Camp Bisco X: The Volunteer Experience

Sorry kids, no Bisco this year.
Treating the property and town like a cess pool has finally
caused the event to be cancelled.  Thanks for ruining it.
Guess you’ll have to do your shitty drugs somewhere else.

In the meantime please check out one year’s write up
Camp Bisco XI Womps Mariaville’s Indian Lookout Again
Happy memories or random nuggets of wisdom for you nervous first timers

You’re welcome
Click the “facespace” link above to tell us how great we are

Hit the volunteer gate  at 5:30.  We were told to be there by 10 a.m. at the latest.  As I watched the car ahead of me drive in, the biker running the gate told me I was too early and to come back at 9.  I stared up out of my car window in disbelief, attempting to reason with him before he got annoyed and shooed me away.  I put the car in reverse, grumbling to myself.

Two and a half hours later, after driving down to turn around and take a place at the end of the line, traffic was at a complete halt.  Three hours in the car was enough, so it was parked, locked and I walked the last thirty yards to the main gate.  The entire entry lot was full.  While a second gate had been advertised it was locked and unmanned when I drove past.  For this lot full of people there were three port-a-johns.  While waiting I met a girl who’d been at the same Afroman show in Farmville, Virginia six years ago, small world.  Once at the front of the line we noticed one hole had an out of order sign, the third was filled almost to the brim and the middle commode is pictured to the left.  I traded a sticker for some toilet paper and used the least disgusting of the trio.

The gate opened an hour early as the road continued backing up for miles in each direction.  I managed the volunteer gate again and gained entry.  My car searched, tiki torches and fuel swiped because of the extreme danger they posed as an open flame, I was finally ushered into Indian Lookout Country Club.

The volunteer check-in was manned by two hardworking women.  The line was fairly short when I arrived but quickly grew to 20 or 30 volunteers as confusion reigned.  Some people had just shown up and they were accommodated.  Others, such as myself, had no duty schedule.  Sixteen hours hard labor is the trade for entry.  To ensure shift completion, a deposit is required up front.  I wouldn’t trust a bunch of festivalers either.

The insanity begins

An immediate opening was available and the prospect of getting half the workload finished in the first eight hours of the weekend seemed a good idea.  Equipped with an orange volunteer shirt, I was loaded into a white pickup, and dumped in a field. Six hours as a human road cone was about to begin.  Vehicles began streaming over the hill.

The grounds where Camp Bisco is held cover around 50 acres.  Last year somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand party goers made the journey.  By noon Thursday half the grounds were full and the flow continued to increase.  The hired parking crew was less than polite and tempers were hot after people spent seven hours in line only to be separated from their friends in the campground at the last minute.  One woman I hadn’t even parked yelled in my face about her location until I finally simply thanked her for taking it out on me and walked away.  Everyone wanted what they wanted and didn’t care about much else.

Interesting to say the least, the sun beat down, scorching my pale, pale skin as I did my best to calm the natives and keep things peaceful.  One person thanked me for being the first guy who knew what was going on.  I told him no one had any clue what they were doing.   Everybody had their own idea of what they wanted to do and it was a fight to get anyone to listen.

Four o’clock on the dot, time to cruise the hell outta here.  My volunteer partner, Heather, led the way to her pop up, handed me a cold beer and little was said or done for the next half hour.  Volunteers get the best spot in the place, camped on top of the hill, next to a little pond.  Unfortunately the biker who’d wasted three of my hours forced my car to be left far away, near the volunteer check-in.

Ben Sliver finishing off the set for Orchard Lounge

Luckily, the dance tent was on the way.  Orchard Lounge returned, spinning an early set to get the party started once again.  Listing themselves as the Biscuits “de factor hype men (and woman)” the Chicago based trio tours nationally, crowds moving to their unique blend of sound and beats.

My car was f’d.  It’d been left since I went to work upon arrival.  Now, completely encircled, I got out a chair and began unloading what I’d need to haul to the campsite, a mile and a half away.  It was fine.  A long backpacking trip is in the near future so I tested loading gear onto my pack.  A neighbor appeared so I gave her a beer and a tie-dye to make nice.  It pays to have people like you at these sorts of things when you won’t be near your stuff.  SBTRKT rocked a crazy mask as I took a breather from my portage at the Dance Tent.

My artist and biznass partner still hadn’t made it in the gate yet.  Texts from three hours past told of a parking lot for miles down the road in either direction.  He was only three vehicles from the gate and going nowhere fast.  I somehow found a kid from my fraternity in the crowd and kicked it with his friends for a few hours before wandering back home to check the phone.  Pockets are kept as light as possible.

The original entry lot, where cars were stopped and searched before being let into the grounds was now camping.  Two more cars got in behind him and that was that.  His wristband said 17,3xx.  It wasn’t even dark on Thursday yet.  I managed to slip through the less than hospitable security and wandered to his car.  As gear was hauled to our private pond, the house band worked through things in the background.

The Grooveshark Tent was added as a venue this year

By sundown Thursday there were more people than Saturday last year.  Entrance was closed other than single day tickets on Saturday.  As the music moved to the pair of tents the area was a mob scene.  If it wasn’t for the addition of the massive Grooveshark tent there would have been some unhappy campers.  Skrillex was the end of my evening.  Mob scene is an accurate description.

Friday dawned cool and a little cloudy as daylight dragged me out of bed.  Cool evenings seem to be the pattern in the Northeast as climate shift continues.  The bullfrogs around my tent greeted the day with me.  Six hours until the resumption of music, this is normally the only quiet time at a festival.  It’s never quiet at Bisco, but close enough.  Back to sleep.

Conspiracy theorists claimed we were sprayed. Here’s to cancer

Heat, the hot, stuffy air that fills a tent as the day creeps on.  The door unzipped and my head lolled out.  “Why am I not still sleeping?” I grumbled loudly.  “Because it’s hot,” Sam taunted.  Everything was upside down for a moment before I rolled to my feet.  July is hot, even this far north.

Two hours until music, four hours until anything decent.  At least the Bisco kids were bumping their vehicles everywhere you went.  The grounds were explored as we trekked out to the corner we’d been stuck in last year.  Every inch of space was covered.  Cars were squeezed between trees, tents tucked between them.  A few arrivals lugged gear from the furthest field where cars were still let in.

I offered to make the three mile trek to buy beer, but $23 was exchanged for 18 cans of Rolling Rock at the lot bar instead.  Beers inside the main area were $6 a pop.  Silly capitalists.  The cans were cold for the expense.  Not a bad trade for two hours.  The line of people wasting an hour of life waiting for a green paper dispenser was contemplated while Sam got the beer.

Time to work.  Stickers were cut, pamphlets folded, beers pocketed.  Easy Star All-Stars was first on the docket.  Heading toward the main stages gate, babbling about how great a show Easy Star is we were stopped and told they were done.  Eyes blinked, flitted to the sun and looked back to our informant.  The schedule was moved up 45 minutes without notice.  Second bummer after Rusko didn’t show on Thurday.

The vendors of Bisco are generally cool people.  A lot of original artists show up, hawking their wares.  Prices were high and people couldn’t understand how there was only $4 in my pocket.  The destitute still like to look.

araabMUZIK in the Grooveshark, Das Rascist on the main stage, walking and walking, searching for the beats.  The far road between the main stages and the tents had been turned into a cattle chute.  They must’ve brought in some civic engineers and asked them the worst possible way to let traffic flow.  The mob mooed from time to time while it shuffled along.

RJD2 graced Break Science with his presence and picked things up.  It’s always funny to find out an artist that’s been in your speakers for a decade is just another scrawny white guy.  At least he’s sick on the decks.  The veteran improved their set mightily.  As he signed off with 20 minutes to go we headed out as well.  The main area was packed, throngs milling under the hazy sun.

Clouds slowly drifted in as Black Moth Super Rainbow slid into their set on the adjacent main stage.  The side by side set up is nice as long as you’re not trapped behind a sound tent when they switch.  The livetronica trio’s wave of blissful insanity drifted over the assemblage.

Shpongle Live’s first North American appearance was what most were waiting for.  The downtempo project out of England has been around a long time to have never graced our shores.  It was a performance, more than a simple set.  Sirens took turns dancing and crooning to the crowd.  The audience stretched as far back as one could see.

A few moments into the performance the sky finally broke open, rain tumbling onto the dancing masses.  Lightning shot over the stage as guitars took the forefront, an acrobat levering himself upright on a pair of long poles.  A technicolor worm thrashed about wildly center stage.  Afterward the silence was deafening.  Everyone finally realized they were soaking wet, and weren’t very happy about it.  Glad I was there.

Two hours later, in dry clothes, Ratatat was so incredible forgot to take pictures.  Their sonic blend of thrashing guitar riffs and synthesized electronic beats captivated the crowd wrapped in darkness.  A late addition to the roster, the NYC duo’s music and visuals eclipsed perfectly.  At times a spotlight silhouetted the flying hair and fingers on guitar.

The remainder of the evening was spent in the Grooveshark tent.  Hay had been spread on the over saturated ground but footing in the laser sliced darkness was treacherous.  The late night crowd packed in as MSTRKRFT opened up their set.  The electro duo from Toronto blasted through an upbeat house session, spotlights whirling while screens rotating imagery back lit the performance.

Champagne bottle empty, several thousand people jostling as every addled ant decided where to scuttle, a decision had to be made.  The neighbors were winding down and the vehicle was found intact after a short jaunt from the shark.  Ghostland Observatory was next.  I dug out the last bottle smuggled in while babbling at the neighbors about how they couldn’t miss the show.  The first few chords thumped through the air and I was running.

Bisco X featured a lot of very unique acts, much to the masses delight.  Ghostland Observatory was the reason I made the journey.  Edging in from the side, smoke hung heavy in the air, flashing lasers into ceaselessly shifting patterns.  Aaron Behrens was a shadow in the mist, appearing everywhere at once, vocals bouncing.

First reaching my ear drums while hitching to High Sierra in 2009 (thanks for the ride Jackson), the Austin, Texas electro-funk duo’s influence has grown since their first album in 2005.  The amount of sound produced by a pair of musicians is staggering.  Thomas Turner is a mad scientist on the keys and provides the backdrop that allows Behrens to go wild.

The set list included a lot of tracks from their latest album Codename: Rondo, released last fall.  The craziest laser show of the weekend blinded while reverbed vocals melted into funky basslines and shimmering synthesizer beats.  Turner rocks a vampire cape and collar while Behrens channels the spirits of the people who once populated places like Mariaville.  After it ended I wandered lost in the silence for a few hours before crashing as the sun began to lighten the tree lined horizon.

Awake again.  The second contracted shift began at 8 a.m.  The light flooding the tent was much brighter than eight o’clock sun.  I turned on my phone long enough to see it was 11:30 before staggering blearily upright, grabbing the orange road cone uniform.  “I gave up after a while,” Sam said from the shade of our pop-up.  “It’ll be fine,” I mumbled before setting off, only to realize I had no idea where the VIP bathrooms were.

Forty minutes and a few miles later a supervisor was located and instructions were received.  Most things are obvious in the end.  For the low, low price of $389 (compared to the regular ticket of $160) you too could have went where I did for free.

The Very Important People got flush toilets and showers.  The toilets were constantly clogged due to low water pressure and overuse of toilet paper while the showers didn’t really function.  All water was hauled in by truck and pumped into tanks.  Gasoline was transported to fill a generator in between them.  I sat in front of this generator for four hours while fulfilling various, random odds and ends to help the paid staff.  The utter wastefulness of our society to allow a chosen few to enjoy creature comforts stared at me.

The fence kept out the riff raff

Food served in here was part of the package

Hammocks and internet stations were also available in the VIP food tent.  In addition to the previously mentioned amenities, the important ones also had a separate viewing area for each main stage, complete with beer tent, and a private show each night.  The food looked good but the line was lengthy.

This is my sticker on the building where important poop happened

Shift completed, my supervisor was thanked and reminded of my name.  The deposit money wasn’t mine and it needed to go back where it belonged.  Exhaustion was creeping in, but the sun was shining. After spending the morning working the VIP, my friend and I were waved through to enjoy the private viewing area.

Stickers were plastered everywhere and ours were still cool enough to stick out.  The ground made a good recovery from Friday’s rain, other than the sunless areas beneath the tents.  The grass had long ago been ground into oblivion and hay stuck out of the mud in all directions.

Wandering until Bassnectar at 10, the day moved on.  Ran into friends everywhere we went it seemed, and lots of young children spun out on disgusting chemicals I didn’t want to think about.  One pair of men I parked set up shop, providing a needed service for many of the Bisco kids.  I sat beneath their red parachute and watched for about half an hour.  Arrayed on the collapsible table before me were four, marked chemical bottles and a plastic tray one might use for watercolors.  People filed in and out, placing a small amount of whatever drug they were unsure of (most claimed it was Molly) on the tray.  A few drops of one chemical or the other and it was known what things actually were.

The first one fizzled and turned black.  “That’s not good…” stated the tester man.  The two young men who had produced the crystals stared for a moment, before looking at the second small pile of powder they’d offered.  “That one is basically Robotripping” (as in what would happen if you chugged a bottle of cough medicine).  Everyone seemed surprised for some reason.  One woman looked shocked at her results before stating “But I bought that from friends,” incredulously.  “They probably don’t know either,” the tester man offered.

Stories of six deaths from bad drugs had been spreading since early Friday morning.  There are drugs, and then there are drugs that kill people.  The ruthless demonization, illegal enforcement and prosecution of things such as marijuana has forced America’s youth to turn to what they can get.  Chemicals and prescription drugs fry brain cells, cause seizures and don’t show up in pee tests three days later.  We discussed the need to get the youth away from these things.  It is literally killing them, making wastes of human beings.  Cleaning up the scene had to start somewhere and for a lot of people it began under a red parachute at Bisco.

The second group of people providing a safe experience were the Digital Buddhas.  Describing themselves as “clean and sober fans of the Disco Biscuits” their tent was placed at the furthest end of vendor’s row.  Candy, stickers and literature were available for anyone who stopped.  Touring through the fall, ex-addicts provide needed support in a difficult place to be sober.

The sun began swinging toward the far horizon as Khalifa was Wizzin on the crowd’s ears.  Tokimonsta made the trip from LA but had two random dudes spinning crap and dancing like fools while she watched for some reason.  As the penultimate Biscuits set began we were the only two people sitting in the very back corner of the dance tent.  Security approached and we were removed after being instructed the tent was closed.  I looked around at the giant, open air tent that was completely empty other than us.  Turning to stare at the man for a moment, we took one step backward, out of the tent, and stopped.  Grow up Biscuits.  We know it’s your party.  You don’t need to chase us out of an area no one is playing because you need to have everyone fawning at you.  Have some confidence.

Bassnectar was next anyhow.  The area in front of the far stage filled without cease as the Biscuits played on.  The air was tense, everyone waiting for them to finish so the man many had come to see could dazzle.  Bassnectar delivered without the melodramatics this year.  Always dropping something original, mixing his most popular old beats with recent additions, the man and his flying dreadlocks are a sight worth seeing.  Visuals spiraled endlessly, highlighting the issues facing the generations assembled before his altar.

Wolfgang Gartner and Pretty Lights finished things off in the Grooveshark.  The crowd was thick, ground muddy, and a friend shared her French toast.  Pretty Lights spun two sets, more upbeat than his usual mellow offerings.  At one point half the speakers shut off and a vision of the end was provided as the masses simply stood and chanted “power.”  Pretty Lights was pissed he couldn’t go until 5:30.

Tent speakers shut down, the mob wandered toward the silent disco.  While there were many more head phones than last year, a shortage still existed as the battling djs were now the only source of live music.  Sunday dawned and people hung around the fencing, nothing else to do.  Some sunrise spinners provided entertainment and one camper hooked up his guitar and MacBook, the only live music at 5 a.m. for those of us without headphones.

Nothing to do outside the Silent Disco

Time to go.  The tent was dropped, pop-up painfully lowered alone and gear was hauled in three trips down to the car.  6 a.m. and ready to go.  The only problem was the sleeping campers still surrounding my vehicle.  One of the neighbors I hadn’t met yet told me it was her birthday.  I gave her a tie dye and wished her a happy 21st.

Two hours later on the road back to Syracuse, and real life, there was finally time to reflect on how it all went down.  Bisco X was successful in its way.  As one Biscuit said “You can’t get much bigger than sold out.”

The impact of these events continues to bother me, even as I attend them regularly.  The garbage strewn across the main field at the end of things was unsettling.  Resources are tightening and no one seems to worry.  Unless things become more sustainable everywhere, including music festivals, these events will not be able to continue.  I watched people from out of state throw garbage from their vehicles on the way in and out.  Guests trashing my state bothers me.

Next year will be Camp Bisco XI.  Will Indian Lookout continue to be the venue?  Will the Biscuits resist the urge to go bigger?  Only time will tell and details probably won’t be unveiled until sometime after the new year.  If you want to go next year get your tickets early, hope the lineup delivers again, and show up at 2 a.m. Thursday. You might manage to get inside.

Volunteer Final Scorecard:

* Cost = $10 application fee + $165 credit card deposit – $130 returned = $45 to get in

* One free Bisco X orange road cone t-shirt (color depended on what you were doing)

* Best camping location and early entry Wednesday night

* Camping location is near biker headquarters

* 16 hours or 21% of your time is spent working (I gave up sleep, not music)

* As a volunteer, if you look like you’re supposed to be there you can get anywhere (I did)

* Most people will be rude to you including your bosses, the paid help, campers and bikers

* You are part of the coolest people there.  Be safe, spread smiles

All in all, not a terrible deal if you’re broke.  In the end it cost less for the whole weekend than the price of a ticket.  Most big festivals offer volunteer options these days and Bisco is probably the most chaotic from what’s been heard.  Volunteer, go on tour, save $

Life’s a ball

a career in the haw haw haw haw

About a career in the haw haw haw haw

pissin' off readers since Camp Clusterfuck X
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