Another hot onset of July in the Northeast‚ another rippin' Bisco in the books. Camp Bisco 12 unfolded July 11-13 and once again drew a considerably diverse scene edging in on one side from the world of jam bands and on the other from the world of EDM. It was a year of considerable change for this ever-evolving festival with modest roots that has grown into one of the Northeast's behemoths‚ but with the very evident labor‚ love and finesse employed by festival organizers MCP and The Disco Biscuits‚ the event again far exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. Nationally even‚ and as well-attended as it is annually (a perennial sellout over the last several years)‚ it always strikes me as one of the most under-the-radar throw-downs that just about everyone in attendance wants to be back at when the dust all settles. Maybe it's the middle-of-nowhere setting in Mariaville‚ NY outside of Albany/Schenectady. Perhaps it is the way the festival is alternatively run and overseen as driven by MCP and the Biscuits with the land purveyors largely running the show. It could be the largely endemic and rather non-mainstream media that the event tends to generate. Whatever the case‚ Camp Bisco‚ after all these years‚ still strikes me as a real sleeper MVP in the national summer music festival circuit‚ now so flooded one can hardly digest‚ and‚ well‚ I guess we really like it that way.
Change was at the forefront this year across the board at Bisco‚ and overall‚ I have to say that from an "average patron" perspective‚ it was most all for the better. First and foremost‚ the 4 main stages‚ 2 adjoining as the main-stage rig and 2 massive tents (named the Big Tent and the Label Tent) were all brought together within close proximity in a field that formerly served as partial parking just a few years ago‚ and the main stage was moved to the far opposite end of the field from where it had been for the past few installments. This resulted in far less walking‚ separation‚ and dehydration‚ which were general issues from past years. It also provided clear delineation between who was at the music and who was messing around back at camp. Upon initial observation‚ I really wondered about the sound bleed with 4 booming setups so close together‚ but the tents were set up to project perpendicular to the main stage track and it made all the difference. Overall‚ this setup alone really altered the face of the festival and nipped in the bud the real root cause of many of the health and security related concerns that have somewhat marred this festival in some ways. Also of note in this department‚ the imprint of VIP areas was reduced which opened up far more room for the majority of the attendees to get themselves far closer to the music. An audience that once extended quite far in depth from the stage‚ making things somewhat impersonal was now invited to be up front by creating a much wider perspective‚ and it made for a much-improved feel for most. As always‚ the sound and lights‚ for an outdoor festival‚ were second to none for what they are trying to accomplish and the amount of acts that come through. There was also a heightened security focus both at the camping gates and into the actual concert grounds. While this is always met with mixed reviews‚ at the risk of sounding old‚ my perspective is that this can be a particular crowd that can actually stand to benefit from the moderation that this pushes. One thing that did not change was the nightmare that getting into this festival often is; in fact for many it was the worst ever. For the first year‚ the event employed paid car camping‚ likely to both increase revenue streams and also to limit the number of onsite cars and presumably improve this process‚ but because of the record rains that the area received in the week prior to the festival‚ organizers decided to hold traffic entering the grounds through the first night‚ and many were backlogged for up to 16-20 hours by the time gates opened and the process got rolling. Last but not least‚ perhaps the most well-received change at Camp Bisco this year: NO REAL RAIN TO SPEAK OF! After years past‚ it seemed a modern-day miracle. Ok‚ enough foreplay -- on to the show!
Camp Bisco 12 was opened by emerging Vermont quartet Twiddle playing their first Bisco ever‚ and shooting right to the Main Stage. They offered perfect day-set music and mood. Their energetic set was very well-attended (the most people I have ever seen at a Twiddle show) and did not disappoint. A fantastic way to kick off the music this year. Things for Day 1 really took form and started to heat up with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis around 5:30pm. They certainly have the "performance" routine down‚ engaging with the crowd unlike any of the other hip-hop acts of Bisco years past and having some particular fun with the huge assortment of rage sticks topped with blow-up dolls and‚ well‚ just about anything and everything you can possibly imagine. Best sign/prop of the weekend goes to the crew that finagled the "Biscuit City Rd." street sign‚ later to be found to be located in Rhode Island somewhere. How they acquired that‚ we'll never know.
The inspired Macklemore performance gave way into the night's hot streak of Umphrey's McGee -> STS9 -> The Disco Biscuits. The Umphrey's set was one to remember‚ though not quite as well attended as I thought it would be. Bassist Ryan Stasik went to tackle a Kodak moment with the family with a new baby on the way‚ leaving the bass gig void and open for guests galore. Their set was truly unique to Camp Bisco and one that really centered around the collaboration and improvisation facets that the Biscuits help to create. With less prog-rock and more flow‚ David Murphy from STS9 took stage for the first few numbers with UM including a standout "Breathe" (Pink Floyd) cover. Marc Brownstein (Brownie) and Jon (Barber) Gutwillig of The Disco Biscuits joined in about mid-set to fire up the furnaces long before their true set began with a version of "Home Again" -- to no surprise‚ that got the crowd fully engaged. The "guest" UM set gave way to what many are regarding as the set of the weekend with STS9 featuring their new rig and light show that took us from sunset into the wake of darkness.
As Camp Bisco‚ it's no surprise that some of the most hotly anticipated sets are from hosts themselves‚ jamtronica pioneers The Disco Biscuits. Featuring Brownie (bass)‚ Barber (guitar)‚ Aron Magner (keys) and Allen Aucion (drums)‚ Camp Bisco has grown to signify and consist of so much more‚ but at the root of things‚ it really is their festival. Their first of six sets (and only from Thursday) went for depth over breadth featuring a very appropriate opener in "7-11" (given the date‚ slick) that went deep‚ as did each song of the first set. The set raged for about 80 minutes non-stop and looked like this:
"7-11" -> "Abraxas" -> "Spaga" -> "7-11" -> "I-Man"
Relatively straightforward‚ but an appropriate way to ignite the engines for an ambitious six sets of music over three days‚ not to mention all of the side projects they tackle over the weekend as well. Most notable was the crisp cohesion amongst the group that has been slightly up and down since they decided to tour less frequently a couple years ago. It was perhaps the most refreshing element of the festival to see them playing so tight‚ listening‚ and truly enjoying their time together on stage. Barber would favor his Gibson hollowbody mostly all weekend‚ blending into the mix better than I have heard him do in years‚ but playing with such articulation and melodic sense that his talent shines even brighter. His mix has a tendency to make or break many shows‚ and it couldn't have been better over these three days. Concurrently‚ tasteful playing by Jon leads to excellent space for Magner to create sonic sound platforms with the keys‚ and this too was spectacularly on-point. Overall‚ their mix and interplay was the best I've heard it in years -- quite an accomplishment.
The late-night depths of Camp Bisco are legendary‚ and this year was no exception. Night 1 was capped off by 2 raging sets in the Big Tent by DJs Dillon Francis and Boys Noise which were hotly anticipated and kept bulging eyes fixated nearly until the sun rose.
The earlier afternoon sets at the main stages of Camp Bisco are often breeding grounds for new‚ emerging music‚ at least for me. So even though the headliners are hours away‚ it's always a perfect time to wander and explore. This year I found my surprise newcomer in Vacationer whose blend of beat-driven psychedelic rock was particularly refreshing for a meandering crowd during the day. Washy delays and playful melodies abound‚ these guys hit the spot.
The hot streak for day 2 started around 6pm and looked like: Disco Biscuits -> Wolfgang Gartner -> Thievery Corporation -> Bassnectar -> Disco Biscuits
Thievery Corporation was a welcome last-minute addition to fill the void left by Animal Collective who had to cancel due to illness. It was not their first rodeo at Camp Bisco‚ and so they fit right in and gave a great performance.
The second and third sets from the Biscuits matched the exceptional mix and interplay of the first and then some. Set II was fueled by an outstanding 18-minute "42" opener‚ a powerful and deep 13-minute "Cyclone"‚ and an epic 22-minute "House Dog Party Favor" closer. The must -hear is the last 10 minutes of "42" with Magner inciting a space battle between catchy and well-matched Barber riffs.
"42" -> "Helicopters" -> "Cyclone" -> "Portal to an Empty Head"‚ "House Dog Party Favor"
Set III (second set of day 2) traversed more musical ground‚ but felt slightly disjointed in a discerning way since it sought and succeeded in moving in more directions than a typical Biscuits' set. The first half of the set was very strong with a powerful "Killing in the Name" (Rage Against the Machine) opener. Those who know the band know not to expect any Grammys for vocal performances any time soon‚ and so in that spirit‚ it was great to hear the band pull this off with Barber attempting his best Zack de la Rocha. The next few numbers flowed well from the powerful opener ("Pygmy Twylyte" -> "Spacebirdmatingcall" -> "The Great Abyss")‚ which put the band back in their wheelhouse. The set took a directional change with the opus "Hot Air Balloon" which is about as intricate a song as one can imagine‚ demonstrating that the band just wanted to do something a little different with this set. Bringing the day full circle‚ the Biscuits closed their day 2 run with a great encore including return to the fantastic "42" that started the day‚ and addressing the criticisms for not indulging the crowd with an encore for some past sets/years.
"Killing in the Name‚" "Pygmy Twylyte" -> "Spacebirdmatingcall" -> "The Great Abyss" -> "Hot Air Balloon" -> "Lunar Pursuit" -> "Pilin' It High" -> "Reactor"
E: "Highwire" -> "42"