The Original Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon will bring a different type of event to Holmes County in early May when electronic dance music festival Sol Fest takes over the outdoor grounds. [CONTRIBUTED]

A coming new music and art festival was the topic of discussion during an April 16 Holmes County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting due to safety and logistic concerns surrounding the event.

Sol Fest will occur May 2-5 at The Original Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon. The festival will feature electronic dance music (EDM), along with light shows, yoga sessions, and vendors.

The coming event has drawn concerns from some members of the community over potential safety issues and possible drug use, though festival organizers and other people associated with the event defended it as a secure celebration that will bring money into the area. Attendance is expected to be approximately 10,000 people. The event will be on private property. 

Sheriff John Tate said he didn’t think the event was “very well put together.”

“I met with (the organizers) about a year or so ago. They were talking about having an event,” Tate said. “Up until about a month and a half, two months ago, that’s the last time I’ve heard about it. I had to find out about this event coming to Holmes County through a press guy who called and said do y’all know what’s going on?”

Tate said he then started looking into Sol Fest and heard about it from the police chief from Enterprise, Ala., where the festival has been previously held. Tate said he heard about past issues surrounding Sol Fest and met with the organizers, venue owners, and law enforcement officials.

“Yet have the promoters reached out to the Sheriff’s Office or the County about this event? I’ve had to do the reaching out and that’s what I’m kind of irritated about,” Tate said. “You’re having 10,000 people come to our county but you can’t reach out to the partners of law enforcement, EMS, and the County and say, hey, we’re planning on having this event. Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Law enforcement personnel from neighboring counties will reportedly be helping during the event.

Tate said he has read people discuss how to hide drugs on social media.

“I know that’s not (the organizer’s) problem. There’s drugs everywhere,” Tate said. “I do my best to try to lock up drug dealers and peddlers and users every day. This event is not going to be any different. I’ve made that clear to them. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to drugs. If people are in the venue using drugs, they’re going to jail, plain and simple.” 

Resident Ronald Neubauer, who lives within a mile of Vortex Spring and is retired from the Miami-Dade Police Department, said he has handled and worked big events, including a similar EDM festival.

“The minute you get into Sol Fest or the music, the hallucinogenic drugs come out. You have people running around seeing pink elephants and purple dinosaurs all night,” Neubauer said. “We’ve had major ODs, stuff like that. It’s crazy. The music is so loud. We have to have officers running two by two all night long because when you get in the crowd, you can’t hear the radio.”

Neubauer said he will be calling the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office if he hears the music from his living room all night long and that he moved to Ponce de Leon for peace and quiet.  

Attorney Charles Carr, who does legal consulting for Sol Fest, said it started as a remembrance for a lost friend and it has “built up into something bigger.”

“This year will be the third year,” Carr said. “I know you guys are concerned with safety issues and medical emergencies and all that. In past years, we have had zero deaths, zero major medical emergencies. We hire very professional staff to run the event. We will have over 100 security staff on site for this event.”

Sol Fest will also have “TSA-style” checkpoints, bomb dogs, and at least five medical stations, “several of which are 24 hours,” Carr said. Organizers also said cars will be thoroughly searched. 

The lost friend Carr referred to is Quentin “Sol” Rupp, a beloved member of the festival community who passed away at a young age. Rupp’s mother, Stacie Parsons, addressed what the festival means for his memory.

“We lost Quentin in 2021,” she said. “(Losing a child) is debilitating. You don’t even know how to get out of bed for a very long time. … One day I had a water bottle that belonged to my son and it had a sticker of one of the bands and he always said, Mom, I want you to come see a show with me. … I got a call from a group of his friends how they wanted to create a festival in his honor, in his memory, and to celebrate the lives of all of us who have lost people.”

Stacie said her parents attend and her 82-year-old mom dances to the music.

“It’s not a whole big drugfest,” Stacie said. “It’s about bringing people together for love and celebrating your lost loved ones.”

Sol Fest owner Alexus Williams said she has been a Holmes County resident for most of her life and her family has multi-generational roots in the area.

“I ended up moving out of Holmes County because there were no opportunities for me in high school. There were no educational courses with college courses, like Jackson County had,” Williams said. “We wanted to bring money to the area. We could have had the event at an established music venue with a supportive community, with support of officers and the commission because they want to bring money to the area.”

Williams said the people involved with Sol Fest are “not here to fight you.”

“We’re here to work with you. If you do not like our event, I’m just asking you don’t judge a book by its cover,” Williams said. “We want to treat Holmes County like it’s our hometown because it is. If you want to do an event permit, that’s up to you. … We thought we had a great relationship with the sheriff. The community is against it. The big dogs start talking with everyone else and they start raising red flags.”

Williams also said the event has received opposition, including in Facebook posts. Prior to the meeting, Commissioner Brandon Newsom made a public Facebook post in which he said it was a “sad day when you gotta drive 6 hours to see a good show,” referencing a concert with Jason Aldean, “but you can see nearly nude men/women and hear some crazy new type music right here in our backyard.” 

Festival organizers did not come to the BOCC previously because there was no event permit and they did not know the BOCC at the time, Williams said.

“We’ve talked with the sheriff,” Williams said. “We will adjust anything that we need to in real time. Our stages, our music, our speakers, it can change in real time.”

Sol Fest does not have to return to Holmes County if the community doesn’t want it but organizers do “want to be appreciated with what we bring to the table,” Williams said.

Justin Kulkusky, another organizer for Sol Fest, said he is a Holmes County resident and graduate of Holmes County High School. He said he is involved in the community and has a decades-long emergency room nursing career.

“We put every dollar we have, every ounce of energy we have, into this festival,” Kulkusky said. “I just want you guys to understand that safety has always been our number one priority. We have hundreds of security. We have hundreds of staff coming that build major music festivals like Bonnaroo.”

Sol Fest is not the same as a major music festival that occurs in Miami, he said.

County Commissioner Clint Erickson asked Kuklusky about the revenue stream for the county.

“We hire local power companies, local port-a-potty providers, local businesses that will come cater,” Kulklusky said. “The kids come through. They buy everything at the gas stations and the stores. These businesses thrive. We have people coming from Thailand and all over to see Holmes County. We want to build the area. I’ve spent many of my summers at Vortex Springs. We love the area. That was the first venue we ever looked at for this music festival.” 

County Emergency Medical Services Director Steve Connell said their first contact about the event was a little over a month ago when he received a phone call and during which he said he wasn’t given any information.

Connell said there were further meetings as time went on.

“I left out of there with several other questions on the medical side,” Connell said. 

After reaching out to the state to see what the County’s obligations are, Connell said the County EMS is under no obligation to provide EMS services on site for the venue since it is on private property.

“My goal is to increase our staff in our stations to handle any offset there would be, any additional calls that may come in,” Connell said.

Sol Fest’s responsibilities are to alleviate any issues that would overwhelm the County, Connell said.

“I feel confident that what they have on site that they should be able to handle anything that’s there, based on what Justin has told me,” Connell said. “My recommendation to the Board is that we do not put an ambulance at that venue. I will staff our County with enough staff to handle any additional (issues).”

The BOCC passed a resolution certifying Connell’s recommendation.

“I know what it is to lose a child. I know what it is when you walk in that dark hole and grief and that rabbit hole you don’t want to go down and you try to do whatever you can to pull yourself out of that,” Erickson said. “We don’t have any ordinances in place to stop anything like this. This is all new to us and new to Holmes County. However, I respect anybody that does this and how they do it but, on the same side of that, we have a responsibility to this community and their citizens and not to take any of the benefits they have in this county.”

One of the benefits of the county is it’s a small community, Erickson said.

“A lot of us didn’t even know this was going until just a short time ago,” Erickson said.

A committee is being formed to draft regulations related to future big events.

Leave a Reply

Advertising Options

Reach your target audience with our newspaper advertising options. Our publication has a wide readership, making it the perfect platform to promote your business or event.

To inquire about advertising rates and options, please fill out the form below and a member of our team will be in touch with you shortly.

Take advantage of our high readership and targeted demographics to promote your business to the right people. From print ads to online banners, we have a variety of options to suit your needs and budget.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to reach your target audience. Contact us today to learn more about our advertising options.

E-Mailing List Subscription

Stay informed with our email mailing list! Sign up today and never miss a beat on the latest news and events in your community.

To join our e-mailing list, simply fill out the form below. We’ll send you a weekly digest of the top stories, delivered right to your inbox.

By signing up, you’ll be the first to know about breaking news, upcoming events, and special promotions. Plus, you’ll be eligible for exclusive subscriber-only content and offers.