Will I die at Camp Bisco?
That’s the question I asked myself as I sat in a long line of vehicles making their way to the top of Montage Mountain — the new home of the electronic music festival now in its 13th year.
I knew little about Bisco — one-sided stories alleging fatalities, ambulances racing back and forth between the festival and nearby hospitals and being banned from hosting a festival in 2014. On the flip side, the festival was expected to bring more than 15,000 loyal festival-goers from around the country to visit Northeastern Pennsylvania and boost the local economy, according to David Niedbalski, vice president of marketing for Live Nation.
Between tales of a sketchy past and potential for a positive economic impact, what was the truth about Camp Bisco?
From July 15 through July 18, I experienced one of the most unforgettable weekends of my life — an experience I never thought could exist in NEPA. I lost myself and discovered who I am at the same time. Ultimately, I explored a culture where nothing matters other than good vibes, good music and abandoning all logic and inhibitions to experience the best life has to offer.
After waiting in line for almost three hours to be checked by security, I realized the wait was due to diligent inspection. Security wasn’t messing around. If drugs were found, they were confiscated. If security found alcohol that wasn’t in a can or plastic bottle, it was confiscated. Security checked every inch of my car for about 20 minutes.
Mindy Stewart of Muncy, New York, camped with a group of friends next to me and my friends. She said drug dogs found weed in her friend’s car during early inspections and police seized it. Marina Pedroza and Natalie DeRitis of Philadelphia said security wasn’t invasive as time went on. Security “seemed tired” by the time the girls’ car was checked at nearly 4 a.m. They said they waited for about seven hours.
But drugs were bound to find their way into Bisco. There were scents of meth floating around — it was none of my business. Like most of the people I talked to, I was their to worry about the music.
More than 80 musical acts performed nearly 100 sets on four different stages throughout Montage Mountain. Music styles ranged from improvised rock to electronic DJ acts to indie rock to hip-hop.
I couldn’t wait to see ILoveMakonnen perform his song “Tuesday.” It’s kind of my anthem whenever I want to turn up on a weeknight. I learned I wasn’t alone when he performed on the Above the Waves stage. It may have been Thursday, but with thousands of people screaming, “Got the club goin’ up on a Tuesday…” at the same time, I didn’t care what day of the week it was. I was officially in the zone to bump, grind, jump up and down and let the music flow right through me and every percent of my blood and alcohol content level. ILoveMackonnen even showed love for local food vendor, What The Fork, by allowing employee James Bodnar on stage to party with him.
The Disco Biscuits took the main stage at the Pavilion for their first of six sets throughout the weekend.
“You know they’re making most of this up as they go along, right?” said my friend Jordan. “They improvise. It’s great.”
I couldn’t disagree.
The moment I truly understood why festivals attract cult followings was when Pretty Lights took the main stage for an electronic DJ performance unlike anything I had ever seen. I had never witnessed the combination of a laser light show with electronic music before. The experience was euphoric; almost hypnotizing. In that moment, I — along with everyone else dressed in costumes and holding signs of random pop-culture icons plastered to a stick — forgot all about who I was. I was feeling the music and appreciating Pretty Lights’ expression of art and his ability to take the audience away from their reality.
Russell from Atlanta, Georgia, told me the laser light show during Pretty Lights made him feel like he traveled to another galaxy. Sure, he said he was tripping on acid at the time, but again, that was none of my business.
“Bisco isn’t real life,” my friend Jordan told me the next morning.
He was right. I was surrounded by the friendliest group of people I ever met. Everyone made eye contact with each other. Everyone asked strangers who they were looking forward to watch perform that day. Everyone was just chill and happy to be experiencing a weekend of great music with great people. Some even said they traveled in groups of up to 30 people — most of whom they met at other festivals. They were a community, and I was quickly feeling part of it.
Throughout the weekend, everybody had their favorite acts. Garrett Schewchuk of Fairfield, Connecticut, couldn’t stop talking about Slow Magic’s performance.
“What I thought was awesome about his performance was he was DJing and playing the drums at the same time,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive that you can multitask like that on stage.”
For me, the best performances went to Louis Futon, Big Gigantic, Bassnectar, JAUZ and Pretty Lights.
When people weren’t watching a musical act, they were enjoying the water park. Corey Wood from Buffalo, New York, was experiencing his seventh Bisco and said the water park adds an element that never before existed at the festival. “I love the infrastructure here. The mountain is beautiful and amazing and provides a unique dynamic,” he said.
By Sunday morning, I realized I hadn’t slept or showered in days. I lost my right contact. I was chaffing. I smelled like a k-hole. I was loving life.
I left the festival knowing their was no reason for me to be concerned about dying at Bisco. Sure, every now and then you’d see someone having a seizure and their friends screaming for a medic three times fast hoping they’d show up like Beetlejuice — but Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rowland confirmed to Weekender, “There were no deaths at Camp Bisco or related to Camp Bisco.”
Rumors and stories of a few assholes who decided to do illegal shit not condoned by the festival organizers almost prevented me from experiencing the greatest three days I’ve ever had in Northeastern Pennsylvania. If you didn’t experience Camp Bisco, you really missed out on diversified live music, a wild party and meeting thousands of people from around the country who were accepting of anyone down for a good time.
“Will I die at Camp Bisco?” was the question I cautiously asked myself as I sat in a long line of vehicles slowly making their way to the top of Montage Mountain. Three days later, I realized I should have asked myself if I’d live — because there’s a difference — and I did.
Reach Justin Adam Brown at 570-991-6652