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Originally published: 2012-10-08 13:01:30
Last modified: 2012-10-08 13:01:30

Gnarnia promoter defends festival held at Beech

In the months since the festival of Gnarnia infiltrated Beech Mountain, the air has been thick with frustrations and accusations.

Bowie van Ling, the producer and promoter of the festival, said in an interview Friday that those irritations go both ways.

"Unfortunately, it seems that everybody wants to point the finger at us," van Ling said. "We did everything that we were asked and told to do in regard to permitting and running a safe and orderly festival."

The event, held Aug. 9-11 at Beech Mountain Resort, featured an eclectic lineup of electronic and dance music, along with visual and performance art. 

It was accompanied by more than 150 arrests, widespread drug seizures and crowds that nearly overwhelmed medical crews' capabilities, according to local officials.

From the organizers' point of view, the event was a tremendous success in that it drew more than 3,000 people in its inaugural year, van Ling said.

In addition to musical acts that included Toubab Krewe, Beats Antique, 7 Walkers and more, the festival included more than 150 performance artists, visual artists, yoga and meditation leaders, and more, he said.

"Overall, I think it was a phenomenal event," van Ling said. "We accomplished, I would say, the majority, if not most all of what we set out to do."

But van Ling said he was overwhelmed with the uproar from patrons and community members about the police presence at the festival, which included Beech Mountain police, Boone police, Watauga and Avery county sheriff's deputies, Highway Patrol troopers and Alcohol Law Enforcement agents.

"We have been getting more feedback that people are not wanting to come back to the town ... due to all the stories and the way that a lot of people feel that they were treated," van Ling said.

Van Ling said he was even accused of setting up a "sting operation" in tandem with law enforcement, a claim he said was absolutely untrue.

He also said that safety concerns were at the forefront for the organizers, that they hired an ambulance to be on-site the entire time and that no serious injuries were reported.

Van Ling, who said his father died and his mother suffered a stroke during the festival planning process, admitted that coordinating thousands of people was a challenge and that he had to postpone one scheduled meeting.

"I tried to not let any of that get in the way of trying to produce a safe and successful event, and I think that's what we did," he said.

At a Beech Mountain Town Council meeting Sept. 26, Mayor Rick Owen said Beech Mountain intends to bill the festival for extraordinary expenses to the town due to the festival, such as overtime and use of police radios for communication.

Van Ling said Friday that Gnarnia organizers have been requesting a breakdown of expenses for months, even prior to the festival. Items such as the communication radios were provided at no cost and returned to the town with no problems, he said.

Owen said the town could seek such expenses based on a town ordinance regulating street fairs that "require the temporary closing or obstruction of all or a portion of any street or other public right of way," according to the ordinance.

Van Ling said he believes the ordinance does not apply to events that take place at the Beech Mountain Resort, which is exempt from town ordinances. 

In fact, he said, the only street obstructions that resulted from the festival were due to officers pulling over vehicles for searches and seizures.

Van Ling agreed that there were certain parts of the festival that could have been done better. but said that much of the negative attention was focused on incidents that were out of Gnarnia's control.

"I feel that we absolutely pulled the majority of the weight to make everything happen there," he said.So, would the festival ever return to Beech Mountain again? Van Ling isn't sure.

"I think that it's an amazing town, one of my favorite places that I've seen in the United States," he said. "I love the resort. I think it's a great venue. I absolutely won't rule it out."

But the reception from law enforcement and the squabbles that have followed have indicated that "this may not be the right venue," he added.

Van Ling said he thinks there may be a sense of xenophobia on the mountain and a fear of the unknown that the Gnarnia festival represented.

"Maybe some people just weren't ready," he said.