As Camp Bisco's founders, hosts and headliners, the Disco Biscuits -- drummer Allen Aucoin, bassist Marc Brownstein, guitarist/midi keyboardist Jon Gutwillig and keyboardist Aron Magner -- are the annual music festival's biggest draw.
But the addition of electronic and hip-hop acts has helped expand the event beyond the band's hardcore fans and exposed these other artists to the committed, camp-out community that defines the jam band scene. Snoop Dogg was booked in 2008, and Nas and Damian Marley shared the bill at this year's festival in July.
Camp Bisco began in 1999 "out of necessity," Brownstein says. "When the Biscuits started as a young Philadelphia band in the '90s, we were in the festival circuit, and like any young band we started playing at noon. We knew within a year or two that we weren't the noontime band anymore, that our fan base had outgrown that, but the promoters still didn't necessarily believe it."
Brownstein says the last straw came at the 1997 All Good Festival in Brandywine, Md., when the Biscuits played at noon to a field of 1,500 people, which promptly emptied when the next band arrived. "That was the first time we saw that there was a differential between the way we were being treated by the industry and the reality of what our band was," he says. "When you can't seem to crack through but you know that you have something special in terms of a community, the only thing you can really do is do things on your own.
"We were fans of the Grateful Dead and Phish, and they had control of everything-nothing mattered to them except them and their fans; no one was calling the shots except for [Phish frontman] Trey [Anastasio]. And we knew that model was going to be good for us because we played in that same style, we didn't have pop songs, we weren't the best singers back then, but that's not what people were coming for. They were coming for the interaction and the improvisation."
In 1998, the Disco Biscuits held a small festival in western Pennsylvania called Melstock, and from that the idea for a multiday camp-out was born. The band hired its own production and security teams for the first Camp Bisco in 1999, which drew about 800 people for "unknown and extremely affordable bands," Brownstein says.
Although the Biscuits' albums had only sold 21,000 copies by that point, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the group's destination events became the foundation of its business. Even so, Camp Bisco was "a huge undertaking, a full-time job in itself," Brownstein says, and the band put the festival on hold for the following two years.