By: Maxwell J. Edison
Photos By: Shaun Hollingsworth
Rolling grey storm clouds moved slowly over the peaks and ridgelines of ancient mountaintops and serene valleys of the otherwise sleepy ski resort town of Beech Mountain in North Carolina, which for the first weekend in August become home to the inaugural Festival of Gnarnia
. Advertised as “3 days of music and enchantment in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains”, Gnarnia featured a remarkably diverse lineup that blurred genre barriers with a weekend of music, art, and performance. Cutting edge electronic headliners such as Tipper
, Break Science
and Beats Antique
shared billing with conscious live artists such as the Virgin Islands reggae band Midnite, world fusion group Toubab Krewe, jam bands like Papadosio
and a wide variety of performance troupes, stilt walkers, artists, breakdancers and a whole lot more. With approximately 4000 people in attendance this looked like it would be an ideal weekend of music and fun in mountains, but with the storm clouds also came a police crackdown that would scar the festival despite all the positive energy and hard work that had been put into it, creating a major buzzkill in what was dubbed “Eastern America’s Highest Town”.
In Asheville, located just 2 hours Southwest of Beech Mountain, Gnarnia was all the talk around town for the few months leading up to it. The festival was being organized by a collection of folks with strong ties to the city and gave opportunities to a wide variety of local bands, DJs, and producers to share billing with other heavyweights from around the world. Gnarnia was the brainchild of a highly respected and popular Dutch born and Asheville-based DJ and producer Bowie Van Ling and his company Upstanding Productions, LLC and for the past year or so the festival has been his primary focus.
Mr. Van Ling who, in addition to performing as PlayLow also DJ’d under the name DJ Bowie, was voted the best DJ in Asheville for five years in a row by readers of the local weekly newspaper, The Mountain Xpress
. He was at the forefront of introducing the city to the then unknown and underground west Coast sound years before it became the soundtrack of the electronic masses. His Definition monthly at BoBo Gallery on Asheville’s funky Lexington Ave championed drum n bass and futuristic glitch and through early production efforts as Shkr Fam, he was crucial in bringing artists to Asheville such as Mochipet
with great success despite those artists lack of name recognition on the East Coast at the time. He was involved in various aspects with regional festivals such as Trinumeral just outside of Asheville and Dexfest in Tennessee. All of this experience culminated in the creation of Gnarnia. In April of this year Van Ling’s father passed away, after which he threw all of his energy in the festival making arrangements with Beech Mountain Resort to host the event, hand-picking the diverse lineup, and coordinating some of the top production talent in the area including Music Matters, and other engineers, soundsystems, lights, and much more. With no camping allowed on Beech Mountain and many festival goers concerned that they could not afford to stay in the areas condos, cabins, and chalets, Mr. Van Ling located a piece of property nearby that could accommodate camping for over 700 attendees. The festival also arranged shuttles, hiring out local buses and drivers to bring people to and from the campground, condos, and additional parking lots.
Prior to the festival many planning on attending Gnarnia figured there would be some sort of law enforcement presence. The main concern was roadblocks on either of the only two-lane roads in and out of the resort town. This was not out of the ordinary as police agencies frequently set up traps like this to catch people with illicit items coming into and leaving festivals. Those who have been through this sort of thing before know that you have to be careful and hide your stash and avoid anything that would give you away such as stinking up your car with pot smoke. To be extra careful and to avoid traffic and delays, myself and my companions for the weekend left out a day early, arriving on Wednesday evening and checking into our condo. Coming in on Wednesday night we found no problems at all. There was no law enforcement, no roadblocks, and no hassle.
Coming down the Mountain on Thursday we saw no sign of stepped up law enforcement and the overall vibe was chill. We were wristbanded without any problem and began to check out and get accustomed to the layout of the festival. I did not spend much time in the parking lot area but other than someone selling purity test kits to kids in line I did not see any major black markets taking place. This is not saying it wasn’t out there but it wasn’t highly visible and I for one had brought everything I needed for the weekend and was there for the music and not really looking to purchase anything so I never really went looking for Shakedown Street. A friendly security guard at the gate checked to make sure I had the proper wristband but did not give me any hassle or problems.
Inside the festival, things were coming together nicely. Production staff and security was obviously busy dealing with the influx of attendees but the overall mood was very good. We wandered the festival grounds checking out the artist tent; featuring works by Android Jones and others. The sheer number of different artists at the festival gave it a special uniqueness with over 40 visual artists given credit in the program and even more in attendance. Artists such as Joshua Spiceland roamed the festival creating as inspiration came to him while tripped out installations such as Awelucid’s spinning faces brought festivalgoers face to face with some fresh new names in underground art. Throughout the weekend, Poetix showcased verbal dexterity with spoken word performances while stilt walkers, dancers, fire spinners, and random circus performers provided added entertainment to the crowd. Yoga and meditation workshops were held at the top of the mountain and provided a place for Gnarnians to relax and take in the views. The sun had come out and everyone seemed to be happy and excited to be there scampering around getting associated with the resort and the stages and to begin taking in some of the music that had brought them here in the first place.
The music, sound, and production were nothing short of top notch. The festival itself was enclosed within the confines of the Beech Mountain Resort, using various buildings on the property for production offices, stages, and for other uses. There were four separate stages; the main stage was set up at the bottom of the ski resort’s main ski slope with the hill creating a sort of natural amphitheatre where ski-lifts ran up the mountainside to a peak which gave amazing views of the festival below and where one could see for miles around. The second largest stage, known as “Beava Dam” was located on the opposite side of the resort from the main stage and situated under a large event tent gave great protection from the frequent rain showers throughout the weekend and drew large crowds during the festival, especially during Papadosio’s Saturday night set when the crowd overflowed from the tent creating a bobbing ocean of heads. The resort bar and grille on the property was transformed into “Queen Loopy’s” giving performances in this spot an intimate club feel and an air of exclusivity due to its limited capacity. Inside a top notch soundsystem and light rig made Loopy’s one of the best spots to catch artists throughout the weekend. On one of the hillsides there was a fourth stage under a comfortably small event tent dubbed “Gnome Sayin’” where numerous regional DJs, live P.A.’s, and small bands provided a soundtrack to the nearby art tent where many pieces of art from the wide range of artists were on display and available for purchase. This tent acted as a cultured chill spot throughout the weekend and was almost always packed with people just hanging out and appreciating the art. Just below that Grassroots California had a tent selling many of their hats and apparel and at times acted as a sort of official renegade sound system. Another hillside acted as the primary vendors’ area where fragrant smells from the various kitchens mixed with incense as people browsed and made purchases of clothing, utility belts, and other assorted festie items.
Knowing that ahead of us lay three days of solid lineups, we kept Thursday rather tame, I sat on the hillside during the afternoon and listened to the acoustic fusion sounds of Songs of Water on the main stage before heading to the second stage in anticipation of Afroman who failed to make his set but whose substitute, North Carolina-based DJ Whodi, made up for the no show with a crowd pleasing set of crunky low end goodness. The smalll crowd sought shelter from an afternoon shower in time for a rowdy dubstep set by Thump at the “Gnome Sayin” stage before heading over to catch sets at “Queen Loopy’s “ by Panther God and Atlanta’s Ployd before heading to the main stage to catch the evening’s headliner, the much anticipated Beats Antique whose sonic blend of traditional world sounds and tribal drumming were mixed with a hint of dubstep and wrapped up with visually stunning belly dancing. I cut out half way through Beats Antique’s set to venture back down the hill to the “Beava Dam” stage where Eskmo had a solid crowd entwined in his experimental sounds that made your head nod just enough to not be too far out there. Despite the desire to stay and catch the late night sets by Heyoka, Gramatik and Paper Diamond my feet were tired and my headspace was not energized enough to carry on any further that night and our motley crew decided to head back up the mountain to the condo.
Driving the roads on Thursday night around midnight going back to our lodging, there was no real police presence on the road. We made it back to our lodging without any hassle and got a great night’s sleep. By the time morning rolled around stories were spreading of a late night crackdown by local law enforcement and rumors of roadblocks. We drove into the festival on midday on Friday and there were a few police vehicles alongside the winding downhill mountain road but even then they seemed to only be monitoring speeding and we received no hassle on our way into the festival grounds. We started the day off with an uplifting reggae set by Easy Star All Stars who played selections from all their studio albums including some of their covers of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and the Beatles, as well of teasers of Michael Jackson with versions of “Billy Jean” and “Human Nature” which featured a guest vocal by Cas Haley. Inside the festival there was a lot of talk about the heavy police presence. There were reports of people being arrested inside the festival and led out by undercover agents with towels covering their handcuffs. Word within the festival was that there were upwards of sixty undercover narcs onsite as paranoia and conspiracy theories spread. DJ Mark Farina
, playing the main stage around sundown expressed it best dropping the original JJ Cale song “After Midnite,” which felt like a sly challenge to the sneaky spies amongst the crowd that we knew they were there and everyone was just waiting for that cloak of darkness that night would provide to “let it all hang out.”
I pulled myself away from Mark Farina’s amazing set to support local Asheville selector Soundpimp playing at Gnome Sayin. Soundpimp brought a refreshing change in style with some hard hitting dancehall ringers drawing a good crowd of dancers hungry for the sound. He got into his set, mouthing vocals and dancing on the tiny stage while the tent was bathed in red, gold, and green light. Afterward over at Queen Loopy’sBreak Science came with full force directly following a set by Vibesquad
. Outside at Beava Dam the West African influenced Toubab Krewe drew a large crowd as the sweet sound of the kora drifted through the air. My wife was growing tired so we located the shuttle to escort her back to the Condo. The shuttle, which was normally used in the ski season to run skiers up and down the mountain, was an old school bus and climbing on board brought on flashbacks of sack lunches from years past. Winding up the mountain toward our lodging blue lights lit up the night’s sky and reflected off the wet pavement as we passed car after car pulled over, each of them surrounded by ominous SUVs and local police flashing their disco lights. A carload of dreadlocks sat crammed in a four door sedan with its trunk open as the dogs were being let loose from the back of one of the SUVs. The ride back down the mountain was a surreal journey into the middle of a Cops
episode. I spoke with the shuttle bus driver who had been working twenty hours a day claiming the festival was paying him good to make sure everyone arrived where they were staying safely. He stated that no police had given him or any of the other buses any hassle but he also said he thought the owners of the shuttle company must have “greased the right palms”.
Back inside the festival again just in time to catch the start of Tipper’s set enhanced by mind-blowing visuals by Android Jones that were indeed a call to VJs around the world to step up their game. The images were projected on an elaborate white stage design built around Tipper and in conjunction with the psychedelic sounds of Tipper kept the crowd mesmerized to such a degree that when the clouds opened up and huge cold raindrops dumped onto the ecstatic crowd they cheered the weather and danced straight through it. The temperatures had dropped and the rain was cold but it did not deter the crowd planted firmly on the hillside of the main stage. Over at Beava Dam electronic influenced Zoogma had a great wild crowd with revelers splashing in the pools of water that had accumulated at the side of the tent from all the rain. Meeting up with my friend with whom I had rode in with at the beginning I convinced him that to avoid potential hassle we should leave his vehicle in the lot and catch the shuttle back up the hill. A long line had formed at the lower parking lot with a crowd patiently waiting for one of two shuttles which came by every fifteen minutes. We managed to slip past much of the line and catch a quick bus out of the festival.
As soon as one left the resort parking lot, the mile and a half of winding mountain road was a sea of blue lights. The only vehicles on the road other than the shuttles and the police cars were the vehicles that were pulled over. It appeared as though they were pulling over every car on the road. Parking lots looked like fraternal order of police tailgate parties with two or more patrols car at every pulled over vehicle. On the roadways were patrol cars with insignias from the local police, area sheriff’s, highway patrol and directly behind the bus on the entire journey up the mountain an unmarked car. At the entrance to Pinnacle Resort at the top of the mountain and the final stop of the shuttle route, there was a car pulled over with at least three patrol cars present, the trunk opened being search by officers and just below them, sitting on the asphalt between the back of his car and the front of the patrol car, was what appeared to be the occupant of that vehicle looking stressed with face in hands. We arrived at our stop, as did all occupants of the shuttle safe and hassle free.
By Saturday, paranoia made everyone very cautious. Many people stuck to riding the shuttle, walking, or taking taxi services. Even as early as 4pm in the afternoon the stretch of road leading down the mountain was car after car pulled over. We counted five separate vehicles being searched on the shuttle ride down the mountain. The bus driver had recounted that he had seen over 25 cars pulled over so far that day and it wasn’t even five o’clock yet. Despite all the visible attention we once again arrived inside the festival with no problem and no hassle. We started the day off arriving at Queen Loopy’s just as the breakdancing competition was ending and just in time for a sexy early evening performance by the Asheville based burlesque troupe Seduction Sideshow. The crowd filled the balconies and floor space as they entertained the room with clever skits and sassy dance performances. Afterward we wandered to the main stage field for the one man band that is Zach Deputy who played a soulful and fun set that kept the crowd grooving. Back in Queen Loopy’s Atlanta’s Isness brought a nice heavy psychedelic vibe with live bass and drums that at times sounded like a unique fusion of low end dubwise and heavy metal. Once you were on the dance floor with the bass pounding and with all the lights and lasers you forgot all about the cops and the rumors of narcs wearing wires. Those of us that were just there for the vibes and music and to dance carried on as if we didn’t have a care in the world. This wasn’t Footloose
; if there were authorities out there they sure as hell weren’t going to be arresting us for dancing.
The crowd had for the most part grown wise by this point. It was simple, don’t do anything stupid. I only saw a few people hustling out in the open at this festival and most of those were just looked at with suspicious eyes by people afraid to purchase from them even if they wanted what they had. There weren’t the random kids advertising what they had verbally as much as you might see at many other festivals. If it was being done it was being done discreetly. The paranoia had made it where no one could really trust those that they didn’t know. Passed joints got declined and hustlers that were being verbal about it were ignored. A crowd of people waited patiently in get into Queen Loopys which was at capacity during Govinda
’s set. Govinda’s Indian influenced dubby wobble rocked a solid set to a packed house but the buzz was about the artist directly following him. One kid in line went on and on to his friend about the virtues of Minnesota and that he was the next Bassnectar. Though running just a little bit late for his set Minnesota
did upon arrival live up to his hype and turned the place upside down, pummeling the small intimate space into a sweaty orgy of dancers and seizure inducing lights. By the time Minnesota was wrapping up at Loopy’s, over at the main stage UK heavyweight Ott brought what was to me personally my favorite set of the weekend. Deep low bass swirled into bouncy psychedelic dub that moved an entire mountainside filled with blissful smiles.
Afterward I made it to the Beava Dam stage for the world folk punk fusion sounds of Rising Appalachia who played to a great crowd but was a little too rootsy for me that late in the night. My feet and ears wished I could get back into Loopy’s for Polish Ambassador
but the line at the time was more than my patience could take. Over on the main stage Conspirator
was giving way to 12th Planet
but my energy was drawing me to the meditation that is a Midnite performance. As always the band held tight roots reggae and lyricist and vocalist Vaughn Benjamin locked into a vocal trance that was deep, conscious, and spiritual. Following Midnite’s set we once again took the route of safety and rode the shuttle, clinging to our headspace, and we traveled past another late night pageant of Babylon’s finest back to the comfortable, safe, and gated confines of our condo and reflected on what an amazing weekend we had despite everything.
In the days following the festival accounts from area news services revealed some of the details about the massive law enforcement effort during Gnarnia. According to Captain Turbyfill with the Beech Mountain police department, they asked for assistance and their officers worked in coordination with the Sheriff Departments of Avery and Watauga County, North Carolina Highway Patrol as well as the North Carolina alcohol enforcement agency known as NC ALE. Nearby police departments in Banner Elk and Boone assisted covering the roads leading into the Beech Mountain area. Captain Turbyfill explained that two separate operations occurred. One operation covered the roadways leading in and out of the festival and was handled by the Beech Mountain police with area Sherriff’s departments as well as the North Carolina Highway Patrol. Beech Mountain Police state their department made no arrests but did issue a number of citations. Watauga County Sheriff’s office claimed they only operated in the transportation of prisoners to its jail, which was filled to capacity. Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford stated they were responsible for five arrests resulting in 8 felonies and 13 misdemeanors. The other operation was headed up by the NC ALE. Captain Turbyfill stated that there were 300 charges made over the weekend with approximately 150 charged or arrested. He claims that they were focusing their efforts on traffickers, distributors, and sellers of illegal drugs and advised that they had uncovered a wide variety of illegal substances including heroin, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy, several pounds of mushrooms, pharmaceuticals including Xanax and Valium, bath salts, hashish, and more. He stated that there were a couple of alcohol related DUI arrests as well but the majority was drug related. According to him his department did no alcohol checkpoints or roadblocks and did not pull over or search any of the shuttle buses. He claims that the city’s enforcement operation was planned separately from the operation headed up by the NC ALE and that none of his officers or any of the other local agencies took part in the ALE operations within the actual festival. Despite the number of drug related charges reports that there were no reports of any violent crimes, rapes, or anything of that nature. He said that overall the festival goers who came into the city were very easy to deal with and generally friendly. He states that if they were on a lot of drugs “they are on the right ones because they are all as happy as can be”.
Brad Putnam, assistant special agent in charge of NC ALE operations advised that their agency was assisting with area law enforcement in a well planned operation and that had been in the works for some time and claims that the Beech Mountain Police contacted them with concerns over the upcoming Gnarnia festival over a month prior to the festival. According to Special Agent Putnam, Beech Mountain sought them out due to their experience within venues as the state’s enforcer of liquor violations inside the state’s bars, clubs, and music venues. In addition, Agent Putnum advises that they had statewide jurisdiction wherever there is a concern over illegal drugs. NC ALE is basically the state equivalent of the DEA. In regards to actual DEA involvement in this operation, he advised that he was not at liberty to say. He did advise that he was also a dual officer with Homeland Security and could not disclose information regarding interaction with other agencies. He stated that intelligence was gathered in the months prior to the festival targeting drug traffickers, dealers, and the illegal drug trade through intelligence gathered at other festivals. He would not discuss details of how this intelligence was gathered or from which other festivals it was gathered. He stated that a majority of the arrests took place outside of the venue but did confirm that operations extended inside.
NC ALE posted on their website that they arrested 108 people at Gnarnia resulting in 39 felony charges. They claim they focused on sellers, distributors, and traffickers of controlled substances as well as seizing paraphernalia and money. The statement reports “Dangerous psychedelic drugs were being sold and distributed prior to and during the event” and that “many of the arrest were made before the festival started.” According to ALE Special Agent in Charge David Ashley the goal of the ALE operation “was to deter controlled substances being distributed in the high country area to prevent future problems from occurring due to the use of these illegal substances.” It states they issued a total of 258 charges with around 100 being felony charges. Four arrests were trafficking cases; all four of those charged were from outside of North Carolina. Brandon Bielen of Arkansas was arrested with nearly 64 grams of Cocaine and over 900 doses of MDMA, Derrick Oyster of Florida was arrested with 41 grams of MDMA, Jeffrey Brown of Virginia was arrested with over 100 hits of LSD and Joseph Collins of Los Angeles was charged with trafficking more than 100 does of LSD, 450 doses of MDMA as well as Oxycodone. NC ALE listed its arrest record on its website claiming they made 42 arrests on Thursday, 37 arrests on Friday, and 29 arrests on Saturday. Many of the charges were multiple charges on the same individual such as one individual charged with eleven different counts of possession of a colorful assortment of drugs including LSD, DMT, mushrooms, ketamine, heroin, and oxycodone.
Rumors were spreading amongst festivalgoers during the festival that the local city had attempted to extort money from the festival producers in the days leading up to Gnarnia. Some were saying that the city had demanded a large amount of money rumored to be anywhere between twenty and forty thousand dollars and that the law enforcement crackdown was because the city did not get the money they wanted. Captain Turbyfill stated that there were earlier meetings with the city regarding hiring the local police for additional security but that he had been informed that the festival had hired a private security company for the event. They were told to expect approximately 4500 people to attend the festival and the the Town of Beech Mountain .According to Town of Beech Mountain Town Manager Randy Feierabend, he met with Bowie Van Ling in the spring of this year and presented to them an estimate of $30,000 for added infrastructure and additional man-hours for police and fire during the festival weekend. He reports that this figure was rejected by Mr. Van Ling as unreasonable and that he told the city that the festival budget could not afford to pay that much money. Mr. Feierabend reported that they did not hear back from Mr. Van Ling or anyone else with the festival until it began and claims that the city sent them a sixty day notice regarding the bill but received no response. He reports that on the first day of the festival Mr. Van Ling and his attorney came to his office and according to Mr. Feierabend, Mr. Van Ling on behalf of the Gnarnia festival donated $5,000 to the City of Beech Mountain and $5,000 to the city fire department as compensation for what they felt was fair.
According to local businesses they benefitted greatly from all the added revenue that the festival brought in. Bernie Knetka, general manager of Fred’s General Store said that his experience with the festival was 100% positive. Sales during this weekend were up 300% compared with the same weekend in August last year when the sleepy ski resort town was silent during the off season. He says business was great and he had no problems at his store. He compared business that weekend to a weekend at the height of ski season and that everyone that came into his store was kind, polite, and appreciative and that even the local retirees were expressing how much they enjoyed the crowd. He recounted the tale of a local elderly couple whose cat had passed away and were trying to dig a grave to bury it. Some festival kids saw them struggling to dig the hole in their grief and came over and gave them a hand giving their cat a proper burial. In his opinion, if the problems with law enforcement can be worked out he would love to have the festival back next year.
Amy Morrison with Beech Mountain Tourism and Development, whose department is responsible for collecting occupancy taxes from the area rentals, said that during the weekend of Gnarnia the town experienced one of its largest weekends ever comparing it to a busy Christmas or New Years size crowd. She even said that personally she “prefers these festivalgoers to the ski crowds during winter”. According to reports all but two rental properties in the immediate area were filled and that they were only vacant due to last minute cancellations. There were no major reports of damages to the properties and she advised that only one property had more damage than what the renter’s damage deposit covered and this was only because a pet has caused the damage. She stated that some rental owners reported that their property was left in a better condition than they were at the time of rental. In all 180 rooms and 50 cabins were rented within the town. The only complaint that was expressed at the Town Hall meeting on the Tuesday following the festival was from a resident that awoke to find a random naked girl asleep on her couch. The majority of the opinions at that meeting supported the festival and disapproved of the heavy police presence in the town, she stated that many residents felt that the police were overbearing and she did not feel that the festival warranted the kind of police attention it received. Several residents that did not even attend the festival reported being stopped by police numerous times driving through town and searched each time.
Pinnacle Resort, who rented a number of condos to attendees of Gnarnia were completely happy with their experience with the people who stayed in them. There were no problems and everybody was polite and kind. Pinnacle is also home to a number of retirees and that many of them reported that they loved having all the festival kids in town. One retiree even reported that she was joined on her morning walk by a friendly group of kids staying at the resort. The condos were all left in great condition and all the properties were treated with total respect.
Following the festival the drama spread to the internet with rumors, accusations, and miscalculations being posted on Gnarnia’s Facebook page and on an anti-Gnarnia page that developed called Destroy Gnarnia. The creators of this page posted conspiracy theories that Gnarnia had somehow worked with law enforcement to create an elaborate trap to ensnare festivalgoers and even published the home address of Mr. Van Ling. A representative with Gnarnia advised that the festival producer’s goal was to create a space where music, arts and culture could be expressed and enjoyed and to do this within the existing laws. Finger pointing from opinioned Facebook users were unfounded and numbers of actual arrests were inflated with the rumor at one time being that nearly 12% of the population had been arrested. In reality, the operation was extremely visible due to the whole thing happening within such a small area. There was one road in and out of the Beech Mountain resort and the majority of people stayed within a mile and a half of the venue. The most visible operations, the marked cars, of the local police and sheriff agencies were what most festival goers saw as they drove walked or rode the shuttle back to their lodging. Overall the combined numbers released regarding people arrested or charged as a result of the law enforcement operation totaled around 150. Festival organizers confirm that there were between 4000 – 4500 attendees at the event placing the percentage of actual festival goers arrested or charged as closer to 3-4% and not the inflated 12% figure. The Destroy Gnarnia page has since been taken down.
Reports released by NC ALE regarding the various charges stemming from these arrests and citation reveal very few simple marijuana charges. About 26 of the 108 people charged by NC ALE were charges of “possession with intent to manufacture/sale/deliver”. Approximately 30 of those people were charged with simple possession charges, either just marijuana or marijuana and paraphernalia like a bowl or papers. These numbers show that while law enforcement claims that their operation was against those who intended to sell and distribute drugs at the festival, a healthy number of their total number of charges were people who were doing nothing more than in possession of or smoking pot. For those that were targeted and for those that had stressful incidents with law enforcement the weekend could leave a bad taste in their mouth but for the other 4000 or so people who took advantage of the shuttles, did not openly sell drugs, or were discreet and careful about the shady activity they were engaged in the weekend and the festival were a wholly positive experience.
As for those that attend festivals, this is another wakeup call that law enforcement agencies are fully aware of the bad aspects associated with festivals and that we must be much more careful at events such as this. Just because it’s a festival doesn’t mean it’s the red light district in Amsterdam. Despite many of us thinking they are unjust, there are currently laws prohibiting the use, sale, and distribution of illegal drugs and when we gather for events likes these we must still at least appear to acknowledge the laws. The producers of Gnarnia were trying to bring together a weekend of music, art, and culture and if they were lucky make a little bit of profit and a name for themselves. They provided festival goers free shuttles to get them safely back to their lodging and campgrounds. A law enforcement operation of this size was not anticipated or expected by anyone and the producers of the festival itself definitely did not set up its patrons in some elaborate arrangement with law enforcement. If they had, I’m sure a whole lot more of us would have been in trouble.
For the towns and cities where organizers choose to hold their festival, what is more important; all the revenue that is brought into the local economy in the form of room rentals, business, and added tourism, or the fines, fees and legal cost that their law enforcement operations netted for area courts, judges, patrolmen, and attorney. The winner this weekend obviously was the coffers of Beech Mountain as they collected from all angles of this hustle, but at what cost, a lack of desire for anyone in this community to attend another festival held in their town or other producers and promoters afraid to take a risk like this again there. Trading entrapment of festival goers for the added dollars the city could have possibly gotten again next August is the downside of this massive publicity stunt by area law enforcement and NC ALE that brought such a dark cloud over Beech Mountain during what was otherwise a complete financial success all around.
As for producers of festivals, at least in the state of North Carolina, this is another hurdle in the cultural progression of these peaceful music gatherings. Festival organizers must now open their eyes that law enforcement and, at least within North Carolina, the powerful arm of ALE have their eyes on festivals and those that travel this circuit. A grassroots festival like Gnarnia, that manages to actually break even and be a financial and artistic success, in addition to providing substantial revenue to the economy of the area such as the festival did for business in and around Beech Mountain, can still be marred and have its reputation harmed by an incident such as this. Just as in the past when area events such as Smilefest and others received too much attention from the law and had to change their names and resurface with a new face, Gnarnia is not likely to disappear entirely. Sources within the festival say that overall they were happy with the weekend and would like to do this again, maybe not in Beech Mountain, or even in North Carolina but that hopefully sometime in the future the wardrobe to Gnarnia will be reopened.