I had no idea what to expect from Camp Bisco. I had never been to this festival before, but I knew that by 2013 it had developed a pretty negative reputation, was kicked out of its previous location in New York state, and the organizers decided to take 2014 off to regroup. Even Bisco veterans were new to the Scranton, PA, location, and I went into it with high hopes but medium expectations.
Bisco opened at 6pm Wednesday, but my crew didn’t arrive until early Thursday morning. This meant we had plenty of time to read all about the disasters that people encountered on their way in, including many hours in various lines, shuttle service that took a break overnight and stranded people in offsite parking lots, and a security team that took their time going through literally every item in people’s bags. When we finally arrived at Bisco, the overall sense of chaos was evident and at every turn it was clear that hardly anyone on staff knew what they were doing. Somehow, though, we got really lucky and from the time we hit the festival traffic near the entrance to the time our camp was set up was maybe a little over 3 hours. This is nothing compared to the pain and suffering that other people encountered, and I’m grateful for that even though I wanted to hurt people after baking in the sun and lugging many pounds of camping gear up a mountain.
As far as the security process going from the campgrounds into the actual festival, the lines were never more than a few minutes long and it was overall pretty lax. The one thing I will say, though, was that there was a seemingly arbitrary “alcohol check point” as you walked from one end of the grounds to the other to get to the main stage. If you were carrying a drink you were told you weren’t allowed to continue walking with it, which made a ton of people start chugging beers. I cannot for the life of me understand why you weren’t allowed to bring a beer from one stage to the other and it seems pretty unsafe to basically force people to drink faster than they normally would have.
There was an interesting mix of people at Bisco. Most were the cool, laid back festival people that I love, with only a few bad eggs running around. Even though Bisco is 18+, it seemed to be on average a much younger crowd than Electric Forest, which is all ages. My one complaint is that Bisco had far more festival and overall music newbies than I had ever encountered anywhere else. I’m not passing any judgement because once upon a time I, too, was new to the whole scene, but I was really surprised to meet so many people who had not heard of a single person on the lineup. Festival-goers love talking about music, and it’s always a little disappointing to strike up a conversation with someone only to realize that they can’t talk shop with you. I must have talked to everyone within a 3 foot radius of me while waiting for Big Gigantic to come on, and not a single one of them knew who Big G was. I had expected to meet at least a few fellow Big G Family members down in the pit, and while I was happy to share my love of Big G with the people who didn’t know them, it would have been nice to have some of that enthusiasm reciprocated.
Bisco has a WATER PARK. And unlike at Forest, the water park is right on the festival grounds, not accessible by a shuttle (I never visited Forest’s water park and don’t even know where the shuttle was – way too much effort for me). Bisco had various water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool, which is similar to a beach in that it starts off shallow and gets deeper as you walk further in. The wave pool was right next to one of the stages, so you could dance with your feet in the water (which I did multiple times), or even full out swim if you wanted to. The lazy river was also pretty close to that stage, so you could peacefully float along and bask in the sunshine while still catching some good music. We spent a good amount of time in the river each morning, catching an early set or 2 before returning to camp to prepare for the rest of the day.
Because Montage Mountain is a ski resort, you could also take a ski lift over the festival grounds for $5, and for an additional $20 you could ride down on a zipline. I had every intention of doing this but wasn’t able to because right as I was about to they shut the festival down for 1.5 hours due to an approaching thunderstorm.
The one thing I noticed about Bisco was that, as far as I can recall, there was literally no art around. There were vendors, of course, and there was a big CAMP BISCO sign that lit up in rainbow colors at night, but I’m used to festivals at least having a few cool art installations. But…WATER PARK! So it’s okay.
The water situation at Bisco was the worst I’ve seen at a festival in a long time. The festival map showed only two free water stations, which to begin with is not nearly enough (particularly when you’re selling water for $4.75), but on day 1, one of those stations didn’t even exist. The single water station that was functioning had 8 spigots, at least one of which wasn’t working, and the remaining ones were incredibly slow. Not to mention that on the wall behind the spigots was a giant sign that read, “JACK DANIELS.” The only saving grace for Bisco was that because of the onsite water park, there were outdoor showers and an indoor lodge with real bathrooms, which gave people a few more opportunities to fill up their bottles.
By the second day of the festival 2 more water stations had been added, and by the third day, they finally replaced the Jack Daniels sign with a more appropriate “H2O” one. Stupid.
As I mentioned, Montage Mountain is a ski resort. The main consequence of this is that instead of flat, grassy campgrounds, we were housed on a rocky, very slanted mountain. Sleeping was a little difficult when there were rocks jabbing into your back and your body kept wanting to roll down to the bottom of your tent. Walking uphill was exhausting, and walking downhill on roads with loose rocks was treacherous. I’m pretty pleased that I somehow managed to get around 4-5 hours of sleep each night.
The layout of the actual festival grounds wasn’t too bad. It was pretty small and very walkable, but my one complaint would be the somewhat narrow pathways which caused some major traffic jams when coming and going from the more popular sets. The ideal festival layout for me is a big, circular space, allowing for people to walk in basically any direction without causing bottlenecks.
Despite the fact that Bisco felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t. Scranton is less than 3 hours from NYC by car, and is also accessible by Greyhound and probably any other form of transportation you could want. The on-site parking was minimal and passes sold out well in advance, so most people had to do offsite parking and then take a shuttle (think: big yellow school bus) to the grounds. If you think that an army of school buses is an effective or efficient way of transporting thousands of people and tons of camping equipment, you’re absolutely wrong. People waited HOURS in the sun for those shuttles, and a few brave souls attempted the 3 mile uphill walk over the wait. There was a rumor that 2 people actually suffered heart attacks from doing this, but that is totally unconfirmed. The punchline: if you go to Bisco, buy a parking pass first thing.
Not too shabby, all things considered. The pass + camping was less than $300, so if you’re lucky enough to not have to pay for transportation (i.e. rent a car, like we did), you can do Bisco for the low low.
I just need to give a massive shout out to Bisco for the way they handled the aforementioned thunderstorms. Once the ominous clouds started rolling in, they suspended the festival and told everyone to take cover at their campsites or under the amphitheater. I was situated in the amphitheater, and we sat there for about an hour and a half as we waited for the torrential downpours to pass. They did, and then the music resumed (with a bonus rainbow!). It was as easy as that. As soon as the announcement to evacuate came on, I had immediate, panicked flashbacks to last summer’s Hudson Project, the festival whose third day was canceled due to storms and whose grounds turned into a big muddy pit which stranded thousands of people and cars who couldn’t get out without the assistance of tow trucks. In fact, when Bisco told us to leave the stage area I yelled, “THIS IS JUST LIKE HUDSON PROJECT,” and a random dude came up and hugged me.
I realized that a major benefit of having a festival on Montage Mountain, which does host frequent concerts in addition to being a water park and ski area, is that they already have a protocol in place to deal with inclement weather. And despite the fact that getting in to the festival was borderline insanity, the staff handled the rain like professionals. I’m sure everyone who was in attendance is grateful.