The Annual Circus of Whiskers is Charity with a Twist

Plus, a look at three other philanthropic events happening in metro Detroit this month
circus of whiskers
Brad Petrinec looks his big-top best for a previous years’ Circus of Whiskers. // Photograph by Eric Perry

As most of metro Detroit’s socialites ready their glitziest gowns and silkiest neckties for the approaching gala season, prospective Circus of Whiskers attendees are prepping in other ways. They can be found fastidiously trimming, oiling, combing, and styling ahead of the Nov. 6-7 affair at Detroit’s Tangent Gallery. Circus of Whiskers, you see, is a facial hair competition.

This quirky tradition began in 2015, shortly after Clarkston native Brad Petrinec returned to the area after three years in Massachusetts, where he was an active member of the Boston Beard Bureau facial hair club. Recognizing southeastern Michigan’s lack of even a single “competitive bearding” team, Petrinec founded Murder City Facial Hair Crew, which has since grown to 30 members and adopted a true-crime theme to go along with its moniker. The group travels to contend in facial hair competitions across the U.S. and Canada.

Murder City Facial Hair Crew is equally dedicated to supporting its community. The team regularly organizes charitable efforts. So, when Petrinec began planning the inaugural Circus of Whiskers in 2015, he knew he wanted to donate the proceeds to a good cause. His love of animals and his prior volunteer work with the Detroit Animal Welfare Group made the nonprofit, no-kill animal rescue the obvious choice to be the event’s beneficiary. The most recent circus — in 2019 — raised about $5,000 for the organization.

circus of whiskers
Circus of Whiskers competitor Sarah Willis. // Photograph by Eric Perry

Circus of Whiskers, now preparing for its sixth iteration, typically attracts more than 300 attendees each year — 100 of whom participate in the contest. Contenders can compete in 14 categories that range from Mutton Chops and Styled Moustache to Scraggly Beard and Partial Beard Freestyle. Plus, the Fake Beard: Realistic and Fake Beard: Creative categories mean those unable to grow their own fabulous facial hair, including women, aren’t left out. 

In fact, this year’s Circus of Whiskers will incorporate a number of elements designed to celebrate the women of the bearding community (aka “whiskerinas”), including an “all-women” judges’ panel that includes drag queen Lucy Fatale. This year’s designated murder mascot — a tradition based on the group’s morbid motif — is Lizzie Borden, whose gender makes her a rarity among notorious killers.

When guests aren’t absorbed in the intricate and often-bizarre facial hair creations of the competition, they can enjoy entertainment from an array of local acts ranging from bands to magicians. Many, including burlesque dancers Magenta DeMure and Sophia Von Stardust and sideshow performer The Big Icky, are Circus of Whiskers regulars who return to perform each year. 

Circus of Whiskers
Circus of Whiskers competitor Jim Jackson. // Photograph by Eric Perry

Guests can also partake in facial hair- and serial killer-themed carnival games, hand-built by members of the club. The games are creative, humorous, and in many cases, Petrinec says, “maybe not appropriate to share in a magazine.” He does, however, offer a preview of one. It’s a variation on the classic ring toss, in which players sling tea bags, attempting to catch them on a cardboard cutout of one of the group’s members. There’s a reason Circus of Whiskers is a 21-and-up event, Petrinec says: “It gets really weird.” 

For more information, see

Revels with a Cause

More local charity events to help you do good while having a good time

Little Black Dress Charity Soiree 

Hosted annually by The Townsend Hotel, the Little Black Dress Charity Soiree raises money for CARE House of Oakland County’s fight against child abuse. This year’s Monte Carlo-themed affair takes place Nov. 19 and will feature wine, fashion, and casino games, including roulette, craps, blackjack, and Texas Hold ’em. $40+. Nov. 19. Townsend Hotel,
Townsend St., Birmingham;

Uncork for a Cure

The sixth annual Uncork for a Cure will be held Nov. 12 at Cauley Ferrari in West Bloomfield, where guests will indulge in Italian dishes prepared by celebrated local
chefs and fine wine pairings from master sommeliers. They can also enter a drawing
for a vintage Ferrari. Proceeds will benefit the Plymouth Dynami Foundation, which supports breast cancer research, treatment, and prevention.
$1,250+. Nov. 12. Cauley Ferrari of Detroit, 7070 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield Twp.;

Dress for 2050 Gala

Don your shiniest chrome cocktail attire, and head to the College for Creative Studies on Nov. 13 for the Dress for 2050 Gala. In addition to a futuristic costume contest, you’ll enjoy hors d’oeuvres, dancing, auctions, raffles, and live entertainment — all while supporting DesignConnect. This local nonprofit supports Detroit’s artistic youth by providing pathways to careers in creative fields. $85+. Nov. 13. College for Creative Studies Taubman Center, 460 W. Baltimore St., Detroit;

This story is featured in the November 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.