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Published: 2016/07/14
by Dean Budnick

Zoning with the Disco Biscuits

Photo by Dave Vann

In August of 1999, the Disco Biscuits debuted their Camp Bisco festival to 800 hale and hearty fans at the auspiciously named TuneTown Campgrounds in Cherry Tree, PA. Seventeen years later, the 2016 edition of the fest kicks off today at Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA. Earlier this week, Biscuits keyboard player Aron Magner took some time to reflect on the thriving event, as well as his own development as a keyboard player and his recent efforts to “push myself out of my immediate comfort zone.”

For the first time ever, folks who can’t attend Camp Bisco can watch a live broadcast from the festival, with the full details available here.

To hear more from Aron, you can check out his Relix Conversation with theNEWDEAL’s Jamie Shields.

When you close your eyes and think back to that very first Camp Bisco in 1999, what image jumps into your mind?

String art. I remember string art. The crew we were rolling around with at that point in time, and this is kind of the way the Disco Biscuits still are, is there’s a blur between fan and friend—fans eventually become friends and friends have sometimes ended up being fans. We didn’t have the ability to hire a professional crew, so the crew that we had were our friends, who were smart and motivated and learning on the job.

The Biscuits were learning how to tour on the job, how to figure out everything in hotel rooms on the road. One of our crew members, Damon Cawley, was really fascinated at the time, and probably still is, with sacred geometry. So for our backdrop on stage he built a frame of 2×4’s, put in nails all along the perimeter of the 2×4’s and then wound string from one nail to another nail on a different 2×4. It was all perfectly geometrical and symmetrical, forming these incredible objects of string.

That was our first backdrop for Camp Bisco, and when I think of the first year, the immediate vision that comes to mind as I close my eyes, is sacred geometry string art by our good friend Damon Cawley.

The festival has evolved in any number of ways since its debut. Can you share your perspective on that growth?

I definitely have been quoted saying this before, but Camp Bisco is our baby. It was something that we realized we could do in 1999, as young kids and, I suppose, young entrepreneurs. A hodge-podge of other festivals existed at the time, but the mega-festivals, aside from Europe, didn’t really exist here yet.

We thought “we can do this,” we just needed to figure out how to get the money to bring porta-potties in and hire a team that would bring security in and that type of micromanaging. We still have the same passion and drive and care for our festivals. Along the way we’ve introduced our fans to musicians and DJ’s and bands that we like and our fans have introduced us to musicians, bands, and DJ’s that they like and we’ve reached out to them to put them on the festival.

In some ways it’s a similar type of care to raising a child and getting ready to send that child off to college. We’ve seen Camp Bisco graduate to different levels of success over the years. We watched the festival grow from 800 the first year to 1,600 to 2,500 to 5,000. I very specifically remember Jonny Zazula [former Biscuits manager and founder of Megaforce Records] telling me, “Once you see 5,000 the next jump is really easy to 10,” and he was right. It only took maybe one or two more years to make that jump from five to 10.

Once we got to 10,000 we were a veritable festival. Then with Camp Bisco 8 we got Snoop Dogg and then suddenly we felt, “Wow we’ve got some other major headliners on this thing.” That was definitely another turning point of Camp Bisco, once we got Snoop Dogg and later LCD Soundsystem, it felt like that put Camp Bisco fully on the map.

It seems to me like there’s been an ebb and flow over the years in terms of the Biscuits being the headliners for all three nights versus giving someone else the closing spots, at times. How would you characterize that development?

I don’t think that anything was a conscious move. When we took that jump in ’08 getting Snoop Dogg or LCD Soundsystem [in 2010] we understood we’d need to make room because those types of big headliners wouldn’t play unless they were in a headlining slot. And it’s not like we always need to go last or we always have to play the time slot that is the best. There are so many moving parts in putting on a festival. There are so many personal requests that other acts have and I feel like we play ball in order have the best festival experience for the Disco Biscuits, our fans, fans of Camp Bisco, the other artists that we invite to perform, and fans of those artists.

We are not puffing up our chests and saying, “We have to do this, we have to do that.” It always seems to work out. It’s not like we’re playing at two in the afternoon…until we are! Saturday we’re playing at 2 in the afternoon. It was kind of a fluke how that started. We wanted to do something special one year, an afternoon set, not thinking we were creating another permanent slot for ourselves throughout Camp Bisco. One year this Saturday afternoon slot opened up, we thought we could do something special and people enjoyed it so much we were like, “Okay, well why can’t we play in the afternoon?” It’s kind of fun to do some sort of matinee performance that we wouldn’t usually do anywhere else. So that’s how those things come about.

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