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Published: 2005/09/03
by Holly Isbister

Camp Bisco, Skye Top Festival Grounds, Van Etten, NY- 8/26 & 27

When the future of your band is uncertain, and your drummer is heading off to med school in a year or so, there's really only one good thing to do: throw a big party. Invite all your fans, invite all your favorite contemporary artists, and play each show as if it is your last. Take a bow, and let the chips fall as they may. At the very least, you went out with a bang.

And that’s more or less what Camp Bisco IV was all about. While no one can definitively say that it was the end, there was nonetheless a sense of it being the last hurrah of an era in their history as a band. Set in the gorgeous forests and fields of Van Etten, New York’s Skye Top Fairgrounds, Camp Bisco provided the perfect spot for a rager. And rage we did, once we hiked the half mile to the campground with loads of coolers and tents and supplies. Once you got over paying $10 to park and hike this veritable Trail of Tears to your campsite, there was little to complain about however.

The grounds provided plenty of shade, ample Porto-lets and decent proximity to music. Those who came prepared experienced few inconveniences. The sound was great and the music was, for the most part, pretty darn good too.

Kicking off the festival on Friday was Delicious, who were an odd choice to get the party started. But where they failed to liven and enthuse the crowd with the typical guitar wanking, they laid down some very heavy, psychedelic metal-edged riffs. It set the tone for the entire festival: this was not going to be a hippy dippy love fest, this was the dark side of the jamband world.

Other Friday day highlights included Big in Japan (a Lake Trout side project) and Brothers Past. Brothers Past played the kind of set where every song proved they have the capability of doing something fantastic, and about 90% of the time, they did. The other 10% dissolved into relentless, banal wailing. Regardless, their set provided a cornucopia of dynamics and swift, danceable beats.

Later that evening The Disco Biscuits pulled out all the stops during their two sets. Jon Gutwillig’s guitar playing was notably inspired during both sets on the first night, and regrettably lackluster on night two. "The Hot Air Balloon" closed out set one in fine fanfare – the sparkling of the big dipper over head was second only to the band bathed in blue light, performing the title track to their classic rock opera.

For those not going to sleep (ahem, EVERYONE) The New Deal packed in their upbeat and thumping compositions well into the wee hours. While their performance was repetitive by the very nature of their sound, at the very least it wasn’t sloppy. The New Deal do a fair amount of mixing it up, especially if you include having a chick on stage in the background dancing about scandalously. Raising eyebrows is one way to keep your crowd from nodding off.

On Saturday The Duo raised the bar the highest it had been all weekend. Watching them play makes you wish all bands could have that much fun on stage. Aside from their typical stellar originals, they wowed the crowd with a rendition of Radiohead’s "Myxomatosis" off of Hail to the Thief. It’s sets like theirs on Saturday that really distinguish the professionals from the amateurs.

Umphrey’s McGee played two sets on Saturday. "Higgins," their newest composition debuted the night prior, popped up in the second set, along with a dance-happy "Nothing Too Fancy" that turned into a monster – even diverting into "Stranglehold" teases at one point.

On the night of their last two sets, the Disco Biscuits held their own as festival headliners. While their renditions of “Nughuffer” and “Caterpillar” were less than sparkling, they brought the heat in the second set with “I-Man” and the encore, “Spectacle.” It was a touching finale, but undoubtedly left many puzzled. If this was indeed a "Transformation" as they were calling it, then why not announce a replacement for their drummer, Sam Altman, at this event? Why not have the new drummer sit in for a song or two?

Regardless, the Disco Biscuits were gracious in thanking all of their fans for making the trip to the festival. Though the music continued that night through the wee hours, it was already apparent that the main event had come to a close. It was a sad sight to leave such a beautiful location, but even sadder to know that the summer festival season was truly over. The summer of 2005 could be considered the ultimate summer of the festival, with more weekend possibilities than ever before for a full-on rage-fest, and Camp Bisco IV was one heck of a way to go out.

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