Written by Alejandro Beach
Photos by Grayson Hall (IG@DarkonePhoto)
In the late nineties, a jam band called The Disco Biscuits decided to try out something that few other bands have. They attempted to start a festival in a town deep in Northwest Pennsylvania, called Titusville. This middle-of-nowhere town (and ironically the place I was born five years prior) was once famous for Drake Well, the birthplace of the modern oil industry. The Disco Biscuits chose a venue, long since gone, called Toon Town, to host what would become one of the largest 3-day music events in the north east/mid Atlantic region of the United States. The festival would successfully build a strong community (thirty to forty thousand strong in fact) around the premise of offering attendees an eclectic mix of jam and electronic artists, much like The Disco Biscuits implement both genres in their own music. The festival, Camp Bisco, is now in its sixteenth year, and has over those years, featured some of the most coveted national and international touring acts in both the jam and electronic scenes.
The first time I attended Camp Bisco was its first year on Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Having just turned twenty, relatively new to the festival scene, heavily into the electronic music, and in exponentially better physical form than I am now, Camp Bisco was the party of the summer. “Who cares about the long waits to get up the mountain, campgrounds precariously situated on ski slopes, and the borderline extreme hiking to get anywhere?” I asked. Bassnectar was there, and there was a fucking water park for gods’ sake. I was raging with some of my favorite people on the planet, and we thought we were on top of the world, regardless of how much time we actually spent facedown in the dirt. What a difference three years makes.
I returned to Camp Bisco this year, around 8am on Thursday morning. One of my major concerns was immediately put to rest by what seemed to be a fine tuned shuttle process from the off-site parking lots. Instead of waiting 10-12 hours in line to hop on a school bus packed to the gills with smelly hippies, ravers, and camping gear, I was sitting in a bus moments after a light bag check by security, with a separate vehicle carrying luggage, and actually waiting for the bus to fill up before we made our way up Montage Mountain. Greeted by a radiant morning sun, and a couple of wooks pungent with body odor from clearly neglecting the notion that deodorant in July, is in fact, a necessity, I felt that familiar sense of anticipation boil up in my stomach that I felt in 2015 and ’16. It’s a subtle coursing of adrenaline of which I can only seem to achieve when I’m about to enter a large festival, and Camp is one of the few that I find myself at.
Within moments of being dropped off by the trailer attached to the back end of a Dodge F-ten million, or whatever they are, I realized what I was in for. A quick survey of the surrounding campgrounds made it plainly obvious; 90% of the campers had already arrived, and I was going to have to climb this mountain. EZ-up canopy in one hand, wagon with all of my camping gear in the other, and a 40 liter hiking backpack on my back, I began the trek. Maybe I didn’t have as much to haul the last time I was on Montage Mountain, maybe I haven’t been eating right and smoking a few too many cigarettes since then, but make no mistake; the Mountain is not for the faint of heart. If for one second, you think these campgrounds are the kind that you’ll be able to walk around in flip-flops, for example, then you are sadly mistaken. Camp Bisco is by all rights, an endurance festival. Steep climbs, rocky terrain which is impenetrable with tent stakes, and loose boulders littered throughout some of the trails higher up on the Mountain, it doesn’t get much more intense than this. The trials and tribulation of camping on a ski slope, however, comes with a reward. Montage Mountain is part of Lackawanna Valley, and near its foot is Scranton, Pennsylvania. From most camping spots, festival goers can get a breath taking view of the valley, as well as sunsets. The higher up you go, obviously the better the view you’re going to get.
Perhaps luckily for me, I didn’t have to go the whole way up. Going to a festival alone definitely has its perks; not having friends to hold a spot down for your tent is not one of them. However, music festivals are generally the place that you have the best odds of meeting some of the most well-intentioned and genuine people on this tiny space rock, and Camp is no exception. Flagged down by a tall man named Steve as I trudged up the mountain, I was offered a spot to set up camp, and I didn’t think twice (if there’s a God, thank you for Steve). Steve and the others then helped me, a total stranger, set up, and presented to me an extensive pile of surprisingly comfortable chairs that they had fashioned out of some of the stones that had to be moved for them to set up camp. So far, Bisco had done nothing but show me a beautiful day, an intense hike, and most importantly, a true sense of community.
Camp Bisco constantly catches my eye for its consistently stacked lineups. 2018 was no exception for the lovers of heavy bass music, and jam enthusiasts alike. Thursday’s lineup came out swinging with stellar performances from Lettuce, Naughty Professor, STS9, Buku, G Jones, and more. After an enchanting set from Bonobo Live Band, and a relatively tame first night set from The Disco Biscuits, Tipper took the stage to deliver his legendary method of sound design to a packed main stage crowd, accompanied by high resolution and ever evolving visuals and lights. After a less than impressive set from STS9 the last time I had seen them live, I’m happy to report that the jamtronica quintet played one of my favorite sets of the weekend, including a blistering ‘World Go Round’, ‘ReEmergence’, and ‘Move my Peeps’, along with a solid remaining set closed by an epic ‘Hubble’.
Friday’s lineup had bassheads coming’ from miles around (did you get my Bassnectar reference?), to get their fix of DJ/producers like Bassnectar, Space Jesus, 12th Planet, Yheti, and more. Being the jam freak that I am, I leaned toward the lesser-known acts on Fridays schedule, catching Mungion first thing in the morning, a powerful set from Kung Fu followed by electro-funk group Sunsquabi, and a much more upbeat first set from The Biscuits than the prior night. The Disco Biscuits have always been this anomaly that I’ve never quite understood. In fact, up until this year, out of the three total years of Camp that I’ve attended, this is the first year that I’ve stayed for a full set, and that allowed me to finally get it. The occasional monotony of a Biscuits jam is completely forgotten when the band locks in and pulls the improvised sections into major builds, as their world class light rig dazzles onlookers with a high quality laser show. Though still not familiar with much of the bands studio work, I can say that they’ve finally grabbed my attention after seeing a few of their sets this year. Lotus brought the heat as well, delivering a set that spanned a wide spectrum of pieces from the bands discography, and playing a fantastic “Spiritualize” in particular. As usual, my focus was rarely diverted from Mike Rempels’ soaring guitar riffs, which to the credit of the sound engineers at the main stage, came through crystal clear throughout the set. Friday nights main draw, however, was none other than Bassnectar, who jamtronica darlings, Papadosio, was matched up against for a 12am-1am slot (seriously, why?). Not twenty minutes into the Bassnectar set, the realization came that it had been so long since I had listened to the world-renowned producer that I didn’t know a single song he had played so far. In that moment, missing a Papadosio set never felt so wrong. With all of the haste afforded by various substances to my semi-broken body, I made my way to the stage just in time to catch ‘Dosio rev up and out of one of their heaviest ‘Frequences’ I’ve heard to date. Following that, were two songs off of studio album, ‘Night Colors’ (‘Smile and Nod’ & ‘Night Colors’), which were so heavily and tastefully extended that they didn’t even have time to finish their planned set list. The Floozies, joined by the Terminus Horns (can they just join the band permanently already, please?) closed the night out above the waves. As the party raged on in an RV stage dubbed, The Renegade Stage, most attendees returned to their camps to rest for the night. Long story short, I had to be reminded by the early morning light, that I had to traverse a mile and a half of varying terrain to get back to my tent.
While the Headbangers geared up for Excision‘s headlining set, and enjoyed sets from Liquid Stranger, Big Wild, as well as a downtempo set from Space Jesus, The Disco Biscuits ramped the number of sets scheduled for the day to three, making it a total of six sets throughout the weekend. Sleeping in a various locations (a bar, the deck, the floor, you get the idea) in and around the building, the looming inevitability of the ensuing thunderstorm that returns to Montage Mountain each year to remind us that Mother Nature is, indeed, still the captain of this ship remained in the back of my head. In order to catch TAUK’s set, I told myself, I would want to tear my campsite down in the early evening, take a shuttle to my car, and return to watch the rest of what Saturday’s lineup included. In a primary exhibit of just how terrible my timing is, the storm rolled in almost the moment I packed the last piece of gear into my wagon, for what was a wet and chaotic ride down, or more aptly, escape from, Montage Mountain. By the time I had reached my car, I was soaked to the core, had watched my tent roll off the shuttle while still in the campgrounds, my shorts were torn from top to bottom, and I had forgotten my wallet at the campsite. Sitting naked, if not for a tattered tapestry found in one of the few dry spots remaining of my car, I knew I had to return, clothed preferably. After finding my lost items, I was nearly ready to return to the festival. The severe weather, however had other plans for TAUK, the set I was most excited for that night, and at the risk of being caught in a storm, were not able to perform. A soggy and unceremonious departure for Pittsburgh was in order.
To put things frankly, I love the people at Camp Bisco, I love the festival grounds, the waterpark, and a fair bit of the music. Despite knowing with certainty that my days of raving and getting filthy to ten million watts (that’s how many Excision has now, right?) of bass drop madness physically pushing my eyeballs into my brain are over, Camp has a special place in my heart because it literally introduced me to the jam scene, still features many of my favorite artists in the scene, and hell, maybe getting down at 4:30am to a DJ set by a badass Australian producer whose name escapes me is still fun. That being said, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, I do not see myself returning to Montage Mountain to camp. Despite various improvements to the offsite shuttle process, there remain flaws. Most of these flaws are a pure inevitability of the sheer amount of infrastructural and logistical challenges of transporting tens of thousands of some of the hardest partying people I’ve ever seen to camp on a ski mountain. The challenges are exacerbated by clockwork severe thunderstorms each year. Although, admittedly, it wouldn’t be Camp without a little rain, right? Let me be clear, Camp Bisco is a world class event with top notch production value at a one of the best venues on the east coast, and more power to those who adamantly refuse to take the ‘camp’ out Bisco, because if you can handle it, it will be one of the most action-packed weekends of the summer.