Photos | Review | The Festival of Gnarnia | North Carolina

Words by: Jeanne Bettencourt and Michael Urban | Images by: August J, Micah Mackenzie, and Michael Urban

The Festival of Gnarnia :: 08.09.11-08.11.12 :: Beech Mountain Resort :: Beech Mountain, NC

Full review below photo gallery!

It only took a matter of minutes upon exiting the Virginian interstate to realize you were entering God’s backyard. As my car left Virginia, then Tennessee, the narrow road snaked aside a misty river bend as we entered North Carolina, and the rain as a consequence of the bizarre weather made you feel like you were driving through a small waterfall. We turned onto the southbound road that would carry us up the extremely steep incline to the village at the base of the Beech Mountain Ski Resort, but the road was so tightly wound we hit all 360 degrees on the compass at least twice every 30 seconds. Though the road was treacherous, the dangerous drive was well worth the view – every time we reached a peak and a clearing in the trees we got a glimpse of the incredible landscape – farms stretched out over green hills, rivers trickling down mountains, fabulous architecture peering out wherever the land was flat enough to build upon, and wildlife only a few feet from the car.

The Festival of Gnarnia by August J
From the second I placed foot on Gnarnia-ground, I was immediately impressed with the event, the attendees and location. There are kinks in every festival’s first go-around, but both staff and fans alike pulled together and the result was a beautiful, arts-saturated event that heightened my spiritual awareness. The event seemed to attract a more mature, seasoned crowd and it warmed my heart to see everyone working together to keep the environment litter free – I saw patrons walking 20 feet to throw away a cigarette butt, and others walking around (who appeared to be just good Samaritans, not volunteers) picking up garbage at the stage areas. The name of the event fit perfectly as well – with the crazy weather, fans and artwork you certainly felt like you had crossed into another dimension. The eclectic source of music was fantastic and all four stages (even the main stage) provided an extremely intimate setting for you to enjoy your favorite artists. With a main stage on the base of ski slope, two tents (one with a capacity of roughly 20 people) and an indoor stage, there was a large variety of venues to choose from, and never a dull moment the entire weekend.

Our group decided to rent a condo for the weekend, and we were fortunate to have a spot only a five minute walk from the main gates of the event. There were several options for lodging including several condos, houses, cabins as well as official and unofficial campgrounds. The official campground for the event was located on top of the mountain, a good 1-1 ½ miles away. The festival provided a shuttle between the campgrounds and festival area, but with the fluctuating weather and carless camping, I was very happy to have a roof over my head for the weekend. I have to give serious credit to those who braved the outdoors for the duration of the festival – it certainly wasn’t the most convenient of options. However, the option for camping was added very late (only a few weeks before the event), so I also have to give credit to the event for pulling it together with such little time remaining.

The Festival of Gnarnia by August J
Some highlights included an art gallery located next to the small tent (‘Gnome Sayin’’ tent) that you could get to through a visually stimulating tunnel that typically had someone playing music inside. The ‘Beava Dam!’ tent was on the smaller size for a dance tent but also created an extremely personal experience between you and the artists. The festival also offered several nature hikes, yoga on top of the mountain, and a Wizard of Oz theme park (also on top of the mountain). Also, festival go-ers each brought their own flavor to the event, and the amount of creativity and talent was stunning. Hired or not, the performance art – including spinners, fire dancers and more – was awe-inspiring. The only advice I would offer to promoters for the future (aside from finding a closer campground) would be to eliminate (or find a bigger venue) the indoor area at the ‘Queen Loopy’s’ Stage – most of the time you had to get to the stage at least 30 minutes before a set began because it was so small, and it was like a sweat box inside, without a bathroom. I missed several artists because the line was usually too long to get in. The weather was a little less than to be desired with it raining 2 out of the 3 days of the event. The last day was beautiful, however, and when it did rain, it usually did not last very long.

Personally, I had one of the best weekends of my summer at Gnarnia. With only 4,000 in attendance, the size and flavor of the event fit perfectly for someone who is looking for an intimate and art focused event. It seems that festival-goers either had a fantastic or a horrible time – but those who had a bad time seem to have had a run in with the law. There were roughly 100 arrests made over the course of the weekend made by undercover police in the campgrounds and parking lots (a few cabins/condos were also raided). It is unfortunate that the police took so many liberties and invaded an event that should have been a safe and happy place for all attendees, but those who got into trouble are blaming the festival and some are even going as far as to have the event shut down in the future. “The proposed (and widely repeated) idea that Gnarnia was a police sting operation designed as a festival is beyond false, it’s hilarious! Why would a music and arts event want it’s patrons to be harassed like that? Just silly,” promoter Graham Hackett responds. Fans need to remember that it is not the responsibility of a festival to create an environment where drugs can be consumed and sold without consequence, and it is the personal responsibility of each patron to party responsibly.

Music Highlights :: Thursday, 8.9.2012

7 Walkers | Asif’s MANE Stage | 7:30 - 9:30 PM
Inclement weather made playing on the anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death difficult for 7 Walkers. Heavy rain caused several set delays for former Grateful Dead percussionist Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist Papa Mali, multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard and bassist George Porter Jr., but the band pulled together to play a full set. Playing several Grateful Dead covers, the performance was certainly a tribute to Garcia, but the guys also threw in a few original tunes of their own. It was inspiring to see the band battle through the weather, as the day was clearly of importance to them.

Beats Antique by Micah Mackenzie
Beats Antique | Asif’s MANE Stage | 10:00 PM - 12:00 AM
The romance of several types of world and electronic music fed festival goers an inspiring and spiritual experience during Beats Antique’s set Thursday night. Producers David Satori and Tommy Cappel coupled with seductive dancer Zoe Jakes fuse the cultures that inspire their music, using several live instruments (including the violin, clarinet, and kalimba) and dance techniques to send their audience on a sensory journey across the globe. Captivating the crowd with beauty and belly dance, Zoe is hard to take your eyes off of, and fire dancers in the crowd really enhanced the experience.

Eliot Lipp | Beava Dam! | 1:45 - 2:45 AM
Electro funk artist Eliot Lipp graced the Beava Dam! tent’s stage late Thursday night, and things got weird as his set progressed. The Brooklyn based producer was kind enough to sit down with us and share some experiences from the road as well as share some insight into his upcoming fall tour. He works hard on catering to an audience, and usually plays a very hip-hop oriented set during the day, while amping up the heaviness and bass for a nighttime performance. A lot of his influence comes from hip-hop and club music, and those influences are really apparent on his most recent album, Shark Wolf Rabbit Snake. When asked about his experience at Gnarnia, he said really enjoyed the sense of community he felt while there, even though he was only present the day that he performed. His favorite performance at a festival so far this summer was at Camp Bisco where he was able to play with a full band that he has been putting together over time. He is extremely excited about his fall tour, where he will be performing with a variety of artists, including a gigantic Halloween appearance at Boston’s TD Garden with Pretty Lights and Bonobo. More tour dates can be found on his website: www.eliotlipp.com.

Music Highlights :: Friday, 8.10.2012

Emancipator | Asif’s MANE Stage | 11:00 PM - 12:30 AM
Emancipator took the stage right at 11:00 and filled fans ears with smooth down tempo that went perfectly with the mystical vibe of the festival. As the cool wind whipped across the main stage it felt as if we were amidst a dream. Doug Appling a.k.a Emancipator and violinist Ilya Goldberg treated the crowd to an hour and half set that at times was a bit heavier then his studio albums, but never over the top. Emancipator experiments with many different instrumental sounds, and at times it sounded like a full band as he cruised through tracks off of both his 2006 album Soon It Will Be Cold Enough and his 2010 Safe In The Steep Cliffs.

The Festival of Gnarnia by August J
Dieselboy | Beava Dam! | 11:45 PM - 1:00 AM
As I made my way over to Dieselboy I knew I was in for an intense experience as the drum and bass echoed from the Beava Dam! Tent. Dieselboy – the stage name of Damian Higgins – is an American dubstep and drum and bass DJ/producer, and also the founder of several music labels consisting of drum and bass, dub step and other electro artists. Having played on six continents and almost every major music festival he was a great grab for a first year festival and he treated the crowd to some of his signature songs consisting of a bit of everything during his short hour and fifteen minute set which left many hungry for more.

Tipper | Asif’s MANE Stage | 1:15 - 2:45 AM
The British music producer and DJ, Tipper (Dave Tipper) had one of the craziest stage set ups of the weekend, with huge visual screens behind his DJ table and lights coming out of everywhere. Putting out music for over a decade, Tipper is a veteran to the scene and treated the crowd to his signature glitch-hop and electronic trip hop as well as other mind numbing down tempo and ambient music that left those who braved the down-pour having to pick their jaws off the ground when the set finally finished and the house lights came on.

Music Highlights :: Saturday, 8.11.2012

Ott | Asif’s MANE Stage | 9:00 – 10:30 PM
British psychedelic dub and ambient producer Ott attracted one of the biggest crowds of the weekend Saturday night at the main stage. The perfect combination of a bass-heavy rhythm, abstract soundscape and timeless melody provide music for the soul and a spiritual 1 ½ hour journey. Not only is he a great producer, Ott is an excellent performer, constantly engaged in his music, using a large mixing board. Ott will also be touring with his full band this fall.

Papadosio by August J
Papadosio | Beava Dam! | 10:00 – 11:15 PM
Livetronica quintet Papadosio played for a packed tent Saturday evening at the Beava Dam! Hailing originally from Athens, Ohio, this group combines earthy electronica with uplifting, soulful vocals that gets their crowds dancing and smiling. Perhaps the best part about this band is their clear intention to inspire progressive and positive thinking through their mind-expanding music – this message combined with can’t-stop-your-body dance music is positively invigorating!

12th Planet | Asif’s MANE Stage | 1:00 – 2:30 AM
Dubstep and drum and bass DJ/producer 12th Planet got the main stage moving late Saturday evening. Even though the temperature was dropping, you could hardly tell amidst this crowd as LA-based John Dadzie fused the perfect amount of dubstep, drum and bass and trap into his set. He often uses hit songs from the more popular producers of his genre, while putting his own unique flavor on the song, and making it a little harder to hate. His energy was infectious and even though he was one of the last acts of the weekend you could hardly tell based on the crowd that stuck around to see him perform. Trap music has been blowing up the scene lately and this man does an excellent job of incorporating it into his repertoire.

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[Published on: 8/27/12]

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