Have you ever dreamed of bringing all of your favorite bands together to play in a single, one day festival of multi-stage, non-stop music? Seventeen years ago, Kevin Lyman had that dream. Without much money, experience, or infamy, Kevin gathered up all of his favorite local bands, landed a Vans sponsorship, and the rest is history.
Since then a lot has changed. Music has changed, but Kevin still manages the tour. “We pay homage to the roots of where we started but we also try to find out the new and current bands.” Kevin tells MXDWN, stating that the criteria for booking a band (which Kevin exclusively handles) is “Good.”
Music fans, roadies, and bands are in agreement – Warped Tour is the craziest, grueling, and most chaotic music festival in North America today. Any long time patron of the event could tell you that seven stages spread throughout a venue which usually consists of nothing more than a big ass parking lot in triple digit heat (at least here in Southern California) is a recipe for mayhem, but when considering the show’s punk rock roots, that mayhem is exactly what keeps the Warped Tour running.
No matter how much the music changes, something omnipresent at Warped Tour (besides the ocean of merch booths) will always be the BMX and skateboarding area where bikers and skaters of all ages bust out tricks on the half-pipe. It’s nice to see kids as young as 10 years of age fearlessly taking on the half-pipe, but it isn’t until later in the day that the pros come out and strut their stuff. Busting out a creative mix of more tricks than I know the name for, these athletes will always be a welcome attraction at the tour.
Besides seven full stages of music and the wall of merchandising booths which stretches in between them, there really wasn’t that much extra to see at Warped Tour this year. An inflatable slip ‘n’ slide that was blown up in the middle of the venue had been deactivated early in the day because of a malfunction; the free slurpees were also deactivated when the slurpee machine broke down. The free energy drink dispensing Monster truck, which was actually larger than most of the stages, is always the go-to destination during the show if you don’t mind waiting in line in the sun for half an hour. Some merch booths are more fun to hang out by than others depending on the people running it. They can either be very interactive and entertaining or straight up depressing.
Planning a day filled to the brim with music begins in the afternoon, just as the sun peaks, heating stages to triple digit discord. As set times are drawn virtually randomly, the fans who arrive to watch their one favorite band perform must hang around all day if said band is closing the show. If your band is playing first and you are half an hour late, you are out of luck. If you are the band and you are playing first, have fun getting ready to play in a little over an hour. That’s always been the way Warped Tour has been ran and earned its namesake.
There is, however, a fragment of order thrown into the tour: bands playing the same type of music will usually be on the same stage. The bigger name bands, for instance, will almost always be on the main stage. One of the first main stage bands to play was Attack Attack! Their metalcore instrumentals complimented their softer vocals well enough to draw a huge crowd of both fans and passers-by to enjoy their Christian emo stylings just after the Warped gates opened.
Straight from the UK, Asking Alexandria was up next. As the main stage crowd continued to grow, it was refreshing to see an increase in mosh pits and stage diving during their set. Playing versatile metalcore music, these guys put on a great live performance with plenty of screaming, heavy bass kicks, and electronics.
A Day to Remember was another fan favorite, of whom many kids said this band is the only reason they came to Warped. Of course, this fan favorite five piece was obligated to play all of their fan favorite songs with their half hour on stage.
Simple Plan was back again and still popular with the kids. The Canadian pop punkers unleashed their brand of high energy, upbeat rock while supporting their recent fourth studio album release, Get Your Heart On. Yes, they are still a non-profit tax write-off charity (Simple Plan Foundation).
Against Me was another band who played with some semblance of popularity. Going through their catalogue like a live Greatest Hits album, they played all of their singles with a slight staleness. The band seemed genuinely unenthusiastic to be on the tour.
In their vibrant, yellow matching band shirts, three piece Hawaii rockers Pepper made an appearance on the main stage, once again flooding the area surrounding the stage elbow to elbow. Their reggae-infused rock ‘n’ roll is a Warped tour standard, having played for nearly a decade now. Not just the band members, who happen to be some of the coolest guys you could ever run into, but their style of mid-tempo reggae rock, which influenced contemporary dub, ska, and plenty of other bands.
Less Than Jake is another old favorite at Warped Tour. Being a band that is nearly two decades old tends to shake things up a bit when you play a festival like Warped. When hardcore fans come to see you play, those hardcore fan are also two decades older than most of the other music fans at the show. Still, it was great to see different generations of both punk and ska fans come together to appreciate the music of these veterans. 2011 is the band’s 15th year of performing at Warped Tour, so they are held to a different standard than the rest of the performing bands. That’s 15 years of killing it.
Celebrating their 10 year anniversary, local power pop band Hellogoodbye dropped in to play some cheery synthpop. Although their last album just hit Europe in March, they still squeezed the last few drops from their sophomore record, Would it Kill You? Still, originality is always appreciated, and Hellogoodbye had this in spades. Ukulele? Check.
Roaming around the venue were several bearded men with peculiar instruments: a stand up bass, a mandolin, a banjo, and other instruments it is very uncomfortable to walk around with all day. With them was a man carrying a sign reading “Larry and his Flask.” Although lacking a proper stage, these guys walked all around Warped Tour playing toe-tapping folk originals. Kevin Lyman saw them playing in the parking lot for the bands at several stops on last year’s Warped Tour and recruited them to wander the streets of Warped 2011 playing their nomadic gypsy folk for all. It’s just that easy, kids.
Meanwhile, on the Skullcandy stage, many alternative bands rocked the crowd. There is never a dull moment during a Foxy Shazam show. From Schuyler the bearded one hopping up onto his keyboard and playing entirely with his feet to Eric Nally and his mustache begging the audience for a cigarette, then a lighter, then proceeding to devour it whole after taking a few drags. A move typically employed with a joint at their headline shows, Eric immediately regretted the decision; “That tastes like shit! Why did I do that?”. Their music is just so catchy, up-beat, and loud that you can’t help but to dance, sway, or mosh to it.
Back by popular demand, Unwritten Law made their first performance since being banned from the Warped Tour over a decade ago. With new members, Scott Russo and friends took the stage for a performance 10 years in the making and owned it. It was clear that they are passionate about their jobs and critical about their performance, playing their hearts out on stage even after slight turmoil from within the band. They played a lot of classics along with a couple songs from their newest album, Swan.
There are a number of seasoned reggae and ska bands playing Warped 2011. No stranger to the tour, The Aggrolites made an appearance and performed many songs from their recent album Rugged Road, as well as hits and single from their other albums. Not only is the number of records these guys put out in the relatively short amount of time they’ve been around impressive, but to see this LA band perform reggae and ska rock songs without the use of any horns is moving.
One of the few hip-hop acts performing at Warped, Big B’s performance added a nice variety to the festival. His backing band really knows how to lay down a dope melody while Big B’s rhythmic rapping vocals compliment the music well. Having Scott Russo from Unwritten Law hop on stage for the last song was a nice Easter egg for everyone in the crowd too.
An R&B funk band bringing back a style of music not heard since Prince, Bad Rabbits, really stole the show in the late afternoon. Many Warped patrons agreed that “Bad Rabbits put on one of the best performances of the day.” Playing a lot of new songs from their upcoming EP and full length, the five piece from Boston played groovy, sexy, and very danceable music, including a brilliant cover of Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979.”
Closing the day up, just as the sun was going down and all of the other stages were being broken down, Big Chocolate took the Skullcandy stage. This bass-heavy dubstep artist was in the minority at Warped, being the only electronic artist and performing with only a laptop and midi controller. None of this stopped the mullet-sporting kid from blowing away the remnants who stayed to see his act. When asked what he was going to play, Big Chocolate responded, “Tons of new shit.” During his act, it immediately became apparent why he was last to perform. The music Big C plays gave the speakers a run for their money, sincerely testing their durability with onslaughts of bassline after bassline and wobbly dubstep dance tunes.
With most stages no bigger than the buses the bands travel in and ad hoc sound systems that go up less than an hour before the first performance, Warped Tour has never been focused around high end quality. Instead, it’s about seeing those small time bands you’ve been getting to know better and better. It’s about getting dirty and bloody in a mosh pit with your friends. It’s about a kid’s first concert. Warped Tour isn’t about style, fashion, or vanity. Warped Tour has always been, and will always be the corner stone of exposing contemporary music to anyone daring enough to listen.