The first time I went to Vans Warped Tour was July 11th 2000. I was almost a year out of high school making a living selling Star Wars toys for a mail order company. (I had a twenty-minute phone conversation with ‘the funky guitarist from the U.K.’ -as he introduced himself. After I was off the phone, I figured out I had been chatting with Brian May, an avid Star Wars collector and also the guitarist of Queen.) While working there I’d also won tickets to the tour from the local college radio station. I was dating a girl who I’d originally drafted to play in my band, so, naturally she was my plus one. The lineup included Green Day, No Doubt, The Muffs, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX, MXPX, Lit, and the pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas to name a few.
The second time I went to Warped Tour was on Sunday. …so much has changed. I’m about celebrate my eleventh wedding anniversary with the chick from my band in August. I make my living working in the music industry and I’m not buying nearly as many Star Wars toys as I used to. As you may have guessed, Brian and I haven’t kept up with one another. When Ryan Siverson, friend and fellow contributor here at Mezzic, suggested I come to the tour with him I couldn’t help feeling like a geezer from the very onset.
The grounds for the tour are now located in Canterbury Park as opposed to the Metrodome parking lot where the show was held in 2000. Even as we approached in the car it was obvious I no longer fell into the target market for the event. Mild mannered, bland, and nondescript cars formed a line a mile before the gates. Not the type of vehicles you’d expect from people ready to rock. But, as we got closer, following the trail of ‘parent drop off’ signs it became apparent that the concert goers who could legally drive were a minority.
On foot, the thick lined mob of youngsters was made up of Manic Panic, hoodies, rips, tears, and much more skin than parents and press would have liked to have seen. Their excitement was as unmistakable as their clothing was questionable. But I remember that well. When I was in high school I dressed as though I’d been forced naked and blindfolded into Kurt Cobain’s closet as some sort of fraternity prank. But, the eagerness and adrenaline I felt coming the first time was as different as my clothes were now; I was calm and curious.
When we entered the grounds Ryan and I split up. As he went to brave the frenzied chaos and danger of the photo pits, where I briefly joined him later, I meandered around to all the sponsor booths entering raffles I didn’t win and collecting free swag I didn’t want; a festival habit of mine. While making the rounds I found the ‘reverse daycare’ tent. No kids were allowed, only parents. No one questioned what I was doing there when I went in. *le sigh* It was air-conditioned, and there were free soft drinks and water, as well as movies to watch that no one outside the tent had ever heard of. I thought it was sweet. I’m sure my 19 year old self was somewhere watching, cringing in shame. I was hot though, and I like my drinks free.
Making a mental note of where the tent was, I went out looking for music. I have to admit, I didn’t recognize most of the names playing the tour. Additionally, you had to pay for schedules, which is the most asinine thing I’ve ever seen at a festival. So most of the day I made my way from stage to stage letting my plug-protected ears guide me. This was how I stumbled upon Super Water Sympathy from Louisiana.
I caught the second half of their set, and was impressed as singer Ansley Hughes belted through a batch of new tunes from their yet unreleased sophomore album. But I was also a little baffled at seeing the often ambient, and comparatively ‘mellow’ (though certainly not unenergetic) indiepop band performing adjacent to the pop punk, screamo and hardcore bands who dominated the lineup. I was curious and stuck around to chat with them after their performance. The vibe of the tour was very casual and press (and fan) friendly, with the majority of the bands making themselves easily and amiably accessible (…aside from the fact that even press didn’t get schedules for free). Ansley graciously sat down with me and allowed me to pick her brain. I’ll share some of that conversation in another post.
After we finished chatting I headed over to my first main stage event to catch a bit of New Found Glory. Those who knew me in high school might remember I wasn’t a huge fan theirs or their contemporaries, now mostly referred to as ‘old school’ pop punk. I remember them as new bands standing on the shoulders of brighter and more creative individuals who came before. (Which I, have no doubt, is what the generation prior thought about my favorite bands.) Since I felt that way already in high school its possible I just started out a curmudgeon…
But, there isn’t anything critical at all I could say about their performance. They lit a match on the gasoline soaked crowd, and madness ensued. I watched from within the slender moat that separated the band from the surging mass of teenagers while awkwardly dodging photographers, security guards, and crowd surfers who spilled over the barricade. The band ran and jumped just overhead in their matching jerseys and shorts with apparent ease. And, it was more than clear they loved every minute of performing. This wasn’t the last time a veteran band behaved graciously and with great appreciation for their fans; another credit to the tour itself was the sense of community and wellbeing from performers and staff.
Sneaking away from the main stages once more, I discovered another couple of gems. I Fight Dragons is a geek-fueled blend of pop punk and synth anthems about growing up and/or arrested development. Their nostalgic video game references and cheeky stage show matched their music perfectly and held the attention of myself and everyone there till the end of their set. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys on a bigger stage next time.
Larry G (EE) was another unexpected musical choice I found on the outskirts of the grounds. They’d won a contest to get on the Warped Tour, and played a brilliant set of funk and soul music that managed to bring back sounds of classic Motown without feeling at all rehashed. The musicianship and enthusiasm deserved much more than the dozen kids who stuck around to hear their set. I listened to every song, and I’m not even a fan of funk music in the least.
One band I did recognize, and was excited to see, was Anti Flag. Their debut album came out when I was a junior in high school. Our local high school music scene consisted of a few randomly appearing and disappearing coverish bands, my indie rock band, and then several pop punk, or hardcore punk bands always changing names and intermingling members. We used to “organize” dirty and noisy concerts in a community lodge where local talent would showcase and host young bands from all over the area as guests. The shows were always packed full of bodies and angst, with violent yet protective mosh pits where the same people who punched you would snap you off the ground in a second if you fell.
Despite fond memories of those times, Anti Flag isn’t really my favorite style of music, but they’re talented songwriting channels their growling righteous indignation into more than digestible hooks and melodies. What’s more, the sincere message they screamed and swore was much more in line with what I’d want my future children to hear than what some of the other bands slopped out of their mouths.
While I heard other rock stars talk about all the “hot chicks” in the crowd and their “boobies” Anti Flag’s singer delivered an appropriately vulgar response to such behavior. He challenged all of the girls in the crowd to remember the faces of any of the men who made misogynistic comments or “asked to see your boobs” and walk right up to them, in the moment, or later, look them right in the eyes and spit in their faces. Given the fact that, from what I could tell, most of the girls there were just that -girls- much younger than eighteen, AND the fact that most of the performers were closer to my age I couldn’t have agreed more.
The band ended their set with their drummer jumping off stage with his kick drum in to the crowd, as roadies chased after him with the rest of his kit. They reassembled and mic’d it up in the middle of a thousand screaming fans to perform the final number. This one up’d Green Day’s simply burning their drum kit at 2000’s Warped Tour.
I remained up by the main stages most of the remainder of the day, weary and red as the energy of the kids around me didn’t slow for an instant. By the time The Used was ready to play I was ready to leave. Unfortunately Ryan and I stayed to hear a bit of their set. They were by far the worst band I saw on main stage, or any stage for that matter. Lead singer Bert McCracken hawked loogies into the crowd between poorly sung songs, and acted as though he were trying to check off every pompous rock star cliché he could think of. He memorably instructed the crowd of tweens to “put one hand on your privates, and one hand in the air” as the start to one train wrecked tune, which the huge throng did gleefully as I looked on in nauseated wonder.
Fortunately, Bert was an exception to the day. Most of the bands performances were perfect for the event, and their dispositions made things even more communal and memorable. I remember hearing the shout from a stage “Is this place the only place you feel like you belong?” which was answered with a roar by the crowd. And, even though I didn’t fit the demographic of the event, curiously enough I did fit the demographic of the performers quite well. Even many of the newer bands were made up people my age. It didn’t prevent them from connecting with their audiences, although it did help them connect with me. I remember hearing All Time Low, one of the headliners I’d never heard of, as they sang “I’m over getting older.” I couldn’t agree more.
I’m about to turn thirty-two at the end of this month, but I’m nowhere near as concerned with that as I was turning twenty-five when I was still terrified about what that meant. Thankfully I’ve since discovered it only means what you make it mean. And, for me, that means still spending a day listening to blaring, angsty music, and still enjoying it too. It was great to see the next generation just as excited about music as I was, having a blast. And, while no fourteen year old kid of mine would ever get out of the house wearing a shirt that read “Sex, Drugs, and Dubstep” They’ll definitely make it to the Warped Tour if it’s still running, and I won’t ever be just dropping them off.