It seems like U.S. rock festivals have been on a super-sizing frenzy. The typically three-day Coachella festival in Indio, Calif., played out over two weekends in April and just added a pair of Caribbean cruises in December. On the other side of the country, New York's Governors Ball switched sites from Governors Island to Randall's Island, while adding an extra day to its lineup.
One festival, however, has opted to scale back. The 11th edition of Camp Bisco, the three-day electronic dance music/jam band hybrid event in upstate New York on July 12-14, deliberately dropped its attendance figures this year-from nearly 20,000 in 2011 to around 13,000 in 2012.
According to Jonathan Fordin, owner of Bisco promoter MPC Presents, cutbacks centered on "traffic issues and internal congestion and flow" surrounding the Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville, N.Y., near Albany. Remedying the problems meant limiting the number of cars camping on-site, with many fans now staying at the nearby Maple Ski Ridge and shuttling to the venue.
"There was an opportunity to sell more tickets, but we wanted the overall fan experience to be the best possible," Fordin says. "We provided a 24-hour shuttle to and from the off-site location. The fans definitely appreciated the lack of traffic and congestion, and [the event's] overall flow."
Modeled on Phish's multiple-day festivals, Camp Bisco began as a weekend retreat for fans of Philadelphia jam band Disco Biscuits and has since grown organically in size. The inaugural festival in 2000 drew about 800 fans, steadily increasing each year to reach 2011's nearly 20,000-capacity crowd, according to the festival's PR firm.
The group gained notice in the late '90s for fusing jam band rock with electronica, forming what's sometimes referred to as "jamtronica." The festival not only combines electronic-oriented DJs with jam bands, but also includes hip-hop artists and indie rockers. Though the Disco Biscuits still have input on the lineup, "the bookings pretty much fall on MCP," Fordin says.
For lack of a better description, Bisco has a distinctly crunchy vibe. Acts as varied as veteran British psychedelic-trance band Shpongle or Los Angeles bass-scene fixture Daedelus are far earthier than the euphoric, rushing house and trance artists that dominate New York's Electric Zoo Festival (Randall's Island, Aug. 31-Sept. 1). Bisco began embracing bigger acts as far back as 2007, when headliners included LCD Soundsystem and Aphex Twin. This year featured considerable drawing power, with headliners Skrillex, Bassnectar, Big Boi, Atmosphere and Amon Tobin.
"This year was more mainstream then ever," Fordin says. "We love seeing the evolution of our fan base."
It helps that Bisco ranks among the most affordable summer festivals. A three-day 2012 Bisco pass costs $170, compared with a $349 general admission pass for next year's Coachella, a $299 entry to the 2012 Electric Zoo and access to this year's Bonnaroo that ran from $209 to $259.
According to Fordin, most of Bisco's audience is in the 18-24 age range and reportedly have been happy with the changes to the festival. Nevertheless, Bisco was marred this year by the death of a festival volunteer. William Graumann of New Milford, N.J., was found in his tent on July 11, the day before Bisco began. Prescription pills including Xanax and hydrocodone were found in the tent along with marijuana. Police suspect a drug overdose, though a toxicology report has yet to appear. An autopsy showed no evidence of foul play.
Despite the death, Fordin remains optimistic about Bisco's latest edition, as well as its future. As far as the music and logistics are concerned, "it couldn't have worked any better this year," he says. "We were able to deliver a much better product to fans, while still keeping up with what Camp Bisco is all about."