Camp Bisco isn’t coming to Duanesburg, but the show will go on.
The three-day music festival headlined by The Disco Biscuits will be held at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pennsylvania, this summer, the band announced on its Instagram page Wednesday.
The event has been scheduled for the same three days — July 16, 17 and 18 — that the organizer had initially tried to schedule at Indian Lookout Country Club, a 200-acre venue in the lakeside community of Mariaville. But earlier this month, nearly three months after the organizer first applied, Schenectady County officials denied a permit for the festival and said it could be held only with a large police presence on the grounds and a much higher insurance fee.
“I know they were looking for other locations in the event the county didn’t work with us,” said Jim Kelly, an attorney for Frank Potter, who’s owned the venue for more than two decades.
Camp Bisco was held at Indian Lookout Country Club for seven straight years until last summer, when Denver-based organizer MCP Presents announced it was going on hiatus.
The event had drawn negative headlines in recent years after a staff member was found dead in his tent and local health officials reported a spike in drug and alcohol overdoses each time the event rolled around. In 2013, festival organizers and the campground owner were hit with a lawsuit on behalf of Heather Bynum, a 2012 festivalgoer whose mother says emergency responders took too long to get to Bynum after she suffered a massive seizure at the event and fell into a coma.
Late last year, Ken Hays, founder of Gathering of the Vibes, another festival formerly held in Mariaville, began working with Potter to see about reviving Camp Bisco with a greater emphasis on safety and a more relaxed vibe. They submitted applications for a mass-gathering permit in January and received the go-ahead from state police and the state departments of Health and Transportation.
But in early April, the county issued a 22-page denial with a lengthy list of safety and traffic concerns. The only event that would be allowed, the county said, was one with a zero-tolerance policy toward drug use.
“You’ll never find anybody more adamantly against drugs than I am,” Potter said. “I don’t even drink. I bought this place to be able to do events, and of course you’re going to have problems with events. SPAC has problems. I’m sure Proctors has problems every now and then. Everybody has problems. But we’ve policed ourselves for over 25 years. We’ve worked well with the sheriff’s department and the state police.”
In its denial letter, the county said Potter must include a contractual agreement with law enforcement agencies to provide at least 20 officers assigned to traffic control and 50 officers stationed throughout the grounds 24 hours day, as well as drug-sniffing dogs at entrance gates and throughout the property.
Potter said he’s always hired his own security for events on the grounds and they have proven themselves more than capable of policing Camp Bisco. His attorney called the county’s demand unrealistic and said it would require more police on duty at any one time than even the city of Albany keeps on duty.
In addition, the county asked for $50 million in excess insurance fees, an amount Kelly says goes beyond what you would ask of someone hosting President Obama’s first inauguration.
“It’s been $1 million general liability and maybe $5 million excess in the past,” he said. “That’s standard for any kind of entertainment venue. So for them to require $50 million in excess fees? That’s not only cost-prohibitive, it’s arbitrary and capricious. What insurance experts did they hire who said that was appropriate?”
Kelly said he’s preparing legal action against the county that would have a judge rule on whether the county was within its legal rights to ask for such coverage and said such an action would also seek damages for the loss Potter will sustain by Camp Bisco going elsewhere.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said the excess insurance coverage was appropriate given the potential liability the county still faces in the Bynum lawsuit.
“What is the value of 15 to 20,000 lives?” he said. “I’m sure it exceeds $50 million in any court. So I think it’s kind of bad reckoning by them. The potential liability we’re facing is unbelievable, and that’s why we thought that higher insurance amount was justified.”
The economic impact of Camp Bisco numbered in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kelly estimated.
“It’s huge, a huge loss,” Potter said, “not just for me, but for the community. We have a local garbage guy who brings us the Dumpsters. The hotels, God, they take 3 or 400 rooms. It’s just a large sales tax loss. It’s a huge loss all the way around.”
Potter said he’s unsure whether he’ll ever be able to host another music festival again. “It’s going to be very difficult,” he said. “I mean, what promoter would want to come here thinking they might have those kinds of restrictions put on them at the 11th hour? It’s going to be very difficult to sell this place to them. And that’s what we do. We rent our land out.
“It’s very disappointing. I’m just one guy, and they get away with this? Everybody’s fair game. People need to wake up. We’re all fair game here.”