Schenectady County

Camp Bisco never sleeps

Genavie’s hoarse voice was just barely audible over the pounding of the generator bathing her campsi

Genavie’s hoarse voice was just barely audible over the pounding of the generator bathing her campsite in artificial light during the predawn hours of Saturday morning.

Her face was painted, and she was still wearing the bikini top she wore during the daylight hours, when the sun was beating down on her and several thousand of her closest friends. She took a drag off of her menthol cigarette and then washed it down with a swallow of Bud Light as the roar of the crowd became audible somewhere off in the distance.

She had a choice of a graduation present: either a trip to the Bahamas or a ticket to Camp Bisco, the three-day “jamtronica” festival in the rural lakeside hamlet of Mariaville. She didn’t hesitate to choose the latter.

“Like, you’re chilling. You’re camping,” said the girl from Florida, who wouldn’t give her last name after a stern nod of disapproval from her older sister. “You’re living here for three days, not like leaving and going to a hotel.”

And that means you meet people, she explained — people who are down to earth; people who become your extended family; people like Sam Mays from New Jersey, one of several hundred campers crowded into a small slice of field dubbed Camp 7.

Before Wednesday, he was just another face in the crowd. Now he’s a friend, a fellow camper — someone to share the Bisco experience.

“Here you can feel free,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming home.”

Making friends at Camp Bisco, the festival that draws at least 12,000 people to the sleepy town, is as easy as taking a seat. Even in the dead of night, it’s perfectly acceptable to drop into a campsite, especially if it’s one of the many rollicking into the wee hours of the morning.

Drugged and raucous

Bisco is a festival that never sleeps, a virtual city set on 200 acres of field that booms from dawn to dusk. At any hour of the day, there’s an artist or amateur spin doctor twisting tracks for an audience that can range from a few dozen to several thousand.

Loathed by some and loved by others, Camp Bisco stormed into its eighth year at the Indian Lookout Country Club Wednesday, without respite for either fans or residents. There’s no sleeping during Bisco, which is a point of contention for those living within remarkably long earshot of the campground and source of inspiration for those dwelling within its confines.

The Bisco crew isn’t one to shy away from illicit drugs, as the festival’s reputation has predicated. About three dozen fans got a ride to Ellis Medical Center in Schenectady in 2012, most of them stricken after overdosing on drugs.

But this year’s tally seemed to be far less. Ellis reported treating 13 patients from the festival but only one who needed to be admitted, for injuries sustained in a fall.

Every injury is a blow to Frank Potter, the owner of the 200-acre site. They’re part of his family, he said Thursday, staring out across the campground.

Still, few of those attending the festival were bashful about their drug consumption, whether it be psychedelics or the nearly ubiquitous essence of marijuana. It’s Bisco’s hard-partying nature that unabashedly powers the festival into the wee hours of morning, much to the dismay of neighbors.

The thumping bass at Bisco is a point of contention with those living around the lake — as well as others.

“I would have sworn the performers were on stage in my backyard,” said Andy Marino, a resident of Delanson, nearly six miles away.

Even after the last acts have played, there are dozens of others to carry on. Campsites across the sprawling campground take the pre-dawn pause in performances to crank up their own, making Bisco a ceaseless party that booms until sunrise.

Leah Sachs of Connecticut returned to the festival after trying LSD there in 2012. The experience was life-altering, she explained, and one that drew her back to the campground this year.

“This is home,” she said, as the sounds of Bassnectar thundered overhead. “Camp Bisco — this is my home.”

Diverse sounds, sights

The festival poses a dichotomy of sorts, since the band that created it is drastically different than some of the more popular acts that appear on the festival ticket. Musically speaking, the Disco Biscuits are a far cry from Baauer, the mixologist who spun tracks on an opposing stage underneath a crowded tent about 100 yards away.

Bisco fans love music. All it takes to grab several hundred of them is a good base line and a DJ who can work the crowd.

Along the line of vendors is the Ice Cream Disco, a vendor that offers both ice cream and a mix of music its customers can enjoy with their cone. The idea came from Eric Stewart of Taylor Freezer of Albany, who figured an ice cream stand coupled with a disc jockey would be a draw at Bisco.

“I said, ‘We have to do something fun here, this is a fun crowd,’ ” he said.

Thus was born the Ice Cream Disco. When Bisco cranks down, the disco cranks up, meaning there are generally several dozen people dancing in front of his ice cream stand, a number that multiplies as the beats bang on.

“Next thing you know, there are 50 people there,” he said.

Others attractions are more subtle. Danny Waltman of Seattle started the “hippie trap trading post” with a hula hoop and a tarp.

“It started when we put the tarp out and the neighbors put a hula hoop on it. We put out a sign that said ‘hippie trap,’ and people kept putting stuff down. So we changed the sign to say ‘hippie trading post,’ ” he said.

Campers dropped everything from candy and business cards to temporary tattoos and glow sticks on the tarp.

By early morning Saturday, the tarp had a collection of items that attracted fans. The only item roundly ignored was a dollar bill Waltman’s girlfriend threw into the mix.

“Nobody has taken the money,“ she said. “Isn’t that crazy? No money.”

Such is the case with Bisco, a place where the conventional laws and mores of society melt away — a place where just about anything goes.

“All in all, it’s fun. People are a little [expletive] up… we’re a little [expletive] up,” said Lani O’Dell, Waltman’s girlfriend. “Here, it’s like it almost helps you expand your thoughts and your being.”

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