ROW ONE: Caleb Followill, Kings of Leon; Robin Pecknold, Fleet Foxes; Jim James, My Morning Jacket; Justin Vernon, Bon Iver
ROW TWO: Ray LaMontagne; Kyp Malone, TV on the Radio; Tyler Ramsey & Ben Bridwell, Band of Horses
ROW THREE: Samuel Beam, Iron and Wine; Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys; Devendra Banhart; Alex Ebert, Ima Robot

The bearded indie rock frontman is hardly a new phenomenon. Guys like Will Oldham, Chris Robinson and Jerry Garcia blazed that trail long ago (literally). Given the above collage, though, it appears the trail has been transformed into a well-paved thoroughfare connecting Coachella, Bonnaroo, SXSW, Glastonbury and wherever else present-day introspective rockers gather to perform before thousands of similarly bearded hipsters.

What’s behind the scruff…

As far as we can tell, the trend became a staple at some point in 2009, when a new crop of indie songwriters, en masse, decided to distance themselves from the overly sensitive acoustic era of baby-faced Bright Eyes, John Mayer, Damien Rice, Death Cab for Cutie and so on.

And yet, to a man, the look feels authentic—a product of function rather than form. Many hailed from the frozen tundra of the Pacific Northwest, where facial hair serves first and foremost as a low-cost frostbite prevention system. In addition, traveling in a tour bus for months at a time has a way of affecting a man’s grooming habits.

The most striking similarity, though, is age: of the 12 men pictured above, over half were born in either 1977 or 1978—the others within three or four years on either side. It all suggests the current crop of festival darlings may have reacted, collectively, to something larger: hitting puberty in the post-Cobain era, perhaps—a time when rock bands seemed to be almost apologizing for being in a rock band. Then came the Strokes and the Stripes, and all of a sudden it was cool to play balls-to-the-wall rock and roll again—like the bearded Claptons and Hendrixes and Garcias of old.

Or maybe it was the rising cost of Mach3 razor blades.

—C.B.S.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • C. Brian Smith