The owner of Indian Lookout Country Club is asking a judge to reverse Schenectady County’s decision not to grant him a mass gathering permit to host Camp Bisco, even though the three-day music festival headlined by The Disco Biscuits already has a new location in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
“I think there’s a good argument that the whole Article 78 proceeding in this matter is moot,” County Attorney Chris Gardner said, referring to the event being moved to Montage Mountain for the same three days — July 16-18 — for which the event had been planned in Duanesburg.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday with state Supreme Court Judge Vincent Reilly, Frank Potter, the venue’s owner, claims the county’s denial of the permit in April was “arbitrary and capricious.” The suit also says the denial will make the venue, the event’s promoter, Lunar Pursuit, and Harley Rendezvous Classic, which leases the property for large scale events, lose an “exorbitant amount of time and money” that went into preparing the permit application “and will forfeit all profits it would obtain from ticket sales, sponsorships and ancillary venues.”
The suit asks the judge to reverse the county’s decision to deny the permit but seeks no damages.
“The essence of the case is encapsulated in the requirements that the county wanted to place on Camp Bisco, which were unprecedented,” said Matthew Kelly, the Albany attorney who filed the suit on Potter’s behalf.
In denying the permit, county officials said the festival could only go on if it came with $50 million in insurance coverage, a contract with law enforcement agencies to provide at least 20 officers for traffic control and a large police presence, with 50 officers stationed throughout the grounds 24 hours a day. The 22-page denial included many safety and traffic concerns and said the event would only be allowed with a zero-tolerance drug-use policy.
The Disco Biscuits, a Philadelphia-based electronica-infused jam band, announced the new venue in April after Schenectady County denied the permit, and early bird tickets have already sold out, according to www.campbisco.com.
But Kelly said Potter wants to proceed with the festival locally with promoter Ken Hays of Lunar Pursuit, who started working with Potter to revive Camp Bisco late last year.
“I can’t speak for what the actual band is going to do, but obviously they don’t have a choice to come to Schenectady County at this time, and we’re trying to provide that option for them,” Kelly said.
Camp Bisco was hosted at the 200-acre Indian Lookout Country Club for seven straight years until last summer, when Denver-based organizer MCP Presents announced a hiatus. The event drew criticism 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 whenever it took place. In 2013, festival organizers and the campground owner were hit with a lawsuit on behalf of Heather Bynum, a 2012 festivalgoer. Bynum’s mother alleges emergency responders took too long to get to Bynum after she suffered a massive seizure at the event and fell into a coma.
Gardner, in defending the county’s denial of the permit, said the request for a large police presence was justified considering the festival’s history and nature.
Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, “who is very important in this whole matter, was quite concerned about the need to have some sort of police presence on the facility grounds so they wouldn’t have what seemed to be a fairly open-air drug market for some serious drugs that had serious side effects and issues with overdoses,” Gardner said.
Kelly argued the police presence requirement “would be an enormous expenditure and unwarranted.” He said the Duanesburg venue has always provided security to meet the needs of the crowd, “and generally what you have in that crowd is mostly law-abiding people who want to come for that music, and we don’t have criminal activity.
“The statistics do not bear any need for that level of police enforcement.”
The suit includes a sworn affidavit by Paul Bassman, president of Ascend Insurance Brokerage, who says his company has handled insurance for festivals with up to 100,000 people in attendance, as well as presidential inaugural events. Bassman says in the suit the county’s requested coverage for Camp Bisco, a much smaller event, far surpasses the coverage his company has provided for those larger events.
“We obviously believe that the determination to come up with this requirement has no basis, and we don’t believe that any insurance professional will opine in agreement with them,” Kelly said.
Gardner argued the festival didn’t have an adequate evacuation plan in the event of a natural disaster, such as a tornado, and that a single human life could be valued at well over $1 million.
“So in the valuation of human life, we just disagree,” he said.
Gardner said if Potter wanted to go forward with the event in Duanesburg, he could have resubmitted his application with the county’s requested requirements met.
“That determination was based solely on the best interest of the residents of Schenectady County,” he said.