In its fifth year, Gnarbeque Music + Arts Festival goes legit

Andy Downing

Last year, it became clear that the Gnarbeque Music + Arts Festival, which started as a loose-knit house party in 2015, had finally outgrown its campus-area environs after police were called to the event multiple times citing noise complaints from neighbors.

“The fourth time they came out they threatened seizure of our equipment,” said musician Zach Barnes of Tourist Trap, who launched the event with roommates and has watched the fest grow from a trio of friends’ bands jamming in the backyard of his rental home to a two-day affair set to take over Woodland’s Backyard on Saturday and Sunday, July 6-7, headlined by dozens of acts, including rapper OG Vern, Alive 2018 Band to Watch snarls, and Asadi, among others.

The decision to transform the Gnarbeque into a more legitimate affair hasn’t been without its hiccups, though.

Initially the event was set to take place at the James Road taproom of Actual Brewing — a plan that was dashed just hours after a February report surfaced in Alive in which multiple women accused Actual founder Fred Lee of sexual assault.

“[The day the article came out] me and my entire team were out at lunch discussing the festival, and when I got home I had over 20 Facebook messages in my inbox, and it was all links to the article,” Barnes said. “We decided right then and there, ‘Yeah, we gotta move the festival.’”

After assessing potential locations, Barnes and Co. landed on Woodland’s Backyard in Grandview, which afforded both the physical space and the intangible feel the organizers required to carry out a creative vision in line with the fest’s roots: Essentially, the crew hoped to host a summer block party with a diverse soundtrack drawing from a wide swath of the city’s music scene.

The move to a more professional setting has also forced Barnes to navigate dense mazes of government permitting for the first time — something that would have been unthinkable even two years ago. “We had to have an event safety plan, which was something we’d never even considered before,” Barnes said.

But all of this growth isn’t without its benefits. The Gnarbeque now generates an amount of money that, although modest, has compelled Barnes to give back, donating proceeds from this year’s event to both CD102.5 for the Kids and the Dick and Jane Project. And with a year of learning under his belt, Barnes is already starting to think about what he can do to continue to develop the festival in future years.

“Now that we have all of this experience, it's kind of like, ‘All right, what next? What can we learn next? What can we do better next time?’” he said. “We still don't know what it's going to be five years from now, or 10 years from now … but I definitely do plan on keeping it going.”

11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7

668 Grandview Ave., Grandview

Woodland's Backyard