By Jesse Wood
Aug. 10, 2012. “It’s been interesting – to say the least.”
Referring to The Festival of Gnarnia taking place until Sunday morning, that phrase is recurring among locals atop Beech Mountain.
With an influx of 5,000 people, many of them out-of-state tour kids travelling the festival circuit, Beech is experiencing a bit of a culture shock.
“I don’t think Beech Mountain has seen anything like this before,” said one woman standing outside the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce.
Although the Land of Oz attracts 7,500 people in the fall, she said most of those people are little girls in Dorothy outfits – not necessarily adults with green and purple dreadlocks.
“It’s always a shocker for local communities to see 5,000 hippies come out and have a good time,” said Katie Bange, of Missouri and owner of Festi-Cab, a taxi-service that follows the festival circuit around the country to offer rides to attendees.
She said business has been good so far, and she expects much more clients by the end of the weekend. Not knowing what the festival would be like in its first year, she only brought three “taxis” to Beech Mountain; next year she plans to bring 20.
With the influx of people, law enforcement has increased its presence on the mountain. Beech Mountain Police Department Chief Jay Hefner said “lots of patrolling” is occurring and the department called in additional help from Avery and Watauga counties and Boone. Hefner added that Alcohol Law Enforcement with N.C. Department of Public Safety has “several” agents in the area.
Hefner said the department has seen a “major increase” in busts – pretty much all being drug related.
“LSD, mushrooms, DMT, Ecstasy,” Hefner said. “You name it’s here.”
John Hoffman with the Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department said extra staff was on duty Thursday night “just in case anything happens.” He said the only two calls his crew responded to were for a minor cut on a woman’s foot and a propane tank that had a smell and turned out to be empty.
If anything, the influx of thousands of people, who don’t seem to be concerned about the dreary weather, are bringing money to the Town of Beech Mountain, which is historically more of a winter town, in the summer season.
On Friday morning, a steady stream of people was carousing Fred’s General Mercantile, buying up much of the store’s inventory.
“Today, it’s beer and ponchos. Yesterday, it was hot dogs and bread,” said Peter Patton, a long-time employee with Fred’s. “It’s been great. We’re happy everyone is here. These are some of the nicest people I’ve come across. Everyone is smiling and having a good time.”
Fred Pfohl, owner of Fred’s General Mercantile, was sitting inside his office on Friday figuring out what items needed to be ordered and said, “It’s hard to keep up with what needs to be stocked.”
“[The festival has] been a good boost for business [especially those catering] to public lodging, restaurants and people like us. In this economy, we need all we can get,” Pfohl said.
Pfohl joked that the weekend’s clientele looks no different than the snowboarders in the winter and called them the “summer’s snowboarders.”
“We were all kind of apprehensive at first – not knowing what the situation would be like,” Pfohl said. “So far, so good after 24 hours. I hope the next 48 hours are as good as the last 24 hours.”
He added that he woke up this morning, and the “store was still standing,” so everything must be okay. Aside from the noise of the music festival, he said he hasn’t heard many complaints from the locals.
The production company Upstanding Entertainment is leasing property amidst the Beech Mountain Resort to hold The Festival of Gnarnia. Sue Donnell lives above where the festival is taking place and the music in the middle of the night has been a source of contention for her family.
“I now fully understand and sympathize with all the folks from Woodstock, N.Y. I can totally relate to what those people went through back then in my day, which was my heyday. It’s amazing until three o’clock in the morning,” Donnell said. “It’s pretty loud to the point that you have close every window in the house and sleep in the room on the opposite side of the house and then put on the radio very quietly to drown out the bass.”
She added, “I don’t know how Beech Mountain did this. They’ve never done anything like this before. I think the sensible solution would be for the music to be done at midnight. Three in the morning is a little much.”
See more current article dated Monday, Aug. 13, about the drug busts – and the good times and so forth – here: http://www.hcpress.com/news/mixed-emotions-revolve-around-festival-of-gnarnia-at-beech-w-drug-arrests-and-increased-business.html