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Police crack down on drugs at Shakori Hills

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An outdoor music festival without drugs is like a day without Orange Sunshine. But there was no sunshine for the people busted earlier this month at the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival. Police logged 125 drug- and alcohol-related charges and seized a half-pound of pot, 6 grams of cocaine, plus other prescription medications, according to sheriff's office records.

The festival started eight years ago and quickly gathered a loyal indie/ hippie music crowd. Located in the Chatham County community of Silk Hope, 20 minutes south of Chapel Hill, the festival is held twice a year on a 75-acre turn-of-the-century farmstead.

The festival has a reputation for being family-friendly, but in 2008, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office began receiving complaints about drugs, said Maj. Gary Blankenship.

"We were observing obviously impaired people at the festival, some acts of random violence and numerous complaints from people in and around Shakori Hills," Blankenship said. Festival organizers told police they were concerned about the safety of the attendees, and this year the sheriff's office started setting up checkpoints outside the event.

Shakori Hills coordinator and public relations representative Sara Waters said the festival attendance has increased more than 10 percent each year. More than 8,500 people attended in 2010, Waters said, adding that the fall festival was successful: "We feel like we had the most peaceful, and 'well-oiled' festival we've ever had."

Some observers complained the police presence at the festival was overbearing, but Blankenship disagreed.

"Most of the negative outcry we are hearing is from people who had no contact with us at all but have heard of what we are doing and have made assumptions that are not true," he said. "I suspect that many of those complaining don't want us at the event at all, and obviously, we would be doing the thousands of people who attend the event a disservice if we were not there."

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