Farewell, Warped Tour: An ode to ‘punk rock summer camp’
After close to a quarter-century run, the annual summer rock road festival Warped Tour announced the 2018 tour will be its last. The tour served as a launchpad for hundreds of careers and a go-to for mainstream acts to get their feet wet, like Eminem and Katy Perry.
For six straight summers, I joined the crowds of Warped Tour, lovingly known as “punk-rock summer camp” to catch as many bands I could see in a day. My friend Alex and I decided to go for the first time in 2006 since we were about to go to different high schools. In middle school, our circle of friends was definitely the crew that spent a lot of time at Hot Topic. I remember my excitement to see my favorite group at the time, Armor for Sleep. Alex loved the band AFI, who had just released their album “Decemberunderground.”
That first Warped Tour, I was in awe of how massive the footprint of the event was. Multiple stages took up both the amphitheater and parking lot of the then-Verizon Wireless Amphitheater just outside of San Antonio. As a very attentive viewer of the Fuse music TV network, I recalled hearing that band members performing at the festival would sometimes walk around the crowd. While staking out the place, I casually walked past Travie McCoy, who fronted Gym Class Heroes and later went on to have the huge hit “Billionaire” with Bruno Mars. Excitedly, I asked him for a photo and pulled out a disposable camera. He took photos with Alex and me, and we marveled at how cool it was to run into someone on the tour lineup like that. Other bands scheduled meet-and-greets, and I spent a good chunk of time in line to meet Armor for Sleep. Each member signed this very cool (hint: it actually was not) black hat I definitely bought at Hot Topic, and they took a photo with me. This place was heaven!
When it came AFI’s turn to perform, Alex and I pushed as close as we could to the front, since neither of us were very tall. As soon as the band came out, the crowd started swaying, packed like sardines and hot and smelly from a day’s worth of moshing in the Texas heat. I brought two disposable cameras for the event, and when I pulled the second one out, I realized the first had gone missing. The details are still fuzzy, but Alex and I figured it fell out while we danced to a band who played prior to AFI. I’m still a little broken-hearted that I never got to see that set of photos from my first Warped Tour, but I still have the second camera’s photos printed out in a book at my parent’s house.
Alex and I kept the tradition up for a few more years after that, always contacting each other ahead of the Warped Tour to make our big summer reunion. Our friend Emilio would join us, too. I even ran into my cousin one year. Reconnecting with friends who didn’t see each other every day was one of the special things I loved about the event. My high school boyfriend and other classmates would attend, and even if we split up to see different bands, we would always link up later to eat, relax and see the bigger acts.
The Warped Tour community always found ways to make their fans feel connected or encouraged them to “do good.” Some of the bands would play smaller acoustic sets under a tent before their performances on stage. Other promotions from the different companies and brands at the tour would offer special access. The nonprofit Music Saves Lives would hand out backstage passes to fans who brought a photo of themselves donating blood. One year when I got the pass, I ended up getting to watch the band Hellogoodbye from the back of the stage. The tour also started offering cut-the-line passes to fans who brought canned goods to the venue, allowing them to get in the gates more quickly. I can’t tell you how many stickers and other giveaway items I got from groups like PETA, Truth Initiative, To Write Love on Her Arms and more. One time a denim company even gave away free pairs of jeans.
I saw dozens of bands at the annual festival, including a handful that enjoyed mainstream success, like Fall Out Boy, Paramore and All-American Rejects. I almost couldn’t contain my excitement when I snapped a photo with Pierre Bouvier, the lead singer of Simple Plan, before their show. No matter how much success a band had, the tour seemed to welcome them back with open arms if they wanted to play.
In 2010, Hurricane Alex brought heavy rain to northern Mexico and South Texas. Warped Tour is famously a rain-or-shine event, and it poured for a good portion of the day. I got soaked to the bone and the hair I had spent an hour the night before straightening instantly went curly again. But it was a blast. The stages for bigger names moved inside the AT&T Center. I crowd-surfed for the first time that year and remember the bands who would remind the crowd to pick people up if they fell because they didn’t want fans to get hurt.
As Warped Tour prepares for its final run, millennials like myself have been reminiscing about the truly weird circus of an event. The festival gave a lot of acts their first touring slot. What other tour brings a skate ramp for professionals and amateurs to skate on? What other music event could feature both Bad Religion and Shooter Jennings? Warped Tour also had a whole stage dedicated to local, often unsigned bands on which to perform. In 2013, a childhood friend of mine scored a spot on the Ernie Ball stage with his band, Missing in Alaska. People might be quick to dismiss a mostly-rock festival featuring a slew of non-Top 40 acts, but it’s hard to dismiss the tag “Warped Tour alumni” earned by previous performers like Black Eyed Peas, No Doubt and Green Day. If there’s one word to sum up Warped Tour, it’s opportunity. The festival provided an opportunity to meet, see and experience other people who appreciated the same music I listened to and not feel so alone, free of absolutely any judgement.
The tour is not without valid criticism, as incidents of sexual misconduct from musicians have come to light. My hope is that organizers listen to fans and don’t book bands with members who can’t act appropriately. If they want to attract fans back for one last hurrah, this is a must.
Many of my photo memories from Warped Tour are now lost in the archives of MySpace’s social network. Talk about nostalgia. I have no clue who will sign on to perform for the last tour, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see myself or my old friends staking out the inflatable schedule, mapping out the day. I’ll bring the Sharpie.