Headstash's FESTIVAL OF GNARNIA 2012 Review Guide
- By Eric Moore
- Published on August 14, 2012
August 9-11 – Beech Mountain, North Carolina
1st year – Estimated Attendance: 4,000
There has been a lot of talk about this festival in the days immediate following the event, but I'm here to tell you that the organizers of Gnarnia put together an awesome festival. They created one of the most culturally rich environments I’ve seen at a festival.
That isn’t to say the festival went off without any hitches. There was a massive and unacceptable police presence. Camping was not organized how it should have been. And the weather was pretty miserable. However, much of the negativity you will hear about this festival was out of the organizers’ control. Once you were inside the grounds of Gnarnia, the festival was filled with great music, awesome people and amazing vibes.
The weather at Beech Mountain had a bad case of bipolar disorder. We got rain and cold throughout the first and second nights – which was unfortunate because it not only put a damper on the event but also kept much of the live art, meant to be a huge part of this festival, in the shadows.
But the days were mostly filled with beautiful weather. The last day we got a break from the rain and everyone was finally able to dry off.
Despite some organizational issues with the integration of camping, these grounds were breathtakingly awesome. Set inside a ski resort on Beech Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there were plenty of indoor places to get out of the rain when the weather was bad. You could ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain, where the views were incredible. They even had an old “Oz” theme park. Additionally, organizers embraced the “Narnia” theme with fantasy-like installations abound.
Culture. The “and arts” section at the end of most festivals’ names is not just for show. It’s not all about the music. This is what festivals should be all about. The grounds were filled to the brim with art installations, structures and apparatuses. Walking around the grounds, you were constantly surrounded by performance art from all different types of cultures. There were dressed up Gnarnians on stilts, spoken word performers, acrobatic performers, drum circles, Aztec ceremonies and much more. Future festival organizers should take a page from the Gnarnia on this one.
Art. Art director Jarred Trantham threw up an amazing live art gallery, as always. He brought in 39 live artists, one of the biggest live art showings to date. Vision Lab also set up their amazing gallery dome, which is filled with some of the best visionary art in the world. These guys, led by Keegan Keel, are doing incredible work supporting art in our community. It’s unfortunate that the weather put a damper on the live art, but props need to be given where they are deserved: this festival’s artistic intentions were in the right place.
Tribal Council atop the mountain. Tribal Council frequently sets up their dome and provides sacred space for conscious people at festivals. They had quite possibly the best real estate of the event at the very top of Beech Mountain, overlooking the span of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was the first time they had an official stage slot at a festival and it was well deserved as all of their workshops garnered great attendance.
Lineup. Gnarnia had the perfect sign of a good lineup: you always felt like you were missing something. The lineup had an overwhelming amount of quality electronic music and included almost every subgenre of electronica. The 10 percent or so that wasn’t utilizing heavy synth was top-notch talent like 7 Walkers, Toubab Krewe and Zach Deputy, who all killed it.
Papadosio. Integrating aspects of jam and electronica perfectly, this band is the future of the scene. They are fully synchronized as a group. They play highly climactic jams. They use samples, loops and electronics wonderfully and tastefully. They layer their sound with a depth of polyrhythms that is astounding. And they have a way of structurally bringing things around full-circle.
|Photo Credit: Ryan Patrick|
Tipper with Phadroid. Dave Tipper does everything so well. Skillfully utilizing all genres of electronic music, his diverse sound was coupled with a massive and unique stage set-up.
Projection art team Phadroid, composed of Android Jones and his wife Phaedra, further enhanced the installation. They provided an unmatched visual experience that embodied the sounds coming out of Tipper’s beautifully distinctive mind. Despite the bad weather that night, everyone still showed out and got down for this amazing producer.
Toubab Krewe. These guys were a much-needed break from all the synth and womp. Playing world music inspired by African drumbeats, they’re nothing if not fun to groove to. Their set included the best “Bamama Niya” I’ve ever seen as they absolutely brought the house down.
7 Walkers. Guitarist Papa Mali was forced to sit during the performance due to a leg injury, but that didn’t stop the band from racing through a bevy of originals and Grateful Dead classics. They pulled out a lot of rain-referenced music, including “Rain and Snow” and “Bird Song, which really put things in perspective as the drops pounded attendees.
|Photo Credit: Ryan Patrick|
Beats Antique. This group personified what this festival was all about – music and culture. These guys always have a way of transporting your mind to another place. The trio’s multicultural, Eastern-inspired world electronic music is simply one-of-a-kind.
This was most certainly the electronic highlight of the first night and everyone was getting down in style. Belly dancer extraordinaire Zoe Jakes gave a great performance and my personal highlight was seeing her pick up a bass drum and integrate her beat into her dance.
Ott. This quirky U.K. DJ structured his set incredibly well. He built up from ambient, downtempo psychedelia into what I would call an electrorganic dance party. He mixes organic, natural sounds into dynamic electronica, garnering one of the biggest crowds of the festival. The other thing about Ott is that he is really making live music instead of just playing his tracks and dancing on stage. He uses a huge mixing board and it’s a lot of fun to watch him work his magic on it. I can’t wait to see this producer perform with a full band on his All-Seeing I Tour this fall.
Higher Learning. It’s always great to see up-and-coming bands on the festival circuit. After a great performance at Impulse Music Festival, Higher Learning introduced their awesome brand of jamtronica to Gnarnians. They played a lot of new songs off their debut, free-to-download album, “Future Memories.” They also showed the sign of a true jam band, setting up in the live projection dome and just jamming without any rehearsed songs.
Hey, po-lice: leave those kids alone! With hundreds of arrests, many of them felonies, and the true number still trickling in there was a level of police harassment and involvement that made many uncomfortable. Cabins were raided, almost every car driving was stopped and searched and the grounds themselves were full of undercovers busting kids for the most minor of infractions.
|Photo Credit: Ryan Patrick|
There’s been a lot of debate on social media about who’s at fault – people doing illegal things, the police for not chilling, the organizers for not being prepared. In reality, this comes with the territory and things happen. The organizers obviously did all they could to create an amazing atmosphere. At the end of the day, the police are the law and can easily get involved and ruin a good time.
In-tents. Camping was also a bit of a nightmare. There is just no other way to put it. Camping was added last minute to allow for people who didn’t want or couldn’t afford a cabin. We had to get our wristbands at the grounds, then drive and temporarily park and carry all our camping stuff 10 minutes into camp, move our car back to parking by the grounds and then be shuttled back and forth from camping to the grounds.
There weren’t enough shuttle buses and they were dangerously packing them full of hippies. There was also nowhere in the campgrounds to get ice or food. This also needs to be sorted out, but these type of problems are not uncommon for a first-time fest.
What Gnarnia did well, they did extremely well. The culture, art, music, people and vibes were spot on. Gnarnia had its intentions in the right place. Sure, the cops were horrendous and the weather was difficult, but these are things that the festival really doesn’t have control over.
They could have done better on camping, however, we can’t forget that this was a first-year festival. It will be interesting to see how the organizers handle the police situation in the years to come. I have to imagine we’ll be seeing Gnarnia in a different location and hopefully in a more tolerant community.
Check out our coverage of all your favorite summer festivals in our 2012 Festival Guide.
What did you think of The Festival Of Gnarnia? Highlights, lowlights and surprises. Let us know in the comments below . . .