Published Aug 01, 2005"Warped Tour is the land of the misfit toys. We're kind of like that extended, dysfunctional family you have to get together with once a year."
Kevin Lyman, Warped Tour founder
"What Kevin's done is create a formula. There are 92 bands here. That's 92 possibilities to reinvent the bass. The drums. The guitar."
Mike Watt, Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist
"No one out here is better than anyone else. We're playing the same half-hour set as a band who's been together for a year and doesn't have a record deal. That's cool."
Travis Barker, Transplants/Blink-182 drummer
The punk rock circus that is Kevin Lyman's annual Warped Tour is a lumbering, contradictory beast. Rooted in the ethos of West coast punk rock but steeped in corporate influence, the tour has found a way to survive while every other travelling music festival has evaporated. Ten years strong, the tour still brings out the likes of Dropkick Murphys and No Use For A Name alongside newcomers like Hawthorne Heights and Senses Fail. While some insinuate that the tour has lost its edge pointing to the increasing presence of decidedly un-punk bands like All-American Rejects the fact remains that the tour will always have a place for musicians like Rancid's Tim Armstrong, whose latest musical endeavour, Transplants, is one of this summer's biggest draws. To some, the clash of so many divergent subcultures may be the tour's great deficit, but a closer look reveals that it could, in fact, be the very thing that keeps it together. After four days following the tour through its and pop-punk's homeland of California, it is clear that one need look no further than the motley crew gathered in the mosh pit to see the literal collision of a community against itself.
Trends vs. Roots
"Music changes, and what's popular in music changes. Right now, screamo is what's popular, so of course Warped Tour is going to have a lot of screamo bands on it," says MxPx drummer Yuri Ruley. The 2005 instalment appears almost consumed by the genre, with big-name headliners bolstered by copycat sounds emanating from the side stages. While there remains room for the more classic punk sounds of yore, it doesn't seem to take much more than a few guttural screams to elevate your band from NOFX knock-offs to bona fide main stage stars.
"This is easy stuff," says No Use For A Name front-man Tony Sly. "You find a pounding drummer, you sing and scream at the same time, and you tune your guitars to C." Sly's semi-sarcastic axe-grinding holds some truth, however. The sheer amount of money being poured into promoting bands such as My Chemical Romance is staggering, as is the push by magazines such as Alternative Press to define themselves as the voice of a community whose marketability grows exponentially every day.
"I just worry that they're pouring themselves into something that is built to be forgotten," says Thomas Barnett, vocalist for political punks Strike Anywhere. "There's an art form to crafting a pop song or milking a current trend. I just don't know what they're going to be doing in four or five years." Barnett's insinuation that bands like Atreyu and Avenged Sevenfold will be little more than a blip on punk rock's ever-growing historical radar may not be one that a fist-pumping Stutterfly fan can get behind, but it's a pervasive sentiment amongst many of the tour's most respected individuals. But regardless of one's perspective on the disposability of this year's favourite flavours, no one looks down on participating bands who, like every single individual on the tour, work unbelievably hard.
"Warped Tour is the best place for kids to go to see all different kinds of bands," says Sam Cave, guitarist for furiously punk the Explosion. "When it comes to this level, everyone's trying to do the same thing." The vogue of screamo does not mean that more classically punk rock bands such as Cave's are left in the cold.
It is founder Kevin Lyman who best understands the inclusion of newer, potentially more commercial styles of music alongside more traditional sounds: "You've got to feed the roots of what this music is all about. And you need to show where it's gone. It revitalises a lot older bands, and new bands get a great shot at touring with them."
Work vs. Play
Every year, a band secures their spot on the Warped Tour by running the nightly barbeque for all the bands and crew; they are charged with all aspects of barbeque operation, from buying and making food to carting around and setting up the super-sized grill. For the second year in a row, Left Alone have literally stepped up to the plate. Or plates. Thousands of them.
"We cook every night for 500 people. And play. And load all our merch. And drive ourselves," says guitarist and vocalist Elvis Cortez. "It's always hard, but it's so much fun. It's how we got signed." The fact that the band are now part of Hellcat Records' roster hasn't deterred them from a little extra work on the road though. "It's cool to be on Hellcat, but it's not going to stop us from working. It's actually going to make us work harder. We just want to work. That's what we do."
To Elvis, the nightly barbeque means several hours of grocery shopping each day and not closing up until two a.m. before a seven hour drive, but for others, the barbeque is nothing more than a chance to unwind. During a somewhat drunken game of parking lot rugby in Ventura, the guitar tech for the Transplants shattered his wrist. The following night in Fresno finds a substantially more subdued crowd, with a few bands from the DIY stage hanging around the grill taking hits from a beer bong.
"We kept hearing about this from the Planet Smashers," explains Eon Sinclair, bassist for Canuck reggae troupe Bedouin Soundclash. "It's too bad kids don't get to see this, because it's really half of the tour." Around the buses, bands settle in for games of soccer and poker, as others happily rest in fold out chairs, beers and smokes in hand. As Transplants' drummer Travis Barker describes it, "Usually it's just everyone hanging out, drinking, smoking and just being retarded."
While bands are afforded a certain amount of leisure time both during the day and at night, others, such as those selling merchandise, work gruelling hours, usually from ten in the morning to ten at night. "It's the hardest, longest tour for anybody who works for any band," explains Ed, merch guy for Arizona metalcore outfit the Bled. "But as much as the entire time I'm out here I hate it, once I get home I immediately miss it." Ed and fellow merch-ers consistently find ways to fight boredom, often at the expense of foolish concert-goers.
"I like to tie fishing line to a shirt, leave it in the middle of the crowd and wait for someone to pick it up and walk off with it," he happily relates. "One time, we left the shirt right on the table. We had a good 150 feet of line on it. This guy takes it for about 30 yards before he turns around and sees us laughing. He gives us this nod and keeps walking. And we just keep laughing louder and louder. Then all of the sudden he's at the end of the rope, and he falls completely on his ass. Then he asked for a free shirt."
Fashion vs. Music
In Long Beach, three teenagers sit at the back of the main stage crowd, a bored look on each heavily-painted face. Kenny, who is covered in white face paint and black eyeliner, is 18 years old. His fake blood stains and albino sheen did not come from home, but were applied at the My Chemical Romance merch tent. The crowd is sprinkled with kids sporting a similar coat of cosmetics, and bands like Avenged Sevenfold make the look a defining part of their stage show. The tour even has a full-time hair stylist on board for the first time this year, well-trained in producing magazine cover-shoot-ready coifs for eager emo girls and boys.
"We're very fashion unconscious," says Motion City Soundtrack guitarist Joshua Cain, who sports a half-bald dome that has likely never been touched by Warped stylist scissors. Cain is a welcome respite from the tight shirt/girls' pants crowd, who seem to be dominating the tour this year. "We're not trying to fit our band into some visual representation of our music. We do want to make sure we shave every once in a while so we don't look like crazy people."
No Use For A Name's Tony Sly even uses the Gap-owned punk clothing chain Hot Topic to characterise his band's difficulties fitting in: "We're not Hot Topic, which doesn't help." Purveyors of all things pseudo-punk, the store is an ever-present reality on the tour. They sponsor a side-stage and their "Support Local Music" stickers pepper the ground; the fact that the chain does not carry the music of local bands goes unnoticed by many.
"You have more to give than just a tight T-shirt across your breasts or a bad temporary tattoo," Strike Anywhere's Barnett says to the kids who feel lost in a sea of conformity. Yet the buying power of Warped Tour's prime demographic cannot be understated, and the breast-hugging tight T-shirt seems high on the priority list. Yet some bands make a concerted effort to showcase a playful fashion attitude. Each day, Emery features different costumes: Devo suits one day, cowboy getups the next. It's these touches that go a long way to prove that just because you're in a band with screaming, you don't have to take yourself so seriously.
"Warped Tour is about being stupid and having fun. So why would you try to be all serious and look good?" questions guitarist Devin Shelton, who, on stage later that day, will be decked out in full basketball regalia. "We're not a super-silly band in terms of our music, but we like to reflect our personalities a little bit." The Bled are another band whose style of dress seems unhindered by popular trends. Yet during their set in Ventura, a substantial crowd can be seen in front of their merch tent on the other side of the park.
"Ah, the scene kids," sighs Bled merch guy Ed. "They just want to be seen' with the merchandise and don't really care about the bands. I usually tell them to get lost until the band is done playing. If they really cared about the band, they'd be here to watch them." Sadly, the reality of fashioncore is a harsh one, illuminated later that day when a girl wearing a Straight Edge T-shirt lights up a hash pipe in the pit.
Punk vs. Consumerism
"It's like, No way! Something good turned into something where a bunch of people want to make money!' Go figure," No Use's Sly quips. "That's what happens to every good thing if you let it." The unavoidable corporate influence on this year's tour can be seen from the very moment you arrive outside the venue: Cingular subscribers are allowed to bump the line and enter through their own gate, resulting in a swarm of 15 year olds waving their cell phones as they rush to get inside. Only one stage, run by Shira Girl, doesn't have heavily-advertised corporate sponsorship. Obviously some companies, such as Hurley and Vans, are immersed in the culture that Warped represents. Others, such as Samsung, seem awkward in their eagerness to force their brand on the impressionable concert-going throng.
Yet the ever-present influence of such companies does little to hinder the spirit of the tour. "As conflicted and commercialised and as empty as a lot of Warped Tour can be, it's still so important to be here," says Strike Anywhere's Barnett. "It's not that the tour is this particularly evil thing. It's just big. You can't control it ethically one way or the other." When it comes to ethics, however, tour organisers have tried to put their money where their punk mouth is, allowing non-profit groups free space to set up information booths. This designated non-profit area populated by groups such as Catch 22 Fisheries and Take Action! is generally desolate. While the line for Dropkick Murphys merch is long and winding, the number of people concerned with the messages put forth by Peta or Volunteer Match is less than impressive.
"At least if they're not an activist crowd, they're an activist-aware crowd," says Hailey, who is tabling in Ventura for Catch 22 Fisheries. "A lot of these kids really care about the environment." The copious amount of litter that covers the ground after each stop may say otherwise, but non-profit groups stand to at least create greater awareness, if not greater interest.
Unity vs. Segregation
For a genre of music partly founded on a deeply-held belief in cultural unity (see: every cover of Operation Ivy's "Unity"), a glance at the many stages of Warped Tour 2005 reveals little in the way of diversity, and a lot in the way of white dudes. One very small, but very loud pink stage is trying to change that. A new addition for this year, the Shira Girl stage is designed as a platform for female expression, showcasing all-girl and girl-fronted bands in every city on the tour.
"There were no girl bands on Warped Tour before this," says Shira, the brain trust behind the stage along with musical partner Melissa Shadows. "Maybe once every now and then for a few dates, but 99 percent of it was all men. And the audience is half girls." Her assessment of the audience is accurate, yet few artists have bothered to bring such concerns to light.
"Girls need role models so they can see that they can express themselves that way, too. A lot of girls have come up to us and said things like, I want to start my own bands now. I thought my boyfriend was the one who was supposed to do that kind of thing,'" Shira says. The whole concept of the Shira Girl stage only developed after their impromptu crashing of the tour last year, resulting in an invitation to play the rest of the dates. "For this year, we came to Kevin with a proposal, saying, We want to do it for real, and we want to do it bigger.' I hope to make this stage a gateway."
While the number of women on stage is small, the number of visible minorities is even smaller. "There is a definite lack of cultural diversity on the tour," says Guyanese-Canadian Eon Sinclair of Bedouin Soundclash, one of a handful of musicians of colour on the tour. "Although there are great bands like Bad Brains and Fishbone that are cited as influences by a lot of these people, historically, a lot of the music this tour is based on and supports is dominated by the white majority.
"I guess punk speaks to a particular experience that a lot of other cultures weren't able to pick up on, or are not really interested in getting involved with," Sinclair elaborates. "It didn't really speak to me when I was younger, but looking at the lyrics and messages, a lot of it mirrors what is being said in traditionally black forms of music, such as reggae."
Demography vs. Geography
The Warped Tour covers an overwhelming geographic area in its two-month run, taking bands through parts of North America both overrun by, starved for, and sometimes uninterested in punk culture. The act of playing in, say, Boise, Idaho can be rewarding and painful, depending on the band, and sometimes, their religious beliefs.
"The first week of the tour was all through the Midwest, and everyone was like, Oh, dude, this is killing me,'" laughs the Explosion's Cave. "But guys like [Christian hardcore band] Underoath were like, Yes!'" "The Midwest is hard for a lot of bands," Bedouin's Sinclair agrees, noting "In Middle America at the beginning, things were a little slow." At the same time, bands recognise the importance of playing in cities where they might otherwise fear to tread.
"When you go to the Midwest where there's not much going on, Warped Tour is the only concert kids can go to," says Mark Civaitarese, vocalist for street-punks the Unseen. "A lot of punk bands won't go to places like St. Louis 'cause they don't think there's a punk scene. And that's one of the reasons why we do Warped Tour." Civaitarese's sentiments are echoed by Strike Anywhere's Barnett. "We're like, We're going to go to Boise and Bozeman and Calgary?' That's why we signed on. We're adventurers," Barnett says half-jokingly. "We got tired of feeling like we were cheerleading for activist kids who know more about what we're singing about than we do. We have to push it out."
As with every year, the tour makes a few pushes north of the American border, with five Canadian stops. While the Fourth of July was celebrated in earnest with cries of "Happy Birthday, America!" by nearly every band in Fresno, July 1 in Long Beach passed by with nary a mention by any band, save for Burlington's Boys Night Out. A lone American fan, able to prove his knowledge of the Canadian national anthem at the band's insistence, was awarded a free hoodie.
"On a day like Canada Day, you definitely look for those few Canadians on tour and cling to them," says Bedouin's Sinclair. Canuck representatives such as Bedouin, Boys Night Out, and Silverstein also rest comfortably with the knowledge that the Canadian dates are some of the biggest on the tour Barrie pulls in 18,000 kids versus 4,000 in Fresno. "Oh my God, we can't wait to get back!" Sinclair laughs. "We're planning on having some Canadian parties to show these bands what we do, and that there's a little more percentage of alcohol."
In the great battle of Warped Tour 2005, who will emerge triumphant when it all comes to a close on August 15? Whoever the victor, there is little doubt that all sides will be back in the octagon for the next instalment next June. The Mike Watts of the punk world will once again do battle with the Atreyus, helping to keep the scene exciting and alive.
"The Warped Tour has kept our scene revitalised each year," notes Kevin Lyman. While it may be in his own financial interest to think so, it probably is true. Though trends come and go, the heart of the tour remains.
Getting ready for another night of manning the grill, Left Alone's Elvis Cortez reflects, "This tour is so important to music. I went to the first one, and I've been [every year] since. It strays sometimes and gets weird bands that people might not like, but it brings the kids. And maybe some kid who came to see Avenged Sevenfold might catch us and like us, and that's a new fan." During the day, it may be a simple fight for fans and audiences. But at night, the happy camaraderie that pours from the parking lot that has been home for the last 14 hours means much more than that. Whether it's your punk rock dysfunctional family get-together, summer camp, or high school reunion, Warped Tour is never one thing: stagnant.
Get In The Van
I went to the first Warped Tour. It was so rad. That was my only dream," says Travis Barker, former drummer of pop-punk megastars Blink-182 and current beat-master for Warped main stagers the Transplants. It may be hard to imagine the MTV star as a lowly punk kid anonymously wrecking the pit ten years ago, but Transplants are a band of lowly punk kids. The pet project of Rancid's Tim Armstrong and former Rancid/AFI roadie Rob Aston, the group have just released Haunted Cities, their second full-length album, as much to the surprise of the band as anyone else.
"There was never gonna be a record. This was never going to be a band," says Aston, the group's lead vocalist. "It was just me and Tim fucking around." What resulted from a few basement recordings and the recruitment of Barker was the genre-busting Transplants, a motlov cocktail of punk, hip-hop, hardcore, and everything in between. Despite the high-profile commitments of Armstrong and Barker, the band developed its own reputation for Aston's dark lyrical style and the musical menagerie that backed him.
"Once we decided to be a real band, we've always been a real band. We never treated it like a side project," Aston says. Still, the band's unique touring schedule has put them in a different position than most.
"We don't really conduct ourselves like a normal band you'd see on the road still touring their first record, totally pissed. That's not us," Barker says. "We maybe played 20 shows on our first record." As the band get themselves into the groove of playing nearly every day for two months straight, the change in Aston's world is apparent, as he moves from the back of the stage to the very front.
"I never really had aspirations of being in a band. I was happy just going out on the road and working for bands," he says. "When you're working tech at Warped Tour, you're basically working all day long. You're in the sun, you're sweating, and it's hard work. I don't know if I'd do it again." That said, it's unlikely that the trappings of a double-bus tour will bring about a total sea change in Aston, who has frequently been spotted by others on the tour helping to set up his merch tent, something bigger bands rarely bother with.
"I started out in a van with the Aquabats," Barker says, happily recalling his masked former self. "We had 13 people in a ten-passenger van. I've done everything, from that to playing arenas with Blink." While Transplants fall somewhere in the middle, it is good to know that for the members of the band, their goals were attainted a long time ago. Everything else, as Barker says, is just a bonus, adding, "I could go back to the van and still be happy."
Everyone Loves Bedouin Soundclash
You notice it from the moment you enter the venue. Everyone is wearing a Bedouin Soundclash T-shirt. Maybe not everyone, but during four Warped stops in California, it seems like every member of the Warped Tour crew owns at least one piece of Bedouin merchandise. Then there's the Explosion, who drape the band's shirts over their amps when they play, or the roadie for Lordz of Brooklyn who made sure he was wearing his Bedouin shirt during a shoot for a mid-tour skate video. In casual conversation, the band are brought up almost constantly as one of the shining lights on the tour, winning high praise around the barbeque in Fresno for a particularly strong set that day. The sense of appreciation for the group's work is almost overwhelming.
"Every stage sounds the same except for a few bands that actually stand out, like Bedouin Soundclash," says Left Alone's Elvis Cortez. "We wait for them every day," adds Thomas Barnett of Strike Anywhere. "It's like cool water. They get it. That's punk. That is punk fucking rock."
The band's full stint on the tour this year is the direct result of their incredible performance in Barrie last year, the only date they played. As luck would have it, Kevin Lyman happened to be on stage, taking in the band's set. "He said, If you have a song that could convince me to give you half of the tour next year, play that song,'" recalls Eon Sinclair, the group's bassist. "When I think back on it, it was like a movie scene: Play me your best song.' But it worked." So well, in fact, the band found themselves signed to Side One Dummy in the U.S. and playing the whole tour this year. "Kevin is one of our greatest advocates, and it's great. It opens a lot of doors for us."