Published Feb 01, 2000Ah summer. A time of long days and short pants, and great big sweaty, dusty outdoor music festivals. I generally make a point of staying away from any musical event that is attended by more than 2,000 people with one annual exception - the Vans Warped Tour. Its musical offerings, day camp feel (it always wraps up by 9 p.m.) and very watchable extreme sports demonstrations are pleasant diversions. But this year, I felt compelled - nay, obligated - to witness the spawn of what is perceived as the archetypal North American summer music festival, Woodstock '99. And as luck would have it, I was able to attend the Warped show in Buffalo, NY the day before Woodstock's July 23 kick off in Rome, NY, just three hours away.
The Warped show was held at a terrific lakeside venue called LaSalle Park and featured bands like Pennywise, Blink 182, Suicidal Tendencies, 7 Seconds, H20, Orange 9mm, Eminem and the list goes on - none of whom on their own could draw more than about 2,000 fans to a show. Tickets were $25 (U.S.). There were a handful of porta-potties, and concessions and merchandise were quite reasonably priced.
Woodstock 99, by contrast, was held at a decommissioned American Air Force base that used to be the site of peace protests, and featured Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Korn, Alanis Morissette, Bush, Sheryl Crow, Rage Against the Machine and other acts that would have no difficulty drawing tens of thousands of people on their own. Tickets were $150 (U.S.) for three days including on-site camping and 24 hour film festival. There were about 2,500 porta potties and food concessions were overpriced. Having spent that Thursday to Sunday prolonged weekend attending one outdoor music festival after another, I was struck by one thing. They really weren't that different in spirit, intent and execution.
That will probably come as sad news to Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge who led a "Fuck Woodstock" chant during their Warped set and the handful of attendees who, in recognition of their show's proximity in both location and timing to Woodstock, proudly displayed home made shirts emblazoned with the word Woodstock in a circle with a line through it.
"A hundred and fifty fucking dollars for tickets... that's bullshit," Dragge exclaimed in a bid to encourage more participation in his chant. And with the audience of predominantly teenagers open to any invitation to shout a curse word, it did. Still one couldn't help but think that there but for a few more years, dollars in the bank, and a car would have gone a bunch of those same kids.
The Warped tour, like Woodstock, is simply another outdoor festival to a good many of those who attend. To more dedicated music fans looking for more than an excuse to mosh, it's a chance to see some politically like-minded bands spreading the good word and having a whole lot of fun in the process.
In 1999, though, it seems the Warped Tour has about as much to do with punk rock unity as the recent incarnations of Woodstock have to do with peace and love. Both are about letting loose all that testosterone-fuelled angst and artificial suburban rage that builds up after a tough school year. They're about attempting to give ticket buyers a value for money package that allows them to see several of their favourite bands in one event. They're about making people feel like they're part of something special when in fact spending a day doing some community work would be ten times as personally fulfilling.
And ultimately they both, regardless of how well-intentioned they seem by offering space to worthy social-causes, are about making money for organisers. Of course the same can be said other travelling circuses like the feminist-themed Lilith Fair or the groove-flavoured Spirit of Unity tour. They all rely heavily on corporate sponsors, something that I'm assuming helps keep ticket prices at the level they're at. Imagine what you'd pay to see some of these shows if there was no Woodstock MasterCard booth or the giant inflatable Yoohoo bottle that hovers menacingly over the Warped Tour merchandise bazaar.
The bottom line, though, is that for all its contradictions and commercial trappings, Warped, when compared to Woodstock, is the one festival that will keep me coming back until the bands start to suck or it simply outgrows itself.