Every year when the topic of Warped Tour comes up among my peers in music journalism, a collective groan escapes the mouths of many of my colleagues. Indeed, even my music-loving friends from outside the industry have spent the past few years grumbling and moaning about how “it just isn’t the same” as the Warped Tour of our collective twenty-something youth. Sure, I can’t punch my way to the front of the crowd and see Bad Religion headline main stage anymore. It’s been years since Anti-Flag or The Casualties brought in droves of kids with liberty spikes and patched-covered denim vests. Maybe the kids who go to Warped these days do have more of a tendency towards Technicolor hair and facial piercings than I can handle as I age (I’m already old at 22. Such a shame). Yet every year, Kevin Lyman and Co. keep me coming back.
Many of my friends will scoff at the fact that I still get excited and plan my summer around which Warped dates I’ll be attending. But to this day, even with the sweat, dehydration, and sometimes traumatic fashion choices of a younger generation, Warped is still one of the highlights of my summer. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the artists I was in love with when I was thirteen likely aren’t going to be touring much anymore, but that’s OK. The perks of having 40+ bands on the bill? There’s usually something for everyone. Each year I find at least one artist that I can’t help but say “They’re gonna be HUGE one day.” I’m pretty sure the staff at Warped feel the same. The festival’s lineup can often be prophetic, predicting which artists will be huge in a year or two. Modern acts like Pierce The Veil have become Warped mainstays, while still filling huge venues during the rest of the year. Many mainstream artists also got their start on Warped. Do names like Paramore, Fall Out Boy, or Katy Perry sound familiar?
Aside from finding new music, Warped works painstakingly to create a safe, accepting environment for a group of kids who often find trouble fitting in anywhere else. I know this because I was once one of those teenagers, struggling to find my place in a society that didn’t accept my black nail polish and punk rock t-shirts. When I went to Warped, I found a place where I could scream along with Against Me! next to the preppy guy from high school who I would have never imagined loved that kind of music too. Though I have since shed the raccoon-eyes and studded accessories, I can’t help but love the environment that Warped creates. More than anything, Warped tour has created a sense of community unrivaled by any music festival I’ve ever attended.
This year was no exception, and although I had seen several of the main stage bands about a dozen times, there were plenty of side-stage bands like PVRIS, ’68, and Candy Hearts that still made the tour a worthwhile experience. Although tried-and-true headliners like Pierce the Veil and Black Veil Brides drew the knockout crowds for the day, the side stages were often more exciting. PVRIS is a band to pay attention to in the coming months. They hit the road with Warped fresh after supporting Pierce the Veil on a massive nationwide tour, as well as a short stint in the UK for a few festivals. It’s an unfortunately rare ocurance for a female-fronted rock band to receive such notoriety on Warped, but bands like Paramore have proved that Warped can be a make-or-break experience. If any band has the potential to blow up into mainstream success, PVRIS is is. Their eclectic blend of heavy and soft instrumentals, paired with vocalist Lynn Gunn’s powerful chops and edgy aesthetic has them poised on the edge of something huge.
Of course PVRIS wasn’t the only female-fronted powerhouse on tour. Although the Warped “scene” remains heavily male-dominated, a token effort to include some great female talent was still made. Candy Hearts, Bebe Rexha, Juliet Simms, Icon for Hire, and Warped newbies Beautiful Bodies all made appearances among other female fronted acts. While Juliet Simms and Candy Hearts have already found somewhat of a foothold within the scene, Bebe Rexha (Who has penned songs for some of today’s biggest pop stars) is generating massive buzz, and newcomers Beautiful Bodies also seemed to have quite an impressive following for a relatively new band.
The tour also featured a few breakout bands from across the pond: Moose Blood, Mallory Knox, and Neck Deep have all been making their rounds on Warped. For Moose Blood and Mallory Knox, 015 marks their first Warped experience in the US, and although they played on some of the more modest side stages, their crowds were still impressive for bands that are still relatively unknown in the American scene. Neck Deep is on their second run on Warped, and it’s clear that their American fanbase has been steadily growing.
Each year, the Monster Energy stage seems to be somewhat prophetic in nature, predicting which bands will take the Warped scene by storm in the next few years. If this trend holds to be true, rock duo ’68 have a big year coming for them. As they took the stage, fans chanted “Long live Norma Jean” (vocalist Josh Scogin’s former band) and Scogin joked “You’re onstage with your new band but they keep cheering for the old one…” For a mere two-piece, ’68 manages to pump out energy and power like no other however. Also on the monster stage were up-and-comers Being As An Ocean, who have developed somewhat of an underground following within their respective scene, but they have also been gaining more “mainstream” (I say this loosely…can we actually call anything on Warped mainstream these days?) success within the community.
Each year, Kevin Lyman finds a way to put a few acts on that leave much of the Warped fanbase with a collective feeling of “WTF?” Even though rap and hip hop acts have been mainstays of Warped for years (Eminem counts among Warped’s alumni), Warped fans often give a collective groan when some new act is announced on the lineup. This years “WTF” act goes to Riff Raff, an unconventional but actually hilariously entertaining rapper from Houston, Texas. The eccentric rapper wasn’t exactly who you’d expect to see filling the rap slot on Warped, but he definitely provided an entertaining experience nonetheless. Sometimes the most unorthodox performances on Warped can be the most fun. He drew a pretty impressive crowd too. Whether they were die-hard fans or simply curious onlookers, nobody knows, but his performance put a smile on the faces of most in the audience.
Of course no day at Warped would be complete without standing on a sweaty, steaming blacktop, three hundred feet away from your favorite band on one of the main stages. I’ll admit, when I started going to Warped, the crowds were smaller, and there was only one main stage to punch your way to the front of when Bad Religion played….but for the past couple years, Warped has been pulling out all the stops, with two main stages with staggered performance times, ensuring that the high-energy and production value of the main stage performances never shuts off. Bands like Family Force Five put on a wildly energetic set, with colorful acrylic set pieces and a few Michael Jackson-esque dance moves thrown in for good measure. The biggest, loudest crowds were naturally for Pierce the Veil and Black Veil Brides, who garnered such massive followings that you could barely hear yourself think over the collective roar of 14 year-old girls (And maybe a few of us 20-somethings who can still dig the music).
Overall, it was a classic day at Warped. Though some might scoff and say “Warped has changed,” it’s to be expected that those of us who have been going for years on end might have a harder time grappling with how music has changed, but Warped always provides something for everyone. The heart and soul of Warped is still there, year after year, and Kevin Lyman’s painstaking efforts to create a tour where everyone can feel welcome are still paying off.