It was hot that summer at the Vans Warped Tour in Hartford. I think it was 2011. I was sweating more than I ever had in my life. My back, arms, and face were sunburned from standing outside since nine in the morning, but I loved every second of it. I remember I couldn’t wait to see Paramore live for the first time. Being just fifteen, I had no idea this tour would become a tradition for me.
The stages were everywhere at Xfinity Theater. The venue was usually empty besides the lawn and center stage, but that day it was completely full. Walking down the central pathway, I was in middle-school era heaven. There were stages around every corner and rows of booths for different sponsors were set up, including everything from Monster Energy Drinks to Journeys footwear. Many of the bands could interact with their fans throughout the day in these booths as well.
Having to choose which bands to see and which to miss out on was always the hardest choice. My friend’s dad was just as indecisive, considering he was into a lot of the bands that were playing, too. It was crowded there but not to the point where I couldn’t move. The energy was amazing, everyone was there for the love of music. We all knew every word to most of the sets. When 3OH!3 sang “Don’t Trust Me,” I could hardly hear them over the screaming crowd. The videos I took were nothing but muffled noise when I played them back the next day. Packaged like sardines, our sweaty bodies slammed into each other as we jumped. We didn’t care. It didn’t matter that we were complete strangers.
The people around me were weird. We all were. That’s why it was so comfortable. Most of us clad in band tees and clutching Monster Energy drinks. It was like a gathering of misfit kids who just wanted to rage. Even though I went for the first time six years ago, I was still late to the Warped Tour scene.
Warped Tour is a traveling rock festival that was created by Kevin Lyman in 1995. Lyman was no stranger to festival life, having worked three summers prior at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. The first Warped Tour commenced on June 21, 1995 in Boise, Idaho, and has been touring ever since. It is the largest traveling music festival in the country, not to mention the longest running in North America. In 1998 it even went international, playing shows in Australia, Europe, and Japan. It runs from coast to coast, stopping in almost every state. From Connecticut to California, different bands hop on and off the tour, taking the stage where they wish. Despite the abundance of shows on the tour, no venue is set up the same way. The tour even has a half-pipe set up to appeal to the Vans brand aspect—skater kids. What could be better than skating while being at a punk festival? It was every scene kid’s dream.
The first Warped Tour was quite different, geared more towards eclectic alternative bands such as Deftones, No Doubt, and Sublime. These bands were quite experimental in the 90’s, attracting a decent-sized audience. However, Warped Tour didn’t find its true audience, or become a real success, until Vans became a sponsor in 1996. When Vans jumped on the Warped Tour bandwagon, they partnered with an entirely different music scene.
From then on, Warped Tour was considered to be the “punk rock summer camp,” and just about everybody wanted to attend, or so it seemed. I begged my mom for days to even consider letting me go. Although today the bands have changed over time, some still appeal to the older audience as well. Those who run the tour are careful it doesn’t lose its “roots.”
Vans Warped Tour had a huge impact on the music industry. It served as a launching pad for young artists, many of which are household names today. Bands such as Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy are only a few examples of groups that gained popularity from performing on the tour. Warped Tour also encourages young bands to follow their dreams by hosting the annual Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands. This gives over ten thousand musicians the chance to compete, and, if well received, perform at the Warped Tour located in their home city.
Despite the tour’s success, things today aren’t like they were in the nineties. The world is always changing and sometimes we can’t keep up. On November 15, 2017, Kevin Lyman announced that Vans Warped Tour 2018 would be the last.
Part of the reason Warped Tour is ending is that people simply aren’t interested anymore. Ticket sales dipped a significant amount for Warped Tour 2017. Teenagers are changing and becoming much less interested in the punk festival scene. Most of the bands that used to be “cool” were portrayed as rebellious and overflowing with angst— sometimes (most of the time, actually) with a lot of eyeliner. Another reason, according to Lyman, is that “we invest in bands, and all of a sudden they shift their focus. You invest a lot of time in them for a summer, and then you want to try to bring them back when they’re gonna start meaning something, and they go off in a different direction, for whatever reason.” Not only are the kids not interested, but bands have found different launching platforms. Unfortunately, the kids that once kept Warped Tour alive have aged, and it seems they’ve traded in their days of wild crowd surfing for watching their children’s sporting events.
Another huge contributing factor is that the world has changed entirely. In an interview with Billboard, Lyman discusses how events such as the shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival in Vegas and the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, affect people’s willingness to attend Warped Tour as well. Lyman states “that one (Manchester, England) affected us, probably in a lot of ways, because parents were questioning, ‘Should my 14-16-year old go to that festival or concert this year?’ Given the option that you still have the control, I think that a lot of people were like, ‘You know, stay home. You know what? You can go next year.’”
In a 2017 article for Rolling Stone, Simple Plan’s lead vocalist and guitarist Pierre Bouvier expressed that Warped Tour was “an experience like no other,” saying that “Kevin Lyman and his team really handpicked bands that are part of a style. If you like Green Day, Blink-182, Simple Plan or Good Charlotte and so many other bands, you’re probably going to like the band playing on any stage. That’s what’s cool– it gives an opportunity to bands in this style.” Not only was Warped Tour special to the fans that attended, but the band members who played. Bouvier also expressed that he thinks “it’s a shame that [punk rock] style and culture can’t sustain itself as it used to. There will always be alternative styles and music and cultures. By the time my kids are in high school, I’m sure there will be things they love that will make me go ‘What the hell is this?’ For them, that will be their Warped Tour.”
Some people see the ending of Warped Tour as a good thing. Liability became a huge issue when bands would encourage the audience to make mosh pits and walls of death. I always left Warped Tour with bruises all over from moshing all day. In the moment, I didn’t even realize it was happening. Bodies flail and it’s inevitable you’ll end up with some bruises if you’re standing in the middle of the action, which many would argue is the best part. If the band encourages it, the entire Warped Tour is liable if somebody ends up getting hurt and filing charges. Moshing has since been “banned,” but the rule is hardly followed. Some girl almost fist-fought me one year when I caught The Ready Set’s guitar pick and she didn’t. It was pretty hardcore.
Aside from that, there have been many alleged instances of sexual assault, in which many bands and speculators accuse Lyman of not handling well. Lyman states that none of these alleged things happened on the tour, and there are no hard facts to confirm these accusations.
No matter the bad that came with Warped Tour, there is no doubt some good came along with it. The activism aspect of Warped Tour has always been strong, with organizations such as Invisible Children and To Write Love On Her Arms setting up tents to spread awareness. Remember those I Love Boobies bracelets? Those got their popularity from the Keep A Breast Foundation. They used to give the bracelets out at Warped Tour. Lyman even started his own foundation called Unite the United, which encourages fans, artists, and industry leaders to work towards positive change and support their local communities.Warped Tour contributes twenty-five cents from every ticket to an organization called Hollywood Heart— opening doors for teens and young people affected by AIDS or HIV, or those who are at high risk. They host various arts programs as well as an annual summer camp. They also raised about five hundred thousand dollars for relief efforts towards of Hurricane Katrina.
In his goodbye statement, Lyman states that “it will be bittersweet each morning when I see the sun rise and then watch it set knowing that this will be the last time I get to witness it from that exact spot.”
I waited all day to see Paramore. I stood in the crowd. I clutched my friend’s hand. My heart pounded so hard against my chest it felt like it’d burst. The opening chords to “Misery Business” boomed. I looked down at my once white Vans, adjusted my drawstring backpack, and wiped the sweat from my forehead. It wasn’t until then that I noticed the unbelievable watercolor sky behind the stage. The sunset was unforgettable. Pictures don’t do it justice. I sang my heart out that night. I’ll never forget these moments at Warped Tour, and I’m sure I can speak for many people when I say that.
But, not to worry—there is still the opportunity to attend Vans Warped Tour 2018, which Lyman hopes will include many old and popular headliners (cue the squeal from my teenage heart). Not only that, but Lyman has hinted at a 25th anniversary celebration in 2019.
So, fellow punk-rockers, grab your Monster Energy drinks, slip on those Vans, and prepare for the last installment of punk rock summer camp!