Five words to describe Camp Bisco: Vibrant, serene, wild, bumping and unique.
I've been to a lot of shows — indoor and outdoor — in cities and in the middle of nowhere. Last year I was even able to attend my first festival with ATP New York, a unique experience in its own right where I learned about navigating multiple stages and unique side shows.
I never experienced a multiple day outdoor festival until this past weekend at Camp Bisco. With its diverse lineup, communal crowd and general eccentricies, I'm confident I'll never experience another festival quite like it.
Camp Bisco is the unusual brainchild of veteran jam/electro band The Disco Biscuits. When they had a passion for playing outdoor festivals but grew tired of always being an afternoon booking, they decided to create their own festival. It's grown in nine years into the product it is now: a genre-transcending, experience-heavy weekend of festival bliss.
It all starts with the music. No other festival offers this blend of acts. Consider that within hours I could experience the traditional reggae/jam band culture of a band like SOJA, a crowded NYC dance hall (or in this case, tent) with someone like Diplo spinning. There’s classic hip-hop with Wu-Massacre, huge buzz bands like LCD Soundsystem and local acts that even competed for their chance to perform all on the same lawn. Somehow Ween even snuck into this supposed collection of dance, electronic and jam band. Good luck finding a billing like this again.
The music may get you there, but the sights are what you'll be talking about afterwards. The Bisco crowd is very friendly and approachable no matter their appearance (which varies, but is largely costumed). It creates great people-watching and interesting interactions. Wearing a camera seems to enhance this too. I found multiple females who thought they were original to comment on my camera size. Three groups — oddly enough, mostly shirtless guys — asked if I would take their picture while they were in front of the stage and e-mail to them (one even offered beer in exchange). That’s in addition to the stuff you get when actually initiating conversation with people, interacting with the eclectic group serving as staff volunteers and eavesdropping on the wealth of ridiculous conversations happening around you. It’s enough that I included my favorites in the daily recaps, but an entire thread on the Phantasy Tours page is devoted to it.
Camp Bisco is an experience that, as a first-timer, I felt overwhelmed with at times. I took plenty of notes used for writing daily recaps (check them out: Day One, Day Two and Day Three), but they were handy for all the lists I found myself making (such as these):
1) Arrive when it’s light outside — Mariaville, N.Y., may be hard enough for you to find on a map, but good luck navigating the back roads that lead to Camp Bisco when it’s dark out. For most, the majority of travel happens on Interstate 90, but navigating from that road to the actual site involves a series of deeply wooded, street light-less areas that aren’t fun when the sun is down.
2) Bring a flashlight — The camp itself is a bit tricky to navigate before you have your bearings. I couldn’t find site maps online or at the event anywhere, so night one in the dark was rough. Even after I found where I was going the following day, a light at night can only serve you well (it’s an open invite to flashlight tag at least).
3) Print the band schedule — There isn’t a lot of cell reception or Wi-Fi at the campgrounds. A good, old fashioned print out of who’s playing when and where will serve you well (and also make you some interesting acquaintances). The lineup shifts due to delays, weather, etc., but having the basis can only help you plan out your viewing schedule.
4) The VIP tickets are worth it — I was fortunate enough to have this access due to media credentials, but I’d shell out the extra hundred or so for it as a general patron. You get closer access to the stage (albeit slightly off to the side) no matter how jammed things are and a VIP bracelet gains you entrance to areas of the camp site others can’t simply access.
5) Prepare for rain — Take this as an all-encompassing final tip. You’ll avoid having to pay for a $5 poncho (and deflect sunburn if you’re proactive) with an umbrella or rain coat. A tent keeps you covered and lets you avoid sleeping in your car. Knowing that the elements could turn up also prevents you from dressing up too much and sticking out like a sore thumb (I might’ve had a polo on coming from work the first day, which certainly sprung some questions).
After seeing the collection of bands and reading up on who’s visited the festival in recent years, I want to offer one fan’s suggestions for Camp Bisco 10:
1) Neon Indian — “Chillwave” is the new frontier and there’s no better band to grab for it than Neon Indian. They’re festival proven (ACL and Pitchfork under their belts at least) and have come through upstate before.
2) Phantogram — Having them on the bill would be mutually beneficial for both this emerging act and the excitement around the festival. The fact that they’re local (Phantogram calls Albany home) only adds to it.
3) M.I.A. — She’s a major headline grabber, along the lines of LCD Soundsystem this year (or Nas + Damian Marley the year before).
4) Sleigh Bells — In terms of experimenting with sound and electronics, Sleigh Bells has been embraced the most for a new approach.
5) Robert Randolph and the Family Band — Admittedly, I’m not a huge jam band enthusiast. I caught some of The Disco Biscuits out of respect for what they do in the existence of this festival. However, if that is somewhat at the heart of this experience, it’s important to keep the jam band genre in the billing. The one I’ve enjoyed the most is Randolph and Co. with their affinity for orchestrated covers (I’ve heard them do “Billie Jean” twice) and the original nature of his slide guitar.
One final thought: Jazz seems to get overlooked for how close in relation it is to the jam band form (high levels of song structure, lengthy open solo sections, wide variety of instrumentations accepted). Combine that with the desire for electronic and Herbie Hancock would be a fantastic choice to enter the festival’s ranks. I can easily close my eyes and see “Rockit” in the early evening one night.