Complaints about Gnarnia music festival pile up; police arrest 150

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Complaints about police harassment and logistical problems at the weekend Gnarnia Festival in Beech Mountain have been piling up following the event. Some festival-goers are complaining that local and state police had an unduly large presence at the first-year mountaintop fest that featured more than 100 bands. People are telling stories of police checkpoints outside the festival, as well as police raiding their campsites, which they describe and unlawful searches.

Some festival-goers also say that the event was a logistical nightmare, at least for the first day. The event drew about 6,000 people. Upstanding Entertainment put together the festival, which was held at Beech Mountain Resort.

According to news coverage of the event, about 150 people were arrested, a small fraction of the 6,000 attendees. The coverage also includes several comments from locals, who say the festival provided a great economic shot in the arm to the region, and that plenty of people attending the event were easy-going people just looking to enjoy a weekend of music and relaxation.

A sample complaint, from the Gnarnia Festival page on Facebook, where hundreds of comments are flooding in:

i don’t buy into these crazy conspiracy theories. BUT the organizers and staff SERIOUSLY dropped the ball in so many courts it’s sad. in addition to the numerous logistical problems and lack of foresight that contributed to the huge amount of arrests, they deleted and stifled all comments and warnings on this FB page friday and saturday, obviously for damage control.

There’s this, from

A tremendous NC ALE operation, backed by local law enforcement from a number of agencies, including the Watauga and Avery Sheriff’s Offices, circulated through the crowds inside and outside of the festival, and the number of felony arrests filled both county jails by Saturday.  Drug, alcohol, and associated charges were filed by the team of officers, meaning many of the music lovers—many from out of state—will get to return to the High Country in September—for their court dates.

And from High Country Press, there’s this:

Some people – like Amy Morrison of the Beech Mountain Tourism Development Authority – feel that the small percentage of those busted gave the inaugural festival a bad reputation and that overall, the pros outweighed the cons. She estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 people attended the festival, and using that estimation and figures from law enforcement agencies, roughly 5 percent of the festival goers were cited and/or arrested – as opposed to the 25-percent rumor circulating around Facebook and other online forums.

“Overall, I think it was really exciting to have that many people on the ski resort at a time when we would actually have no one,” Morrison said. …

The story reports that police said more than 150 people were arrested and more than 300 citations for alcohol and drugs were issued.

Though while the buzz ended for those select festival attendees (those arrested, cited), thousands of more people enjoyed the 100-plus high-quality and diverse bands and other performing arts showcases with no problems from law enforcement. …

As for the law enforcement agencies, it was quite a haul netting copious amounts of MDMA, LSD, DMT, marijuana, a variety of pills, ketamine, psychedelic mushrooms, cocaine, bath-salts, large nitrous oxide tanks and possibly even some PCP. …

The ALE, which had 25 officers present at different times during the event, worked in cooperation with Beech Mountain, Boone and Banner Elk police departments, the State Highway Patrol and Avery and Watauga sheriff’s departments.

Festival organizers were doing damage control Monday. From the Gnarnia page on Facebook, there’s this:

Please PM or email us with any information with names, phone numbers and email addresses about anyone who has been arrested or feels that they may have been unfairly treated by anyone in regards to this event. Reach out to us if you are looking for help. We would appreciate a PM or email to [email protected] We are doing what we can for anyone that was acting within the confines of the law and may have been singled out or unfairly treated for any reason.

The staff at Gnarnia has put our heart and soul into making this the best event that it could be, with some of the our favorite artists and performers. We feel deeply for any situations that may have occurred to inconvenience our guests.

On the positive, we have seen many times the amount people feel strongly about the success and beauty of this event than the unfortunate stories and that is what will help us persevere.

Meantime, a Destroy Gnarnia the Festival page on Facebook has popped up, logging complaints and gathering info. Here’s a statement:

These are the facts:
1. An event happened with a unusual amount of people were harassed, abused and arrested.
2. There seems to have been more the promoters of this event could have done to protect the community.
3. We need to make sure it is known this is not acceptable.
4. We’re NOT condoning illegal activities of ANY sort. We do however defend freedoms and rights people have.
5. We would like some answers!

So – thoughts? What was your experience?

Follow Gnarnia Festival on Twitter.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. kaspar August 14, 2012

    I was at Gnarnia from Thurs night – Sat afternoon…my experience was completely meh. I never saw any of the undercovers, but did see plenty of police pulling folks over left and right outside the grounds. I witnessed a kid “seizing” out, right near the checkin and police were trying to calm him down and called the paramedics. He then became uncooperative and they had to restrain him….but it didn’t seem like excessive force to me.

    Inside the fest there was the usual pulling wine bags out of peoples camelbacks and some kids were so baltent as to just be carrying glass pint bottles of alcohol in their back pockets. It was also a weed smoking free for all….typical stuff.

    What was ridiculous was the festival logistics. The camping and check-in process was atrocious! I’ve never seen such disorganization. The schedule was a joke….(if you could get your hands on one! They seemed to have run out by Thurs afternoon) and there was very little signage pointing you to the venues. We spent more time looking for shit we couldn’t find. It was overly ambitious to think that they could pull off the ambience they were promising in their super slick marketing. On those points alone, I wasn’t impressed and would not spend the money to go back.

    1. Brie August 14, 2012

      couldn’t have put it better. what a hot mess.


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