*check out the photo gallery of all the bands we saw here.
I turned 28 years old last October. It dawned on me that I am now as old as my uncle was when he took me to my first Warped Tour 15 years ago. The summer festival was very different back then: the crowd was older, the bands geared more towards punk rock ethos, and there weren’t signs above every stage telling kids not to mosh or crowd surf for fear of Warped Tour being sued. I entered the fairgrounds that day as a flabbergasted teenager with a shit-eating grin reminiscent of Charlie entering Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. This past Saturday I entered with a slight sense of chagrin similar to how Murtaugh felt when he found out Riggs was his new partner. Am I too old for this shit?
Upon eagerly waiting for friends in the parking lot and preparing to get my credentials, I am approached by a dude trying to sell a CD accept donations for a charity him and his friends run on the east coast. The dude looks like Yung Lean1 and is very friendly and while all the cash I had on me was destined for another charity, I appreciated his demeanor and signed up for his newsletter. I walk about ten feet ahead and am approached by a muscular dude in a white tank top who also has CDs in hand and is asking for donations. He says people have been giving him upwards of 20 bucks but he’d take 15. When I responded with “nah.” He said okay just give me 10 and we’ll call it square. For some reason I said “no thanks but good luck,” like he was some kind of door-to-door salesman. I’m filled with anxiety but in a curmudgeon kind of way that was only relinquished by my post-jaded sense of apathy that I’ve developed after years of caring too much about appearances.
And that was that. From that point, I decided I was going to allow myself to let go and try to enjoy myself and just have fun. And it worked.
My 2016 Warped Tour started with Less Than Jake taking the stage in a light, innocuous drizzle that was a wonderful contrast to the scorching heat that is usually present at Warped Tour. It’s only appropriate that they would be the first band I saw this day because they were the only band at this year’s Warped Tour that were also at my first Warped Tour in 2001. The band is older, but their energy was so high that I had a blast watching them and singing along and brought flashbacks to my 13-year-old self getting pushed around in a mosh pit for the first time in my life. They sported red, white and blue ties and décor and spouted chants of “Make Warped Tour Great Again.” I’ve seen several bands of my youth play to dismal crowds, so it was great to see Less Than Jake hold it down and draw in a large crowd. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off my day.
A friend needed to take cash out and the line was very long so I decided I’d keep him company in the meantime. The next band I wanted to see didn’t go on for another 30 minutes, so I figured I had time. The line was interminable and I flirted with the idea of bailing but out of nowhere a middle-aged man in front of me started asking me about my camera. He was waiting patiently with his teenage daughter in front of us, both wearing backpacks that were filled to the brim. You could tell it wasn’t their first rodeo. We started talking about the bands that were playing and one of my friend’s favorite bands Knuckle Puck came into conversation.2The father/daughter said they liked Knuckle Puck and had seen them together four times. The best part about this conversation was the dad seemed genuinely interested and didn’t come across like he was being dragged along because she was young and needed supervision. It reminded me of my uncle throwing down in a circle pit during Art of Drowning-era AFI, sure he was supervising us but he was there because he wanted to be there. Only this was more endearing because the dad seemed to be about it just because she was about it. On top of that she wasn’t the least bit embarrassed by his presence, they were like a team and it melted my stupid little heart seeing them get excited reminiscing about previous shows.
I’ve been going for almost two decades but this one moment finally made me realize what Warped Tour is really all about. Sure it’s overwhelmed with scene nerds and the hot topic-core taking the masses, but who cares. It brings people together and it’s ultimately about people having fun in a mostly judgment free zone, how can you possibly hate on that?
We headed over to watch Teenage Bottlerocket, a band I’ve always enjoyed for their melodic punk sound and fun, energetic live show. They’re very reminiscent of bands that were much more ubiquitous on the Warped Tour lineup in the early 2000s and the 80s/90s pop punk influence is alive and well in everything they do.3 They joked about the Warped Tour and how it’s not punk anymore and then played some more punk songs. Teenage Bottlerocket are such a great band to watch live and it’s hard not to have fun at their show.
One thing that Teenage Bottlerocket does have in common with some of the other bands playing is that they are one of many bands I’ve only experienced at Warped Tour. I’ve seen Less Than Jake four times, but all of them were at Warped Tour. Same thing with Every Time I Die: all three of the times, including this year, I’ve seen them have been at Warped. It’s usually not by design, but I can only imagine if Every Time I Die’s Warped Tour sets are any indication of how their main sets go, I need to do something to change this very soon. ETID plays with the intensity of former Buffalo Bill Marshawn Lynch running through a linebacker that wasn’t ready. They are a non-stop post hardcore party and every single band member goes absolutely nuts. Rain came down hard for the beginning of their set and watching them play through it was like watching two powerhouse teams got at it in a gridiron classic. It was perfect. They are one of the most fun bands to watch and I am so grateful that my college roommate introduced me to their second album Hot Damn when he did, because they have become part of the reason that I continue to return to Warped Tour.
This is the 12th Warped Tour I’ve gone to and it was only the second time it rained. The first time was in 2002 at the now defunct Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. The main stages were put under an awning and the pit was maintained by security guards serving as bouncers essentially doing the whole one-in/one-out routine. My cousin Chris was a freshman in college and he took me this time. We were in the pit for most of the day until my dumb 8th grader bladder kicked in and forced me to go to the bathroom. We never made it back to the pit again as nobody was leaving for fear of not being able to get back in. We retreated to the seats to watch one of our favorite bands play. We sat bummed as we waited for them to come on.
With a barrage of horn blasts and a shredding guitar, we immediately perked up as they came on stage. They played one song and the crowd was going nuts. They started playing their second song which just so happened to be their most popular song and that threw the crowd over the edge. People started jumping over the barricades and getting into the pit. A few of them were caught by security guards and forced to go back, but they far outnumbered the guards and the guards gave up. It was the perfect opportunity for us to get back in the pit. I got on the edge of my seat ready to run as fast as I can to jump over the barricades, I was ready.
All I needed was the go-ahead from Chris, I looked over at him and he looked ready to make a run for it too. Then I looked back at the band, then the crowd, then back to Chris. I did that for the entire set like a soldier preparing to charge, waiting for him to say “NOW!” But we just stayed in the edge of our seats for the entire time they played. It turns out we were both waiting for each other to give the go-ahead. He, understandably, didn’t want to go first because I was the little cousin and he wasn’t sure if I was down. To this day, we’re both still a little bummed about it. The band was Reel Big Fish and fortunately, for me at least, I was able to get some redemption this year getting down in the pit on another rainy Warped Tour day 14 years later. They killed it by the way.
While Reel Big Fish has been melting faces for about 25 years, it’s crazy to think that Yellowcard has been doing their thing for nearly 20 of those years. Lead singer Ryan Keys and violinist Sean Mackin are the longest standing members even though they’re not necessarily original members. At the same time, their tenure in the band represents a turning point in the band’s sound leaving behind a more aggressive punk sound for a more power pop type of sound. In the last decade or so, I’ve dismissed Yellowcard as a little sister/brother band or the type of band your younger sibling gets into in as an introduction to the alternative rock/pop punk world. However, days before Warped Tour they announced that they would be calling it quits after their next album and one last world tour and upon hearing this I grew nostalgic.
Ocean Avenue is Yellowcard breakthrough album. That goes without saying. Keys even acknowledged this in a parting speech and having the second half of their set devoted to songs from that album. I liked Ocean Avenue when I was in high school. I enjoyed it and even to this day songs from that album get stuck in my head, but I always leaned more towards its predecessor One for the Kids. I know Ocean Avenue is a better album, but One for the Kids brings back so many memories. “October Nights” is the first song I ever heard by them and is the one song that convinced me I needed to buy the album. To this day, I still love the song “Big Apple Heartbreak,” and not in a guilty-pleasure-hate-to-admit-it-kind-of-way, I genuinely like the song and have since I first heard it. Also if I had a nickel for every time I put “Rough Draft” on a mix CD I made for girls in high school, I’d have enough to buy the underrated Underdog EP4 they released right before Ocean Avenue.
I guess I bring this up because this band soundtracked my formative years and while I didn’t connect with their later discography, all I had to do was look in the crowd to see how their later albums affected so many people, young and old. They’re another band I’ve seen multiple times but only at Warped Tour and from the first time I saw them in 2004 to now, they’re stage demeanor hasn’t changed one bit. Keys plays with this wide smile like he’s still overwhelmingly happy that his very successful band pulls crowds like this. They come off very humble and never fail to put on a good show with high energy and most importantly look like they just have fun and that is the true essence of Warped Tour.
While Yellowcard does a great job of capturing that essence, nobody embodies this more than New Found Glory. Another band that has been around so long, they might be older than the core demographic of Warped Tour, New Found Glory always delivers. I once went to a show New Found Glory was opening up for Alkaline Trio and completely stole the show. I love Alkaline Trio and actually went to that show specifically for them but left that night raving about New Found Glory more than anything else. The funny thing is it wasn’t even the first time I had seen them and to be honest other than a handful of songs I’ve never really been big on them. They just put on such a great live show, I never want to miss them when they’re in town and every time I see them they left it all on stage. I once had an Uber driver who was really into Rush and said the best show he ever saw was in the late 80s and hasn’t wanted to go see them since for fear it wouldn’t live up to that one show. I’ve never worried about that with New Found Glory, because every new show seems to outdo the last one I saw. Needless to say it was a great and very fitting way to end the 15th anniversary of my first Warped Tour.
I spent the night before the show preparing to only see a handful of bands as I had either not heard of some of the bands or just wasn’t interested in seeing anybody else. I decided to say screw it, go with the flow and watch bands I had no interest in just to absorb everything that Warped Tour has become. Amongst those bands were Four Year Strong,5 Issues,6 Motionless in White,7 Mayday Parade8 and The Story So Far.9 I think the most interesting thing about Warped Tour is that as the years have gone by and the lineups have changed, the mantra seems to remain. The irony is that while I’m not necessarily into any of these bands, they all share attributes with bands I like or loved when I was younger. That aspect of Warped Tour has been the biggest elephant in the room in analyzing its significance to the music world. Kevin Lyman and Co. really know how to showcase bands that capture what it’s like to be young.
While I don’t know what Lyman’s particular taste in music leans towards, I do know that he has done a good job adapting to what the core demographic of the festival is listening to. Gregg Popovich says he hates the 3-pointer and if he had his way he’d get rid of it, but he sets his game plan around it and utilizes it. There was a Deadspin article that explains Pop’s ability to adapt to something he’s not a fan of makes him a great coach. I feel what Lyman does with the Warped Tour is very similar.10 That pretty much explains the longevity of Warped Tour. I think as long as it keeps adapting but still throws in those bands that reel me in, I may never be too old for this shit.
2. My friend noticed a guy with a Knuckle Puck drawstring bag that he wanted. When he found out you needed to purchase a certain amount of merch to get it free, he was bummed because he was broke and only had enough money for food. When the girl overheard this, she said she had one and wasn’t going to use it and gave it to him. His eyes lit up like a kid who was just given a puppy in an “aw shucks you mean it, I can really have it” demeanor. It was adorable. Oh yeah, he’s also 28 years old.↩
3. Singer/guitarist Ray Carlisle brought out his son mid set to tell a joke and talk about the Beastie Boys. His name is Milo.↩
4. I had a girlfriend in high school that loved this EP and we used to make out to it. During one make out session I was really getting into the album and had an asthma attack. After catching my breath, I told her “You literally took my breath away.” She broke up with me a few weeks later.↩
5. They had a winter theme setup that was kitschy without being corny and really had a way of making the crowd go nuts.↩
6. Definitely had the best stage setup of the day with their amps propped up with different cover art of different Pokémon games and Gameboys, and their logo using the Pokémon font was definitely fun to look at. They even came out covering the Pokémon theme song. Their performance felt like an MTV Spring Break performance without the pool, but I couldn’t get over how much one of their singers looks like Klay Thompson.↩
7. Their following is massive and probably had the biggest crowd for a band that wasn’t playing main stage. It was nuts.↩
8. My brother liked this band at one time, but I’m pretty sure he was just saying that because a girl he liked was in love with them. The guitarists in this band were fun to watch go crazy on stage.↩
9. This band has a lot of love for San Antonio. Their name-dropping of some older SA venues was definitely nostalgic of a time I was getting lost downtown every weekend trying to find where my favorite bands were playing.↩
10. As a Spurs fan, you know you don’t make comparisons to Pop for just anybody↩