Summer festivals are shitshows. The food is expensive, people are under the influence of possibly multiple substances, and it’s hotter than the seventh circle of hell.
Or maybe I’m getting too old to appreciate them.
Regardless, I’ll never pass on seeing the Warped Tour. Warped 2008 popped my cherry and it was a religious experience. I saw Mayday Parade just before they got big (which I believe happened because of Warped Tour), I saw local favorites Family Force 5 (who rock the hardest live), and I allowed Tom DeLonge to break my heart as I stood and watched him play in Angels and Airwaves instead of blink.
Eight years later, I have been reminded of what makes Warped so special, and why it’s not just another shitty summer festival. It’s still hot and I still can’t afford the food, but because of tours like Warped, I have every opportunity to see my favorite bands multiple times.
But what makes bands like Less Than Jake come back to Warped almost every year? LTJ have played all three decades of Warped, and they always return. So what draws in our favorite acts?
“I think it exposes us to a whole different crop of fans that normally wouldn’t see our band. So, I think it’s really beneficial for us,” said John Christianson, Reel Big Fish’s trumpet player.
“Yeah, it definitely helps us get the word about our band out to more people that might not have ever gone to a show or made the trip out to just see us. They figure, ‘Oh, I’m here to see good bands, I’ll check this band out too!’” Reel Big Fish’s lead singer and guitarist Aaron Barrett explained.
While I find it hard to believe that anyone would go to Warped and skip a Reel Big Fish set, there’s definitely something to what the guys are saying. At Warped, you hear ska, punk, rap, rock, metal, hardcore, hip-hop and straight up synthesized pop. There’s something for everyone, and people are branching beyond the labels of genres. We’re interested in hearing something new and finding new bands. We crave new music.
“Our approach is to squeeze the most that we can out of it. We walk the line every morning with CDs, signs that say our set time. Things like that. Just trying to be everywhere we possibly can and take advantage of the new people who have never seen us before,” The Maine’s lead guitarist Jared Monaco said.
That’s what Warped provides to our favorite acts: an audience and potentially a new fan. So, to get them coming back, we have to keep attending. With tickets that cap under $40, that’s something we can totally do, right? The more we show up every year, scream along and get sunburned in the name of music, the more the bands will get out of it. And it sounds like they’re just as thankful as we are. Last year, The Maine even toured for free as a way to thank their fans that have supported them over the years. They didn’t sell tickets, so there weren’t any of those ridiculous service fees. It was 100% free with no fine print.
“It’s so funny because we’re in such a neat position as far as how we can tour, and we’re so fortunate that’s the case because other people’s realities aren’t the same as ours,” The Maine’s lead singer John O’Callaghan explained.
Dash|Ten, who are completely supported by the U.S. Army, use their time at Warped to continue in that spirit.
“We love it because it allows us to basically give away merch because the Army basically purchases everybody’s merch for them. So, we kind of get to give back to the community. We get to be of service, not just in our military service, but in the music community as well. We like it a lot,” Dash|Ten’s lead singer Corinne Campbell said.
So they keep the party going, and every year it gets bigger.
“It’s cool. We’re having a fun time. It’s like the summer time and everybody hangs out. The whole tour is arranged around kind of being cool, hanging out and putting on a good show for the nice young kids. And also going out there and doing nice stuff for people. It’s been cool,” said Masked Intruder’s Intruder Blue.
Over the years, Warped has drawn out several types of vendors: non-profits and philanthropic efforts. This year, non-profit Can You Hear Me? came out in the interest of getting teens to speak and communicate, to offer a safe place to tell their stories.
“It tends to be, I’ve noticed, that the kids that are into this type of music are the ones who are really in their heads. I’m sure it’s the same across genres, but this music tends to be that very emotional music that connects with kids, so Vans Warped Tour is exactly the destination! It’s our entire demographic in one place. I saw so many kids last year – it was so hard to watch – kids walk by with scars on their arms and you just wanna hug them. I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re going through, but I just want to help you. I know that there’s help out there. How do I get it to you?’” Ashley Coro, who founded CYHM? with her mom Jessica, explained.
So maybe that’s the reason. Warped isn’t a summer music shitshow festival. It’s a touring community. You have fans who want to give their all to their bands, and bands that want to give that right back. You have organizations who reach out and say We care unconditionally. One day out of the year we are granted the right to connect under something we all crave. Whether it’s to rock out to it, to make it, or to use it as a vessel of communication, when it’s all said and done, one thing is for sure: we all crave music.