When the Vans Warped Tour started in 1995, it was a melding of extreme sports and mostly punk bands. In the 20 years since, it’s grown and changed, and 2015 featured a lineup of 90-some bands over a nine-hour day in the blistering heat. There were a few punk bands sprinkled in, but the overall listing of groups was heavy on variety — from EDM to acoustic to metalcore — with aggressive styles like the latter leading the charge.
The true story of the day was the heat. It was oppressive and muggy, which was highlighted by the fest's location in a field at Canterbury Park. With virtually no shade to be found, the carnival/county fair arrangement of stages, concession and band booths, and activities was in fierce competition with the water sprinklers, refillable bottle stations, and slip ‘n’ slide near the park’s entryway. The fact that there was only one area to refill water bottles — and that it closed down at 6:30 p.m. when the show itself went ‘til 8 — was questionable at best. It was a day of watching teenagers turn from shades of white to pink and then lobster red, with sweat pouring, paper fans flapping, and far too many visits to the first-aid booth due to heat issues.
Those were the negatives, but the spirit of Warped is in its atmosphere, color, and general goodwill. There’s a youthful spirit that transcends genres and ages, a setting that is littered with corporate sponsors but also with teenagers getting a first taste of live music. There were all shades of hair colors and ample tattooage, but also face paint, body paint, and a range of other personal styles on display. Those styles were worn as badges of honor, with people expressing themselves without worry about what others think. It’s a place to feel at home instead of cooped up in a classroom or bad job where the uniforms are as bland as the food. The bands that played Warped Tour are important, but the festival’s character is the dominant factor and the backdrop of oh-so-many 30-minute sets.
I attended Warped with my niece, and it was a different experience for her generation than it was for mine. While parents were around and seeing people in their mid-to-late 20s wasn’t uncommon, the ages of 30-45 were definitely lacking. Warped’s prime audience seems to be ages 16-20, with a few 21-25ers and random others scattered about. Even though doors opened at 11 a.m., it was nearly 2 p.m. before I saw somebody drinking a beer; Monster Energy drinks were the beverage of choice. I’ve attended a few Warped Tours myself, but none since 2000 (I think Green Day played the Metrodome parking lot?). This time around, my interests were in smaller bands at the tucked away stages, with the Acoustic Tent getting more time than most others. Sets that caught my attention included a guitar and violin performance from Onward, Etc., a lively set from punks Lee Corey Oswald, and a bouncy pop-punk show from Man Overboard, who boasted some of the more energetic and vibrant stage personas of the day.
Otherwise, it was crowd watching and catching little pieces of everything as I circled the grounds and took in the carnival. The sound bleed between stages was well managed, especially with so many so close together. I saw pop punk (Candy Hearts), singer-songwriter (Grey Gordon), heavier indie (Have Mercy), nerdcore hip-hop (MC Lars), metal (Pierce the Veil and Escape the Fate), alt pop (Tat), and a whole lot more including DJs, dance stuff, and hardcore. Summing it up is easier than highlighting specific sets due to quantity and the spectating nature of my experience, but singling out locals Koo Koo Kanga Roo seems a good place to start. With an early 1:30 p.m. time slot, their kid-focused rap/dance party show highlights much of what makes the festival tick: It’s energetic, endearing, and fully interactive.
If you’re into gold-painted shoes and fanny packs, you already know this dance duo, and their set of kiddie songs tends to show affinity for 1980s-90s cultural icons. While Koo Koo songs like “Everybody Poops” seem aimed at a younger fan base, their vibrancy transcends age barriers. The band brought everybody with a fanny pack on stage for “Fanny Pack,” and got into the middle of the crowd to close out the last half of their set. In fact, a standout element at Warped Tour this year was that, whenever the musician on stage asked for the crowd to move up, the crowd did so. I think we all know what happens when that same demand gets dropped at a bar show.
Based on the number of T-shirts and the frenzied crowd camped out well in advance, Pierce the Veil was one of the Warped's most anticipated bands. And from when they took the stage to when the smoke cannons burst, it was pure guitar-shredding showmanship. Up front, it was sweaty with a chorus of sing-every-word fanaticism. From afar, it was a beautiful chaos of crowd surfers and raised arms. Most of the day featured more stationary, respect-your-personal-space dancing liked raised arms and pogoing, something the festival actively promotes with signs asking attendees not to mosh or crowd surf. With Pierce the Veil, though, staff took it in stride. They let fans enjoy themselves while helping them down and keeping everything safe and moderately organized. In the end, that’s the takeaway from Warped 2015: Despite weather issues and some strange vending decisions, all the kids went home happy.
Critic's bias: Let’s just same I’m not the key demographic.
The crowd: Young. Girls with dyed hair, boys in black T-shirts. Once the heat became too much, a lot of (reddening) skin. Excited and really positive in tone. Very little negativity at this festival.
Overheard in the crowd: “I’ve had four boyfriends but I didn’t like three of them.”
Random notebook dump: I wonder what the vendor in the Nausea shirt thinks of this band?
Random notebook dump 2: The line situation to get into this festival was a complete mess. Also, $2 for a printed schedule?