Vans Warped Tour Thunderbird Stadium, Vancouver BC - July 4, 2003

Late in the day, and sceptical of any punk festival sponsored by a shoe company, I took a quick scan of the happy spiky-haired crowd, who did not seem to notice or care about this huge corporate event being billed as the summer's best and biggest punk rock event. Fourteen- to 20-year-old middle-class suburban boys dominated the sea of bodies, although an unexpected number of girls also mingled about, with a smattering of those over the quarter century mark (likely roadies or members of the 30-plus bands on the bill). A seasoned summer festival, Warped is a slick, well oiled machine. Multiple stages, including two "main" stages side-by-side, meant mere seconds after one headliner yelled out "Thank you, Vancouver!," the next would rip into their first song on the adjacent stage. Festival goers could also fraternise with bands at their individual booths, check out some extreme sports demos or consume over-priced festival food (although, alas, no beer garden). But what about the music? On arrival, I had significant terrain to cross to catch Rancid, but still managed to witness the SF Bay-area band pull out a heavy, stellar set. My only complaint was that it, and all the sets, seemed too short. A sign of our growing attention-deficit culture perhaps. Next, I was keen to catch some of Canadian and recent press darlings A Simple Plan, whose fans seemed happy enough, although I was left wondering just how this extremely radio-friendly act could be grouped in the punk rock genre? "Punk-pop" maybe, but that's really an oxymoron, isn't it? Just as ominous rain clouds appeared, the happy but sunburnt crowd converged on the main stages for the remaining headliners. For the Ataris, I was poised with as much anticipation as the Fred Durst look-alike beside me, in my case waiting to see body-surfing to Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." Although somewhat surreal, I wasn't disappointed. Then with their closing song, a fan was brought up to play guitar. Ah, rock'n'roll. But the best was saved for last with Pennywise closing down the daylong, eight-hour extravaganza. Playing their first show on this year's Warped tour, they pulled out great hardcore old-style punk, sans the pop. Smitten by all the young enthusiastic fans, they also offered up some Punk 101, including dedications to punk legends Black Flag and Canadian border cops (just before kicking into "F#*@! Authority"). In the end, I streamed out with the cattle herd, unsure of whether to remain disgruntled with the current "punk revival" or just admit I've turned into a "remember back when" music crony. Maybe a bit of both.