Vail’s lawn chair men still marching, amusing after 35 years of semi-rhythmic fun

Vail Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team is always unique and an annual tradition

VAIL — Greatness marches among us. Lucky for us, pretty-goodness also marches among us.

Nine guys launched Vail’s Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration 35 years ago to “meet babes and get free beer from restaurants and bars.”

“The team member who uttered that line will, for obvious reasons, forever remain anonymous,” lawn chair pioneer Richard Carnes said.

They debuted in Vail’s 1984 July Fourth parade. The crowd went wild, especially when the chair men lobbed water balloons at the crowd and one splashed former President Gerald Ford.

They’ve been the final entry of Vail’s parade every year since — saving the best for last — “except for that one year no one is willing to talk about,” Carnes said.

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Their rise was meteoric. OK, maybe the rise was more like a Happy Birthday balloon that’s running a little low on helium.

Anyway, one thing led to another, as things often do, and they landed all sorts of gigs. No one had ever seen anything like them. We still haven’t.

There was a Heath candy bar commercial, multiple performances nationwide for conventions and other special events like NBA halftime shows and even a few NFL and MLB events.

For the uninitiated, the Vail Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team is a bunch of guys and several Banner Babes in Hawaiian attire, shorts and sunglasses and, for this year’s Vail America Days parade, 10th Mountain Division baseball caps. Their performance is sort of like a military drill, except they use lawn chairs instead of rifles. They even have a cadence: “Got myself a brand new chair … This is where I park my rear!”

From Bubba to Bush

Participation faltered a bit in the early 1990’s, but resurrection was close at hand. They represented Colorado in Washington, D.C. for President Bill Clinton’s 1993 Presidential Inauguration.

“Yes, for real!” Carnes said.

It was 9 a.m. January 20, 1993 and the local chair men owned Pennsylvania Avenue, an eight-lane thoroughfare lined with tens of thousands of spectators, held back by hundreds of D.C’s finest.

“The photographs show nary a soul on the street, except for 16 extremely proud Vail Valley men and two gorgeous Banner Babes, wearing Hawaiian shirts and effortlessly flipping lawn chairs with the precision of a drunken juggler,” Carnes said.

Maybe it was the buffed aluminum, or the intricate nylon webbing with the strategically placed finger-hole in the back. Or maybe it was their new Hawaiian shirts, sometimes-sponsored shorts, sunglasses and sporadically matching shoes.

No one knows for sure, but minor TV commercials with major ski resorts led to TV interviews with the likes of Erma Bombeck and Bob Beattie, all leading to the pinnacle of TV fame — a Miller Lite ”Tastes Great/Less Filling” commercial.

They “suffered” through four days of shooting on the beach around the Santa Monica pier, surrounded by bikini-clad women. That’s what it takes to create greatness, and film a 30-second commercial.

Lightning strikes twice

The D.C. Elite decided if the chair men were good enough for Bubba, they were good enough for Bush.

“For whatever reason, and trust me when I say many were searching for them, we were invited back to Washington D.C. to do it all over again, this time for George Bush’s Inaugural Parade in 2001,” Carnes said.

They appeared live on “Good Morning America” with Tony Perkins, followed by a humorous discussion with Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer. Taped appearances went national on FOX and CBS, the FOX NEWS channel, the WB network, CNN, MSNBC, TV-8, C-Span, and even the very important Extra.

Seventeen radio shows beamed them around the globe from Eugene, Oregon, to Boca Raton, Florida, and all the way to the BBC in London. In fact, three separate divisions within the BBC did three separate interviews; all transmitted live throughout Western Europe.

They don’t make as many personal appearances as they used to. Some of the original nine — Craig Campbell, Gary Pesso, Will Lewis, Kirk Kennedy, Nick Svoboda, Brian Heslerlee, Jeff Atencio, Gary Howe and Carnes — have passed the torch, and the chairs, to their children.

“The Vail Fourth of July parade is an annual rite of passage, for the crowds of course, but also for team members and now even their children,” Carnes said.

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