There were sunken stages, surly bikers for security, too many over-the-top drug searches, near-ODs, cancelled bands, and a brawl to end it all. But in the end, the music transcended the madness and made Camp Bisco XII (CB12) an unqualified success.
Opening day of CB12, which took place July 11-13 at the Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville Lake, New York, featured rapper Macklemore and producer/DJ Ryan Lewis performing a rousing set of their hits including the smash "Can't Hold Us" – for which Ray Dalton appeared to croon the chorus. Macklemore used the occasion to make a pro-gay marriage statement, comparing it to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. "I just believe in love," Macklemore told the adoring crowd as he launched into "Same Love,” followed by the anti-materialism hit "Thrift Shop.”
Umphrey's McGee had the 6:45 time slot and took the stage minus bassist Ryan Stasik, who was attending the birth of his child. The absence necessitated a "bass rotation" featuring David Murphy of STS9, Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits, and Bryan Doherty of Umph's side-project, Digital Tape Machine. The set also featured Biscuits' guitarist Jon "Barber" Gutwillig, who joined Umphrey’s and band mate Brownstein to “cover” the Biscuits’ song “Home Again,” which certainly was a fitting choice for the commencement of yet another Camp.
To complete the “Umphrey's McBiscuits” set, Disco Biscuits' Aron Magner held a keytar duel with Umphrey's Joel Cummins during the white soul of "Booth Love."
The aforementioned STS9 were up next and delivered their usual instrumental electronica, which topped their festival performance at Lollapalooza 2009.
Anchor-band Disco Biscuits' opened their inaugural set of CB12 with "7-11,” an obvious yet still satisfying commemoration of the day – July 11. The band whipped up an inventive version of the song, performing the final bridge/chorus in a staccato style, reminding one and all just how inventive the Biscuits can be when motivated.
Much credit is due to the improved play of guitarist Gutwillig, who not only brandished a more aggressive, sharp tone, but was visibly playful and engaging on stage throughout the weekend, discarding his often aloof countenance.
The Biscuits concluded their night one set with a techno version of their anthemic classic "I-Man" that puts keyboard king Magner's varied virtuosity on a pedestal, delivering improvised dance rhythms in cohesion with soaring prog emotion. Before leaving the stage, Brownstein delighted the crowd by announcing that the unscheduled Thievery Corporation would be performing Saturday night – at the time it seemed like a bonus band added to fatten up CB12 even further, but it was not to be.
Camp Bisco inevitably means drugs – and they were plentiful, both good and bad.
Vaporizer pens were in full force, a device originally associated with West Coast medical pot dispensaries, which seem to have made a full impact on the East Coast as well. Some excellent and unique strains were freely passed around throughout the event. Both the Pineapple Haze and Master Nice Guy (a Mister Nice Guy x Master Kush cross) were personal favorites.
The late night tents brought out the seedier element of Camp Bisco and drugs like Ketamine replaced vape pens and hash pipes. But like any good dichotomy, the tents also provided a plethora of after hours entertainment such as Com Truise, the EDM artist sporting a drummer that brought a live acoustic dimension to his electronica innovation. Squarepusher was overrated while Boys Noize drew mixed reviews from those in attendance.
Festival-goers awoke to bad news on Saturday. Animal Collective had cancelled due to illness, making it clear that Thievery Corporation’s involvement wasn’t a surprise addition, but rather to substitution. And while Thievery Corp was a preferred choice by some, offering fan-friendly fare such as a cover of the Sly and the Family Stone classic “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin,” Animal Collective's experimentation was sorely missed and would have added a uniquely psychotropic element to CB12.
Still there was plenty of fine music to take up the sonic slack, such as the dynamic Dan Deacon, who crushed the "Label Tent" with a senses-shattering rendition of the "USA" portion of his 2012 LP America. Flanked by a pair of percussionists that unleashed a combo of tribal and rock drumming, Deacon from his DJ perch propelled an overriding classical music theme interacting with both sinister and completely whimsical electronica. It seems at times that Deacon's creativity knows no boundaries.
By late Saturday the security and searches for drugs became an issue worth dissecting. The Camp Bisco property is owned and maintained by a biker club, a group that would initially give the impression of being tolerant of drug use. However, due to an overdose death at Camp last year (and a couple close calls this year), the security at the concert field gates was dialed up to the point where you felt like you were entering an airplane.
However, there was no security concern for whatever substances people were using (and abusing) at the outlying campsites, where the true danger of overdosing lies.
Some suspected the searches were more about removing people's beer and water (inexplicably, you were only allowed to bring one bottle of water onto the concert fields) in order to generate more revenue for the officially licensed vendors selling cold beverages. Also, as the weekend went on, the security became increasingly rude and borderline humiliating, which put a major damper on the festival fun.
Nonetheless, the music made up (as much as possible) for the inconvenience and the Biscuits' first set on July 12 was highlighted by an energetic opening run of "42>Helicopters>Cyclone>Portal to an Empty Head" that had the band eager to jam and explore. The visual highlight of night two was the annual appearance of Bassnectar and his devastating dubstep machinations. It was truly an impressive spectacle to witness virtually the entire Camp Bisco contingency gathered across the entire field in front of Main Stage Two, and spilling over to the Main Stage One field in the process, with literally a sea of thousands of "rage sticks" lofted skyward. (For the uninitiated, rage sticks are poles affixed with an "air dancing" ornament or symbol held high by fans. They have become a fixture at festivals like Camp Bisco.)
Musically, Bassnectar touches upon nearly every genre, if less subtly than his dubstep contemporary Pretty Lights. Late in Bassnectar's set he performed a breakdown of Rage Against the Machine's classic "Killing in the Name.” And when the Biscuits opened their final set of the evening with their own stylized cover of "Killing in the Name" it was a genial nod to Camp comrade Bassnectar, and one of those unique, can-only-happen-at-a-festival moments that contributed to CB12's triumph.
The late night highlight of night two was Lotus in the BIG Tent; although they weren't as overtly psychedelic as advertised, their unique blend of styles offered a contrast from all the pure EDM bouncing through CB12. And this dichotomy in music was reflected in the divergent fan bases; the older Biscuits devotees who've been following the band since its glory days in the 90s and the younger dubstep enthusiasts who prefer “flat brim” baseball caps (some even wore bandanas over their faces in an unintentionally self-mocking “gangsta” pose). The youth is definitely taking over Camp Bisco, which has expanded greatly since our last visit for CB4, which marked original Biscuits' drummer Sam Altman's final gigs.
The final day of CB12 brought more gorgeous weather but also a sinking stage. One of the main stages began giving in over the weekend, which meant some acts had to be moved to the side tents while a crane was brought in to fix the problem.
When the music resumed, Passion Pit took the stage but failed to excite us with their poppy overtures. On the other hand, there was never a dull moment with the jackhammer dubstep duo of Zeds Dead.
Among the Biscuits' highlights on day three was the first set performance of the Magner-penned “Spy” – which had been on the shelf for two and a half years. The second set featured a tasty and tasteful Rock Candy>Tricycle>Orch Theme sandwich.
And the third and final Biscuits' set of the day – and of CB12 – opened with a 30-minute cover of the Pink Floyd classic "Run Like Hell" – the best cover in the band's repertoire. This included a seductive, sprawling, instrumental intro that drew back those fans who had wandered away between sets.
After the Biscuits concluded with an emotional goodbye, Boombox was as good as it got in the late night tents, throwing down the funk to balance out the EDM.
The morning after the festival ended, tensions were high as a fight broke out near the camp HQ in which security had to be called. Indeed, tempers and temperatures heated up on Sunday, a sign that it was time to close up Camp Bisco for another year. But everyone who attended the three days of wall-to-wall music knows it was too much yet never enough, never enough.
Special thanks to Chad David Shearer of Caren West PR, Christopher and all the Camp Counselors, Grassroots, Damn Sam Productions, Catskill Chillums, Tree Shirts, and last but not least, the Blueberry Hill Crew (Doug, Mark and Steve). Opening photo courtesy of campbisco.net