The Ecstatic Highs and Painful Lows of the Festival of Gnarnia*
Article by Matt Braun ; Photos by Kat Reid (Avidity Imaging
) and Morgan Mullin
Any first year festival is bound to have its ups and downs, but few if any have had both the ecstatic highs and painful lows of the first Festival of Gnarnia. The Festival of Gnarnia was held the weekend of August 9-11th at the Beech Mountain Ski Resort in North Carolina. An overwhelming success from an attendance standpoint, Gnarnia gathered nearly 5000 festivalgoers, the majority of whom will tell you that the music was incredible, the venue was amazing, the people were fantastic, and the experience was overwhelmingly positive. However, this neglects a number of people who were victims of inclement weather, an overzealous police force, and an unfortunate transportation/camping situation. During the festival everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time but now that it is over Gnarnia’s promoters are receiving a lot of bad publicity and the festival-going public is left questioning exactly what happened. In an attempt to make sense of this crazy situation I have spent the last few days in North Carolina and am starting to find that even though Gnarnia the Festival may be over, the Saga of Gnarnia is just beginning.
From the very onset the Festival of Gnarnia, had to face a number of challenges that most people would consider insurmountable. Not only did the promoters have to deal with all of the usual pitfalls associated with throwing a first year festival, but also the looming threats of uncooperative law enforcement, unpredictable weather patterns, and legal action from the estate of C.S. Lewis. In the face of such adversity most promoters would simply turn tail and run. However, these guys had a clear vision and the will to carry it out, so they gathered a lineup of America’s greatest electronic musicians, the most visually stunning performance artists, an impressive array of food/craft vendors, and said “fuck it, let’s do the damn thing.”
– The music at Gnarnia was absolutely ridiculous for a first year festival of this size. With over a hundred acts playing across four stages there was enough variety to satisfy all musical tastes—and never a dull moment. The lineup catered to the electronic aficionados with tons of producers and live bands playing dubstep, drum and bass, house, break-beats, glitch, trance, and genre bending craziness that I couldn’t possibly describe. Then to spice things up, the lineup was peppered with numerous hip-hop acts, reggae, and jam bands. My personal highlights include:
• Minnesota and Break Science
– I have had the extreme pleasure of seeing these two acts play at numerous festivals throughout the summer and they never disappoint. Break Science supplies the funky grooves to get the party started and Minnesota throws down crazy dubstep that you can’t help but rage to. The thing that made their Gnarnia sets special was the fact that they played at the tiny Queen Loopy’s bar/stage area that provided an intimate setting for the lucky few who got in.
• Gift of Gab
– The producer/MC Gift of Gab absolutely destroyed the Beava Dam Stage during a rare festival appearance. His massive stage presence, bass heavy production, and lightning fast wordplay kept the crowd dancing as we hung onto every word.
– It was unfortunate that Papadosio was not at the main stage because whoever found enough room to dance at the crowded Beava Dam stage was treated to one of the best sets of the weekend. Hot from the studio where they have been recording the long awaited follow up to Observations dubbed T.E.T.I.O.S (To End the Illusion of Seperation due out this fall) the guys of Papadosio were visibly amped for this Gnarnia performance which served as a nice warm up for the following weekend’s Rootwire festival in Ohio. The way they fuse live electronica and crunchy jam band goodness into amazing sets filled with insane improvisations makes you wish they had been given more than just an hour long time slot.
– Brendan Angelides is one of the best producers and live performers in the electronic music scene today. If you are not familiar with his music or have not seen him perform live I recommend you remedy this situation immediately. His playful use of sounds, disregard for traditional genres, and devotion to live production on stage makes every performance unique and enchanting.
• Gramatik and Paper Diamond
– It was obvious that PLM artists Gramatik and Paper Diamond were going to rule Gnarnia on Friday Night. One after another these dynamos shattered eardrums and melted faces on the main stage with their distinct brand of bass heavy glitch hop.
– In just a short half hour set Phadroid managed to impress me more than any other performer at this festival. Words simply cannot describe this artist so please check out a clip of one of their performances on YouTube. The music is intoxicating, the visuals outstanding, and the bass is so powerful I could feel my brain shaking inside my head. Definitely a must see.
• 12th Planet
– America’s Don of Dubstep, John Dadzie, is one of the world’s most exciting electronic music producers and the perfect choice to close out a music festival. Most festivals end with a whimper or simply come to a close, but not Gnarnia. Instead 12th Planet took everyone out on a high note with a crazy set filled with dangerous stage dives, intense bass drops, awesome remixes, and brand new shit to go home and tell your friends about.
– It was extremely impressive that the Festival of Gnarnia transformed a mountain that is normally reserved only for skiing and mountain biking into a wonderland filled with interesting activities. If you were looking for something cool to do besides listening to music there was a vast array of events and activities to divert your attention.
• Yoga and Meditation
– Like most festivals there were many different yoga and guided meditation classes each day so that attendees could relax their minds and recharge their bodies.
• Bicycle Jousting
– In a move that probably made Gnarnia’s insurance provider shit a brick they actually asked attendees to suit up in armor, grab a joust, hop on a bike, and charge at one another.
• Costume Ball and B-Boy Battle
– At a music festival where people are encouraged to dress up in interesting costumes and dance it seems that it would be a no brainer to have a costume contest and a dancing competition. However, for all the festivals I have been to this was the first time I have seen anything like this and they both turned out to be overwhelming successes.
is an online community where festivalgoers can share their experiences on an open network with no friendship boundaries. Gnarnia helped sponsor a CrowdsEye Challenge where attendees submit photos, stories, and reviews from the festival in order to win VIP tickets, GA tickets, signed artist memorabilia, and Gnarnia merch.
• The Land of Oz
– Once again I am completely baffled, yet delighted, that Gnarnia’s insurers allowed festivalgoers to take a chairlift to the top of the mountain where they could visit “the Land of Oz”. Those who braved the lift line were greeted with impossibly scenic views of the mountain, a second vending area, and a cool little theme park dedicated to the Wizard of Oz.
Scenery and Accommodations – Beech Mountain North Carolina is a beautiful little ski town tucked away within the Appalachian Mountains. Everywhere you look you are greeted by friendly mountain folk, scenic vistas, and plush accommodations. Also, since the festival was held in the off-season summer months, festivalgoers were insured access to a bunch of cheap vacation rentals and essentially had the town to themselves.
Regardless of how much fun I personally had at Gnarnia, and there was a lot of fun to be had, there was still a lot that went wrong. Some people have been saying that the festival itself was “flawed by design” and “didn’t have a chance” at this location where there are no campgrounds, the weather is unpredictable, and the population is super conservative. Since the festival ended I have spent a couple days at Beech Mountain talking to residents, going to the town council meeting, and trying to make sense of why there were so many arrests at Gnarnia. From what I gathered there were four major problems with the festival of Gnarnia that led to a poor transportation situation, an increased police presence, and numerous discontented festivalgoers.
– So I know that we can’t control the weather, but when it pours rain on a festival for two out of the three days it might be indicative of poor planning. When I spoke to Beech Mountain residents they said that the rain was unfortunate but it could have been avoided if they had held the festival in July.
– The most important lesson gleaned from the first Gnarnia is that it is just a bad idea to not have on-site camping at a music festival of this size. It leads to confusion, intoxicated driving, and a litany of other problems. The promoters did make an effort by providing a shuttle system, but it simply was not comprehensive/convenient enough to stop people from driving. As such many people took to driving or walking the town’s main road where six pedestrians were hit, numerous DUI’s were given, and anyone who so much as drove on the double yellow line was pulled over.
– I have to admit that I never so much as set foot within the campground, but that is only because it was a pain in the ass to get there and I heard from numerous campers that it was a nightmare. There are no campgrounds in Beech Mountain and up until a month before the festival camping was not being offered at all. However, in order to increase attendance a deal was struck with the municipality to secure a small stretch of land to be used as a primitive campground. From what I hear from residents the area was never meant for human habitation and that it was put together the week before the festival. With such little time there was no way to supply amenities, to plan for rain, or even to adequately staff the place. This led to a lot of theft, medical emergencies, as well as damp and unhappy campers.
– The Festival of Gnarnia is now being called “Gnarc-nia” due to the huge police presence and large amount of arrests. The thing that mystifies me most is that while I was there I noticed that there was some cops roaming the premises, but nothing I would call excessive. However, the large amount of arrests and charges levied upon festivalgoers, artists, and staff would point to a presence of undercover cops. When all was said and done there were 108 people arrested, 256 people were charged with crimes (including 5 artists and 1 staff member), and many more were ticketed for traffic violations. If there were 5000 attendees and close to 500 people had “encounters” with the police, that means that about 10% of attendees at least got ticketed by the cops which is pretty ridiculous by any standard. People have been quick to blame the festival promoters and come up with conspiracy theories regarding their involvement but I find these claims dubious. Most of the production team was at town council meeting held immediately after the festival where they criticized the actions of local police, pleaded for charges to be dropped, and vowed to investigate any possible malfeasance. Long story short these guys are incredibly frustrated that overzealous law enforcement has marred the good name of their festival that they worked so hard to put on. The real blame for the law enforcement mess at Gnarnia falls squarely on the shoulders of the ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) division of the local government who made the majority of the arrests. As it turns out local sheriffs only made 6 arrests over the weekend, and they were the only branch of law enforcement that had any jurisdiction over the festival which was held on private land and guarded by a private security force. Preliminary investigation seems to suggest that the ALE caught wind of the festival and decided to place undercover cops in the venue and at the camp ground because festivals are often associated with illicit drug use. Now the question remains as to whether they had any jurisdiction over this private property and whether the tactics they used to make many of these arrests were legal.
I have to give credit where credit is due: the promoters of Gnarnia did do a good job of throwing a cool little festival that brought a great deal of joy to the majority of attendees. However, a significant number of people did end up having a negative experience due to factors such as excessive law enforcement and bad weather. Whether you hold the creators of Gnarnia, individual festivalgoers, or the police responsible for the negative consequences people suffered are matters of personal opinion. Just remember that this was Gnarnia’s first year and that they can’t control the weather or the legal system. We are lucky to live in a country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty and just as those who were arrested will eventually have their day in court the Festival of Gnarnia will stand trial in the court of public opinion. So I implore people who did not attend to refrain from jumping on the bandwagon and forming an irrational opinion based on incomplete information. If you did attend the festival and feel wronged in any way please message Gnarnia the Festival on Facebook, file a police report, and share your stories on CrowdsEye.com. With your help the truth will come out and any alleged impropriety by Gnarnia or local law enforcement will be prosecuted severely.
In the end for all the effort that was expended trying to make the Festival of Gnarnia a tongue in cheek parody completely distinct from the Chronicles of Narnia it is ironic how similar they became. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the evil witch and her minions control the land of Narnia and oppress all of its citizens much like the police oppressed the 5000 festivalgoers in Gnarnia. However, this is only the first book in a seven part series that eventually leads to Narnia being freed from the forces of evil. It is with this realization that I would urge my fellow Gnarnians to continue the fight and not give up on this fledgling festival. With our help and continued support it will surely take less than seven tries to free the land of Gnarnia from the evil police and restore the once and future King Asif to his throne atop Beech Mountain.
*Gnarnia is an unofficial parody and is not endorsed or approved by, affiliated or associated with Narnia®