Shane O’Connell wasn’t taking any chances this year.
The Westchester County man arrived in the hamlet of Mariaville around 3 a.m. Wednesday and parked in the dirt parking lot across from the Mariaville Lakeside Country Store — about three-quarters of a mile from the entrance to Camp Bisco. With more than 18 hours before the gates were officially supposed to open, O’Connell decided to grab a few hours of shut-eye, only to awaken in the morning surrounded by campers eager to enter the three-day electronica festival.
“And these guys were here,” said the bleary-eyed O’Connell, gesturing to several of his newfound friends.
Among them was Jeremy Gaskins of South Carolina, who simply wanted to get into the 200-acre campground after driving nearly 20 hours. Waiting a few more hours, however, didn’t seem to be a problem for Gaskins, O’Connell or any of the many others who sought temporary refuge nearby the lake.
“We all talk, we all come from different walks of life,” Gaskins explained. “We’re all here to hear good music and make new friends.”
By late afternoon Wednesday, the lot was packed to capacity, vehicles parked bumper to bumper. Those who didn’t make it in were left searching for a nearby place to pull off for a while until the gates opened.
But with a strong police presence around the lake, many fans were left circling the hamlet in the vain hope the festival gates would thrust open as they were passing. One cop shrugged as he shooed away several motorists parked on the shoulder along Batter Street.
“The residents around here,” he paused, “they like these people as much as they like cancer right now.”
Still, the mass migration into Bisco seemed to be causing only minor headaches throughout the lakeside community. Aside from periodic backups around the lake and near the gates, traffic appeared to be flowing normally.
Inside, a crew of hundreds worked furiously through the day to set up a veritable city of vendors, stages and assorted attractions. When the bulk of fans come through the gate early this morning, the population of Bisco will likely dwarf the 6,000-plus residents who inhabit the town.
Mike’s Hotdogs owner John Mantas arrived Tuesday morning and used a crew of 15 workers to set up an offshoot of his Schenectady restaurant in the middle of a field. For the business owner, Camp Bisco is a windfall, a place where he can pull up a tractor-trailer load of food and essentially sell it all by the time he closes down Sunday afternoon.
“Of course, I won’t sleep now for the next four days,” he said.
The campgrounds were reorganized this year, with the main stage shifted to a different area. Organizers are hoping the new arrangement will direct some of the noise away from the hamlet and into wooded areas.
The campgrounds also have an expanded medical facility and additional outposts where campers can summon medical attention. In recent years, Bisco has come under criticism for the number of drug overdoses generated before and during the festival
Last year, Ellis Hospital reported receiving about three dozen patients from the festival, including a number suffering from overdoses. Among them was Heather Bynum, a 24-year-old barber from Schenectady who had a seizure and lapsed into a coma at the campground hours before the first acts went on stage.
Bynum’s condition hasn’t improved much since. Her family has since filed a notice of claim accusing Bisco promoters of being unprepared to deal with medical emergencies at the private venue.
Some waiting to get into the festival seemed keenly aware of the heightened attention this year’s event is garnering. Though many played down the hard-drugging reputation Bisco has been given lately, some stressed the importance of looking out for one another during the free-wheeling festival.
“Play it safe,” said David Walton of Rotterdam. “It’s our responsibility. We need to watch out for one another.”