Ely’s Beardfest is going dark
by Tom Coombe
The eighth Great Nordic Beardfest was arguably the best in its relatively brief history.
It may also be the last.
Organizer Shaun Chosa announced last weekend, via social media, that he was pulling the plug on an event he nurtured, grew and developed over the last decade.
“The Great Nordic Beardfest is no more,” Chosa wrote Saturday on the event’s Facebook page. “For numerous reasons, I have decided to move on.”
Chosa elaborated further Tuesday, citing health reasons and a desire to pursue other interests and projects in ending what, in a short amount of time, became one of the community’s major winter events.
What started as a one-night beard and mustache contest at Ely’s Boathouse Brewpub grew dramatically.
This year, Chosa not only had a night of Beardfest activities at the Boathouse, but followed up with his biggest event yet, attracting a sellout crowd to Ely’s Historic State Theater and combining the Beardfest with three musical acts.
“In a way I feel like I’m going out on top,” said Chosa. “I don’t feel I could improve on it any more.”
This year’s Beardfest attracted nearly 70 competitors over two nights, competing in categories ranging from Full Beard Natural and Freestyle to Bearded Lady, Mustache and Ladies Choice.
Started in a nod to popular beard and mustache contests seen on television, the Great Nordic Beardfest quickly carved its own niche since starting in 2014.
Chosa estimated he put in “a couple hundred hours” into each event, ranging from designing art, contacting people, lining up sponsors and volunteers and anything and everything else that went into making the event a success.
“Even though we always had a big crew on Beardfest night and a ton of sponsors, I still did 90 to 95 percent of the Beardfest,” said Chosa. “The sponsors through the years have been awesome and everyone has been great to work with.”
As the summer wound down, Chosa began to turn his attention to the 2023 event, which would have taken place in early February, and said something was missing.
“I started to do initial planning for this year,” said Chosa. “This was mostly for health reasons. It’s nothing personal against any of our venues. At this point there are a couple of other things that I want to do that I’ve put on hold because of the Beardfest and because of Covid. There’s a lot of time and stress, and mostly it’s for my own individual personal health.”
Chosa said his painting career “has taken off” and it includes an upcoming show at the State Theater, and he’s exploring the possibility of writing a book about growing up on Basswood Lake.
Reaction to the decision to silence the Beardfest has been swift, with fans and participants reaching out.
“There’s been nothing but love on the comments from all of the different beard groups,” said Chosa.
The Beardfest attracted participants and fans from far beyond the Ely area, and it quickly became a winter staple.
Packed houses at the Boathouse prompted Chosa to expand to the State Theater and the event went from one night to two.
There was talk of further expansion, and the event usually had a charitable component, with organizations such as Ely Community Resource benefiting from some of the event proceeds.
Also new this year was the first Great Nordic Beardfest Sunrise Scholarship.
Aimed at graduating Ely youth who have overcome adversity and turned things around in one way or another, the 2022 award went to Matt Janeksela, a senior at Ely High School and one of the Ely choir members who helped open the Beardfest festivities by singing the national anthem.
While Chosa said Tuesday “It’s something where I can’t seem to find somebody to do what I could do” to carry on the event, he didn’t completely close the book on the Beardfest.
“I’m not beyond somebody taking it over, but I don’t know who that would be,” he said, adding that he may consider selling his interest to another party.
Chosa also promised that he will remain involved in Ely.
“I’ve got another project I want to do that will be just as big as the Beardfest,” he said.