fundraiser called Mo-vember that aimed to raise funds and awareness for male prostate health.

But country musicians have had facial hair covered for a long time. When was the last time you saw Willie Nelson without a beard? Or William Lee Golden, the mountain man lookalike from the Oak Ridge Boys? Kenny Rogers got a new face but held on to his silvery goatee.

“Toby Keith has had a beard forever,” points out Chris Hanson, morning DJ at Bob 95 FM.

Well, maybe not forever, but at least since his debut disc in 1993, when the now much more rugged singer was wearing bolo ties and combing his curls into a mullet.

The mustache has always held the upper hand, or lip, for men in country music.

Singer/guitarists John Rich and Kix Brooks have never gone all in for the beard. Nor has Joe Bonsall, the Oak Ridge Boys singer who looks like former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer.

So what’s with all the fuzz?

“It just gives them a rougher look,” says Hoppy Gilmore, program director for Froggy 99.9. “Maybe it’s because they’re lazy.”

“I could see where facial hair speaks to country people,” Stacey Lentz, owner and director of The Academie Agencie, a Fargo-based modeling and acting company. “It’s definitely more rugged, more macho.”

That said, she added that such a look wouldn’t fly with area clients looking for models. Perhaps a

five o’clock shadow.

So if facial hair isn’t popular, why do singers cling to their whiskers?

“I think it would mess up their million-dollar look,” Hanson says. “Once you are who you are, it’s important not to change.”

“Their brand or look is already established,” says Lentz.

She refers to Keith’s ever-present hat and beard. “I think that’s an important part of his brand.”

And shaving, well that could cut a little too close in country.

“Country fans are much more passionate about the artists they follow,” adds Gilmore. “It’s hard for singers to change.”

As an illustration, he points to the time when Sawyer Brown singer Mark Miller shaved his head

“Everyone was shocked by that,” Gilmore says.

Not that it mattered. Miller’s reputation has always been as an energetic entertainer, not a hair model. In truth, the singer had been wearing hats for years before shaving his head.

And when Dierks Bentley clipped his locks after 2006’s “Long Trip Alone,” it was like the second coming of the “Felicity” fiasco.

“That was major news, ‘Dierks cut his wonderful, curly hair,’ ” says Gilmore.

When his new disc, “Feel That Fire,” came out in January, fans breathed easier seeing Bentley’s locks were growing back.

And “the look” is contagious, rubbing off a bit on the men who spin the discs.

Recently, Hanson spent five weeks trying to grow a beard to no avail.

“Coming from a person who can’t grow facial hair, I am extremely jealous of people like Tim McGraw who can grow a perfect goatee,” he says.

“I just grew my goatee back for WE Fest, and I don’t know why,” says Gilmore.

Daily schedule

Thursday

2:45 – Silverado

4:15 – 32 Below

6:15 – Sawyer Brown

8:30 – Trace Adkins

10:45 – Toby Keith


Friday

12:30 – October Road

2 – Spiral Jetty

3:30 – Joey + Rory

5:45 – Craig Morgan

8:15 – Taylor Swift

10:45 – Brooks & Dunn


Saturday

12:30 – Boomtown

2 – Katie Armiger

3:30 – Kellie Pickler

5:45 – Clint Black

8:15 – Big & Rich

10:45 – Tim McGraw

*all times p.m.


Live WE Fest coverage

The Forum will be live at WE Fest starting Wednesday as cars pull into the country music festival at Soo Pass Ranch outside of Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Follow the WE Fest news about everything from Wednesday traffic reports to concert reviews by checking out our live and daily coverage in the paper, on our Web site and through WDAY Radio.


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Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533