When The Disco Biscuits first launched Camp Bisco in the summer of 1999, the band wanted to create a setting where they could bridge the gap between jam band music festivals and DJ parties, while combining the energy and elements of electronic music with their own brand of improvisational rock. Originally serving as an intimate gathering for friends and fans, the festival steadily grew as the Biscuits added acts like Umphrey’s McGee, and later Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, and so many more.
Camp Bisco is set to return to Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA on July 18th, 19th, and 20th. In addition to six sets from host band The Disco Biscuits, Camp Bisco 2019 will feature performances by a mix of fan-favorite electronic and jam artists including Bassnectar, Odesza, Tipper, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Ganja White Night, Liquid Snails, Space Jesus + Friends, 1 7 8 8 – L, Anomalie, Aqueous, Bleep Bloop, Ekali, Ghost-Note, Herobust, Jack Harlow, Jade Cicada, Kalya Scintilla & Eve Olution, Kasbo, Louis Futon, Manic Focus, Minnesota, Mr. Bill, Mr.Bill.Gates, Octave Cat, PNUMA (Live), Rusko, Spafford, The Soul Rebels ft. GZA, SunSquabi, TAUK, Twiddle, Walker & Royce, Whipped Cream, Yheti, Yultron, Yung Bae, Eminence Ensemble, Evanoff, The Fritz, and many more.
Ahead of this year’s Camp Bisco, Live For Live Music‘s Sam Berenson had a chat with The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein to discuss the evolution of the festival, bringing electronic and jam band fans together, the band’s involvement in the booking process, the magic of Montage Mountain, and more.
Live For Live Music: What was the original vision with Camp Bisco?
Marc Brownstein: It was all about stage time for the Biscuits. We wanted to make sure that our fans got to experience a full Biscuit show with our full production, outdoors but at night. Then when we started it, we were kind of trying to mimic these parties that we would throw at a fraternity at [University of Pennsylvania] where it was bands playing from 8:00 till midnight–And then we would switch over into a DJ party. The Biscuits would play two sets and then one of our friends would DJ from 12:30 until 5:00 in the morning. And so for the first half of the night, we would be working and the second half we would be raging.
So yeah, we just kind of took that same format and expanded it into our festival. It started with a lot of drum and bass DJs. That was kind of where we were focused at Camp Bisco 1 and Camp Bisco 2. DB and Reid Speed, we had some great early acts on the lineup, and it was funny because at first, it was just our fans coming, and then there’d be a couple thousand people on the field. It would then switch over to the DJ party and it didn’t quite land the way that it ultimately ended up being because this was before electronic music had been popularized in the mainstream scene in America.
So there were about seven or eight years where we were doing this and toying with it and tinkering with it when we got Ott. When we started getting the Twisted Records stuff, Younger Brother came and Shpongle Live played. Hallucinogen was playing and we started to put on stuff that was pretty popular. Alex Patterson from The Orb came and played and then people started to watch because we were putting on artists that were coming in from Europe to play with us. And that’s sort of when it started to turn into something.
L4LM: It seems like it all sort of happened naturally.
MB: Yeah. And then 2008 hit. Bassnectar and Pretty Lights blew up and they had already been playing at our festival and that’s when Camp Bisco took on sort of its current iteration of what it ultimately became, which is a jam band festival mixed with a bass music festival. So, in a lot of ways, we look back and think to ourselves that we were a little bit ahead of the times. Luckily we stuck with it long enough that the times caught up with what we were trying to do, and what kind of a party we were trying to throw, but I don’t think that we could have predicted that this was going to happen in the way that it did, where the scene just blew up to the point where the festival became gigantic–But we’re certainly happy it did.
L4LM: What separates Camp from other electronic leaning-festivals in the States?
MB: Well, our differentiator at first was that we were the only people doing this, you know what I mean? So there’s a lot of imitators out there, there’s a lot of festivals that have kind of followed in the footsteps of Camp. You can look at what Camp Bisco, the kind of bands that are booked there, and the kind of DJs that are booked there, and try to package something like that easily and put it all on. The term “Bisco” came out of, it came out of the Biscuit scene. To the fans, it meant that indescribable feeling that you get like when you’re being swept away by the music. So in terms of our festival, it’s a unique mix. I think the electronic music festivals out there that are leaning towards being electronic music festivals are so much more electronic-oriented than Camp.
L4LM: I absolutely agree.
MB: Most bass festivals don’t have the mix of music that we have there. It’s a unique mix. First of all, you’re not going to get a bass festival that has seven sets of a jam band outside of Electric Forest. Electric Forest is one of my favorite festivals as a performer to go play at, and they have The String Cheese Incident and a very similar situation that the Disco Biscuits are in at that festival which is, it’s a massive electronic music festival and these guys are coming out and playing five, six sets of jam band music on the main stage and just pouring it down the throats of the young kids.
What’s really great about festivals like Camp Bisco and Electric Forest is a lot of these kids that are coming up, Pretty Lights fans, Bassnectar fans, Odesza fans, these are young kids and they haven’t been exposed necessarily to the jam band scene.
L4LM: Totally. Not everyone is exposed to bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead at a young age.
MB: There’s a ton of kids, thousands and thousands of kids that have now come to Electric Forest, and to The Disco Biscuits and to Camp Bisco for the last seven or eight years, who have been completely exposed and opened up to a whole different scene of music. We’ve made a lot of new fans who are much younger by opening the gates of our festival up into multiple genres. The New York Times wrote a story about, I don’t know, six or seven years ago, about how a festival run by a band is the equivalent of videos in the ’90s or radios in the ’80s. This is how a band that doesn’t get on the radio, or doesn’t get videos, is able to get their name out into a mass market by owning their own festival.
It’s a business that propels you into the mainstream sort of consciousness of kids all over the country. Again, this is a benefit. It’s not what we were intending. It’s a benefit to have come up with this idea and stick with it for two decades. But it seems emerging and sort of becoming one big thing and I guessis not for everyone, but there’s a lot of the Biscuit fans that have been opened up to all kinds of electronic music, and there’s a lot of Bassnectar and Odesza and Pretty Lights fans that have been opened up to The Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Umphrey’s McGee, and ultimately they learn about Phish and the Grateful Dead by being a part of our scene.
The kids are growing up too, all those kids are starting to grow up. Their tastes start to change and their minds start to open.
L4LM: And like you said, some of them just never had the chance or the exposure at it before. How involved are you and the rest of the band in the booking process for Camp Bisco?
MB: Well, that’s a great question. As we’ve gotten older and the festival has gotten bigger, we’ve started to take a little bit of a step back in the last year. The people who are booking the festival are exceptionally professional festival bookers. One of our very close friends and confidant was brought on to book. When we moved to Montage and we partnered with Live Nation, we brought in a third party booker who booked some of the bigger festivals in the country and it’s just somebody that we’re really close with and he does such an amazing job at it, that we don’t really have to spend that much time on it. The team booked one of the best lineups that we’ve ever put on at Camp Bisco and it was the year that I was on the least amount of conference calls.
20 years in, the brand is what the brand is, and they know what we have to do in order to be successful. They know that I really want Umphrey’s McGee at this concert, you know what I mean? So when it comes to bands like Umphrey’s and Sound Tribe and Lotus and the stuff from our scene specifically, we’re sort of handpicking and curating from year to year what it’s going to be. When it comes to the bass music, which is the stuff that I’m a little bit less familiar with, I’m more into house music in terms of the kind of electronic music that I listen to personally. I DJ house music and know the music a lot better. I know the younger acts a lot better because I have to sift through all of those acts for my DJ sets.
But we have people who are like fully up to their heads in that kind of music. They know everything before it hits. They know what’s going to be big next year. And when you’re throwing a festival, you have to know what’s going to be big next year. That’s one of the keys. We booked Dillon Francis and there were like a hundred people there and the next year there were 10,000 people there.
L4LM: That’s crazy.
MB: Yeah! We booked Skrillex for $5,000. And by the time the festival rolled around, eight months later, he was the main stage headliner. We had to make him the main stage headliner because in the time that we booked him for five grand and the time the festival hit, he had exploded to become one of the biggest DJs and producers in the country. So, I got to give it up to the guys that are doing that job because it’s not easy to necessarily have your finger on the pulse in a way where you’re going to know who’s going to be worth a hundred grand, but you could get them for five grand right now, and that’s like the festival business stuff. I have to worry about what The Disco Biscuits play, what are our sets going to look like, what kind of music, like what songs are we going to learn, what songs are we going to write. That’s where my head’s at, where I like to be when it comes to Camp Bisco.
Over the years we brought the color war in. That was from The Disco Biscuits, and it’s something that has become adopted by both the Bassnectar kids and the Biscuits kids. The color war is an event where the Bassnectar kids and Biscuits kids interact all weekend long. It’s been really fun to watch that evolve over the last 10 years. We brought in yoga, the whole wellness program, the 5K, and more. Again, that was stuff that we brought to the table because we wanted to shape the festival. We wanted the festival to mature a little bit. We wanted the festival to grow up. We want to offer a really unique experience for a music festival to the fans that are like us, that are getting older and don’t want to rage until 6:00 a.m. but want to go to bed when the music ends, wake up at 10:00, do yoga, and then get on with their day.
For me, it’s more about how can we make the experience of each individual who’s coming and buying a ticket at Camp Bisco the best experience possible. What are the things that we can do? How can we make the VIP experience better? How can we make the general admission experience better?
Those are the kinds of things that we concentrate on. I go around the festival all weekend long every year looking for things that we can improve upon for the next year, and it’s an ongoing process. How do we make this a great experience? And then you’re talking about The Biscuit shows, how do we make the Biscuit shows great for the fans? There’s a lot of sets to play and a big range of emotions throughout the weekend. Everybody has their role at Camp Bisco and it’s become a team where there are hundreds of people working on it throughout the whole entire course in the year.
L4LM: It must be a comforting feeling having such a trustworthy team. Camp Bisco has changed locations throughout the years. How did Montage Mountain come to be the latest home of the festival?
MB: We booked the 2015 festival and had permitting issues. We were like six weeks out. We had booked a whole festival with Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, GRiZ, Bassnectar, everybody was there. And about six to eight weeks before the festival was about to happen, we went in front of the permitting board up in Albany. Aron Magner from The Biscuits put a suit on and he went up himself with our agent and our manager. They all went up and went in front of the permitting board and the permit was denied for one reason or another. It was an overwhelming amount of people for a very small town.
The town where we were doing this didn’t have the infrastructure. The roads would get backed up for miles and miles and miles. ILCC wasn’t built for it. The land could hold 20,000 people, but the towns around the land weren’t designed to bring in 20,000 people. Ultimately they denied the permit and we knew that Peach Fest was held at Montage Mountain. We’ve been working with Live Nation for two decades now on our regular concerts here in Philly, so we reached out to them and we knew that they had the infrastructure to throw a festival. They didn’t need to build anything. They don’t need permits. It’s a concert venue. They have parking for 17,000 people and can hold 17, 000 people in the amphitheater.
We knew getting 17,000 people in at Montage Mountain wouldn’t be a problem. It’s in a city, it doesn’t really back up traffic, so there’s not really an issue. We knew that this was the kind of place that could solve our problems. It was just a matter of can we pull this off in 24 hours? We called up Live Nation and we told them that we lost our permits and they agreed to take on Camp Bisco. We found the dates and within 48 hours we moved to a new promoter and a new grounds, and we put tickets on sale. It was great! We sold like 7,000 tickets on the first day. Everybody had been waiting for this announcement. People knew that there were permitting issues. And thankfully we found our partner. They’re great.
L4LM: What a quick rebound. Let’s discuss the importance of hosting Camp in Pennsylvania for you and the band.
MB: It all started in Pennsylvania, but Camp Bisco really built into what it is now at Indian Lookout. That’s where the identity, the true new identity of Camp Bisco was born. But bringing it back to Pennsylvania, there was something about that which kind of refocused the festival into what it’s ultimately become. I think that the festival almost started to outgrow itself when we were up in New York and where we are now it just feels like home. It feels like a Disco Biscuits festival. It just feels right to us, it feels natural.
One of the great things about this particular venue is, if you’re going to be playing six or seven sets over four nights of music, you’re going to get hit by rain in the summer, but this is a tented amphitheater. So, every year ultimately when the storm hits, everybody just kind of pours into the amphitheater and we just rage all that much harder. People are swimming in four inches of water, just coming down from the grass. The amazing thing is we’re able to throw this concert no matter what the weather is like.
L4LM: Sounds like a party! Montage has a lot to offer beyond the music. What are your favorite things to do when you have a chance to hang out?
MB: Well, the honest truth is I’m working the whole entire time, but my family hangs in the waterpark the whole time. Some of the other guys in the band have a little bit more free time on their hands and they throw their bathing suits on and go on the water slides. You can’t understand how incredible it is to have a wave pool and a lazy river right around the second stage. It’s unbelievable. You talk about other festivals and some of the features that the other festivals have, like the forest at Electric Forest has these art installations that create an unbelievable experience.
The waterpark is surreal. It’s a surreal experience. There are DJs raging on the stage, bands raging. You have bands like Twiddle and Pigeon Playing Ping Pong raging and people are racing, flying down the waterpark, zip lining down the mountain. It’s just incredible. I mean, it’s the lining feature of Camp Bisco. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the infrastructure of that festival—real bathrooms and the lodge. Being at a ski mountain and having a lodge with real bathrooms and lockers and a restaurant is awesome. There’s even a Ben and Jerry’s onsite.
You can’t underestimate how important it is to have Ben and Jerry’s stands all over the waterpark. People love them. It’s just like a little touch of heaven.
L4LM: Sounds like heaven.
MB: Yeah, there’s a Johnny Rockets there too. You could go get a burger. It’s crazy.
L4LM: Are there any performers you haven’t seen that you’re particularly looking forward to this summer?
MB: I’m really excited to see Walker & Royce and I’m excited about The Soul Rebels with GZA.
L4LM: That’ll be cool.
MB: It’s going to be super cool. I’ve seen all of these bands like Ghost-Note, Aqueous, SunSquabi, Spafford, and TAUK. These guys are my friends. I think I’m most excited that we got Umphrey’s back, to be honest. It wasn’t easy to get Umphrey’s back on the lineup. We’ve been trying to get them for a bunch of years now, and between Peach Festival and this other festival they have played right around that time, everyone’s trying to land the same talent. The Umphrey’s guys are our best friends. But when you start to get into booking territory, all that goes out the window. Everything turns to straight the agents and the promoters and I’ll get on the phone and just be like, “What the fuck? Let’s just get Umphrey’s.”
So the fact that it all came together this year makes it that much sweeter. Our fans are able to look at this and be like, “Wow, The Biscuits, Sound Tribe, Umphrey’s”, and then you have Pnuma, SunSquabi, TAUK, Spafford, Ghost-Note, Octave Cat, and Twiddle. These are just a list of the bands, and then the Bassnectar fans are able to look down the list and be like, “Wow, Tipper, Odesza, Ganja White Night, Space Jesus”. All the way down the list, there’s so much music for whoever you are.
L4LM: Yeah. There’s really something for everyone.
MB: Something for everyone and it’s just there’s … you couldn’t possibly see it all anyway.
L4LM: I know we have to wrap this up. What is one thing you couldn’t live without over the weekend at Camp Bisco?
Brownie: One thing I couldn’t live without over the weekend at Camp Bisco? I mean it’s three things I can’t live without.
L4LM: What are they?
MB: It’s Jon, Aron, and Allen. I cannot live without them. That’s all I need, that’s all we need as long as the four of us are there.
L4LM: That’s awesome. I love it! Thank you so much for your time and here’s to another amazing Camp Bisco!
For more information and ticketing details for Camp Bisco 2019, head over to the festival website.