It was day 16 of a 20-day stretch for everyone working and performing on the final Vans Warped Tour. Bands ranging in genre from pop-punk, to rock, to post-hardcore have been flinging sweat around for brief 30-minute sets nonstop for five weeks. Buses and cars pulled into Jones Beach Amphitheater full of fans clad in band T-shirts, chains, gauges, colorful hair, and beat-up vans. Mobs of people formed what might be considered lines, but more closely resembled the early stages of a mosh pit, outside the gates well before the symbolic opening of doors.
It was easy to tell that this particular day of the tour was sold out. The grounds looked like one giant crowd as opposed to slightly smaller crowds surrounding each stage. The volume of the different sounds was easily overwhelming and the heat was so unbearable that some people seemed to be spending their entire day listening to the music from the water lines.
But nothing could deter these fans from experiencing the pure magic that this festival – the last one – was about to bring. Since 1995, Kevin Lyman’s twisted
musical festival has journeyed across the United States and Canada, bringing dozens of bands from a multitude of punk and rock genres together and creating
an open and inviting space for all while also starting the careers of some of the top bands in the punk-rock scene.
“It kind of got us our start,” Travis Clark of We the Kings said to me as we walked to where the band would soon play an acoustic set. “There’s a guaranteed ton of people here so it holds us accountable for making sure that our music is good live and that we engage the crowd in a way that they keep coming back. I think it really developed our live show.” We the Kings played Warped Tour for the first time in 2007 after winning their local Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest and went on to play seven full Warped Tours, gaining a bigger crowd and following every time.
“Being a band from overseas, to be able to have that kind of exposure, we wouldn’t be where we are today without it,” said Jake Hardy of Australia’s Tonight Alive as he sat next to me rocking a pair of Tonight Alive black-and-yellow shorts. The first time Tonight Alive played Warped Tour in 2012 was the first time the band was able to attend Warped Tour at all. “We grew up watching videos of it,” Hardy remembered, saying how lucky they were to be part of the first generation that had YouTube and access to an endless library of videos. “It was a little bit surreal to start doing it,” he continued. “It was always a bit of a pipe dream.”
Getting a spot on Warped Tour isn’teasy. Many new bands will attend their local stop on the tour while others follow the entire tour to hang out with festival-goers in the lines waiting to get in trying to get them to listen to the demo the band just produced in their parents’ basement. Mayday Parade, no stranger to Warped Tour, started following the tour on the 2006 run within the first six months of being a band. “The goal right off the bat was to write and record an EP and to go sell it on Warped Tour,” lead singer Derek Sanders explained. “That was the smallest fish in the pond and then we kind of worked our way up.”
“A lot of bands that come in and out of this tour, they’re playing a few shows here and there and then they try to grow from there and they can,” said Jeff Stinco, lead guitarist of Simple Plan. “I still see bands hustling and that’s the only way to do it.” Stinco remembers walking around the festival grounds in the early years with Simple Plan’s CD, sitting pretty in a Discman, persuading people to listen to their music, telling people where and when to come watch them play, and hoping they would show up.
Rochester-based D.I.Y punk band Kaiser Solzie played their first, and unfortunately last, Warped Tour this year, but the band came up with an unusual tactic to draw people to their merch tent. “Just screaming at people and saying, ‘hey, come here and listen to our music,’ that just doesn’t work so well,” explained Kaiser Solzie’s lead guitarist Brian Lorenzo. “Now, we shoot people with water guns and they’re like, ‘what the hell is going on?’” He said most people come over to listen to his spiel, buy a CD and even make an appearance at their set if they haven’t already performed for the day.
Then there are the hardcore punk rockers who make sure they get noticed in as creative of a way as possible. Shiragirl, a punk-rock goddess originally from New Jersey, with seriously hot-pink hair and a personality to match, played Warped Tour without being on the line up. Back in 2003, she noticed that there weren’t a lot of females on the tour and she couldn’t wrap her head around why that was.
“I approached Kevin Lyman and I said, ‘can I bring some girl bands into the girl’s garage tent?’ they used to have a tent,” Shiragirl said. “[Lyman] said, ‘it’s a great idea, I love it, let’s do it next year.’” That’s not what Shiragirl had in mind. She didn’t want to wait until the following year to make her mark – so she just crashed it. With the help from some friends who were there working with the Truth campaign, Shiragirl and her band drove right onto the official festival grounds
“We had a pink RV, we drove into the grounds, parked it right across from the skate ramp, set up a punk rock PA in front and kind of held our breath waiting to see what would happen,” Shiragirl explained. Lyman walked by, came up to them and said, ‘so, you’re on for the whole tour?’ Shiragirl ended up having her own official Shiragirl Stage the following year and eventually hosted numerous badass female musicians, including Paramore during their first ever Warped Tour in 2005 and a special appearance by Joan Jett in 2006. Clark also snuck into Warped Tour back in the day when he didn’t have enough money to pay for a ticket. Soon after, he and the rest of the band were playing their first full Warped Tour in 2008.
He remembered the New York show that year was what really set the band’s trajectory in motion. It was at the time the biggest crowd they had ever seen as people stood fence-to-fence, some even climbed on top of porta potties to get a better view. “We got off stage, we didn’t have any technical difficulties, it was a great show and I just remember looking at the rest of the guys and being like, ‘we should do this forever,’” Clark said. Ten years later, they’re still drawing crowds as one of the tour’s headliners.
Warped Tour has a way of staying in people’s lives for a long time and becoming a part of who they are as a person. Steve Carey, drummer and newest member of Senses Fail, first experienced Warped Tour in 2003 when he was just 13 years old at what is today known as the American Family Insurance Amphitheater in Milwaukee. He came into it solely a pop-punk fan, excited for bands like Green Day, Blink 182 and Sum 41. But thanks to the great diversity in music he was introduced to that day, and a little guidance from a seasoned hardcore pit-mosher, post-hardcore took a special place in his heart. “Poison The Well was the first time I had ever seen a hardcore pit,” Carey said. “That was the introduction.”
In that exact same spot in that exact same amphitheater in Milwaukee, Carey played Warped Tour for the first time in 2006 with a band of his that had won the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest on their local stop of the tour. And, coming full circle, this year Carey played that exact same spot in that exact same amphitheater with Senses Fail for Milwaukee’s last Warped Tour. A spot that, 15 years ago, he first saw a grown man flailing his arms to “Ghostchant.” A spot where he saw bands that he looked up to and admired. A spot that no one else will ever quite understand the magnitude of. “That’s a memory that will live with
me for the rest of my life,” Carey said. “Every time I visit those grounds I’m going to be like, ‘that one spot right there meant the world to me.’”
For Stinco, Warped Tour is about those special social interactions and people that you meet, bands and artists you might not have met otherwise. “There are certain bands that you don’t tour with because they’re not necessarily part of your scene; for instance, The Used being one of them,” Stinco said. Simple Plan and The Used wouldn’t ever tour with each other with the exception of Warped Tour, Stinco explained, but the bands have remained friends over the years and have shared great moments together.
“Part of what makes Warped Tour so special is mixing the emerging bands with the established artists,” Shiragirl said. She recalled a time where she watched Linkin Park’s performance from backstage and was able to talk with one of her idols, Chester Bennington. She approached Bennington after his set, expressing how big of an influence he was on her and applauding his performance, but also calling him out for not including more females during their collaborations on tour. “He was so receptive to what I was saying and genuine, and he really took the time to listen and look me in the eye and he said, ‘you’re right, we should work on that,’” Shiragirl said. “These are the magic moments you have on tour.”
“I know they call it summer camp but it is actually like it,” Hardy said. “Once you’ve done a couple of them, you just get back into the swing of it on the first day and you see everyone and everyone has their little trailer set-ups.” Hardy explained that a lot of bands base their fall and spring tours off of Warped Tour, so there ends up being connections made where the musicians know they’ll tour with those bands again soon.
And just like summer camp must come to an end every summer, Warped Tour has sent its happy little punk-rockers home for good and has left the musicians full of memories, nostalgia, and ready for some rest. “You know, doing this tour, I’m not going to lie, it’s exhausting,” Shiragirl says. “I feel like I’m ready to kind of like really take some time to rest and recover and figure out what’s next.” Shiragirl is hoping to take the Shiragirl Stage out into the wild and keep bringing together badass girls and rocking music.
Kaiser Solzie (a.k.a. James Jackson) has spent a lot of time on the tour over the years as a stagehand, tour manager, water boy, and now performer. This year, as he played with his band and they went through the ups and downs of tour life, he discovered endurance. “I think it really teaches a band how
to be a band and how to work together,” Jackson said. “It’s taught me a lot about how to live a better life.” “It’s kind of sad to think that bands won’t get the same experience that we got and there’s going to be a massive hole, especially in the summer,” Hardy said. Many band members cited the greatest hit
to the scene in losing Warped Tour will be the exposure that young bands have been able to get from playing the festival.
“I think what this tour also does is it gives a voice to the younger, baby bands like we were,” Stinco said, explaining his belief that social media isn’t an option anymore because of over saturation. “Warped Tour is probably the only chance that you have of getting on a tiny stage and just building something.”
For Carey, as he spends the tour as a new member of a band that has been thriving for 15 years, he’s just enjoying the ride. “It’s incredibly humbling and I’m incredibly grateful to be hereright now,” he said. “The tour just means so much to so many people and obviously to all of us out here and it’s just kind of an escape or a way to, like, really be around such an open environment where you can domostly whatever you want and be whoever you want,” Sanders said. “Hopefully the idea of it, the spirit of it, will live on in some way or another.”
Year 25 would have been next summer in 2019. Kevin Lyman, what’s up your sleeve?
Article: Merissa Blitz