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Warped Tour 2016: Largely unrecognizable, but an empowering force for kids

A scene from the 2013 Warped Tour

A scene from the 2013 Warped Tour

In 1996, this humble writer attended the Warped Tour at Midway Stadium in St. Paul (RIP). One of the most memorable sets came from Less Than Jake near the day’s conclusion. 

Twenty years later, Less Than Jake returned with the Warped Tour, this time to Canterbury Park in Shakopee. They played to an older crowd at noon, just as lines began forming outside the festival gates and sunscreen was being applied.

While LTJ enjoyed a solid, enthusiastic reception, it grew clear throughout the 10-hour event that the Warped baton has been passed. Once an icon of skate punk culture, Warped tapped into its roots for its 20th anniversary, though the bands themselves noted the different audience.

Less Than Jake asked two related questions: How many people had heard a particular song from the 1990s, followed by how many were born in the 1990s? Later, Teenage Bottlerocket joked about the different atmosphere between the Canterbury Park parking lot and their typical stage at the Triple Rock.

While a  few legacy acts -- Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, New Found Glory, and even Good Charlotte and Sum 41 -- joined Warped '16, those bands seemed to mostly draw parents. Younger fans gravitated toward a new generation, one that’s pulled in different directions including metalcore, electronica, and occasional power-pop blasts.

Warped is about the kids, for the kids, and while organizers embrace spreading the love of music (parents get in free), it’s easy to pick out the dad in the Pantera or Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt among a sea of T-shirts that read Motionless in White, Every Time I Die, or Sleeping with Sirens.

One thing hasn't changed since the '90s: celebratinginclusivity among outsider tweens and teens. Repeated proclamations from bands across the genre spectrum honed in on a single point: Being different is OK; look around, you are not alone. Bands from Vanna to Crown the Empire preached messages of individuality, finding strength within. 

Think of Warped Tour as a counter-culture alternative to the State Fair. Thousands gather annually to celebrate their passion -- namely the music, though politics, culture, and style creep in (There’s even a hot mess of fried foods, though they're far from the main attraction.) 

There is a true sense of excitement when bands take the stage, whether the screams of excitement before Sleeping With Sirens, the swarming crowd outside New Found Glory during their melodic singalongs, or the showmanship with which Emarosa sang while crowd surfing. It’s an earnest crowd that wants to be there, experiencing the moment. Nearly every band seems immersed in a sea of hands in the air, and the volume of the chants sometimes rivals the music. 

There are some downsides to the event, especially the bare-bones amenities. There was free water hidden away in a back corner, and little to no shade is provided at the grounds. It’s also a bit awkward that tear-down begins before the festival is closed, giving headlining acts a unique setting where, as fans scream and gather near their stage, forklifts and trucks move gear a hundred yards away.

Overall, though, Warped Tour continues to succeed because of its connection with youth culture and youth demands. There are a lot of corporate hands on Warped Tour, but once inside the gates the music and the attendees take over, and all the overpriced Gatorades and energy drinks can’t stop that. Nothing can.

Chugging through a list of the performers across the seven stages is too much to handle, so here come field notes in scatter-shot form, as the day was spent observing and bouncing between sets and genres. 

- Early on, new generation two-tone punks the Interrupters paid homage to the past by featuring Reel Big Fish’s trombone player and covering Operation Ivy.

- Old Wounds have a curious concept that blends vampires and Hawaiian shirts.

- Masked Intruder, whose shtick includes ample police jokes, missed an opportunity to address current events.

- A $4 crushed ice snack sounds expensive but is very worth it in a hot parking lot.

- So much sitting on the ground in a dirty parking lot.

Critics’ bias: I’m not a fan of frequent tempo changes 

The crowd: Celebratory. Free, sweaty hugs is a common motif. Devoid of irony.

Overheard in the crowd: "Did you get her Snapchat name? If you didn’t, I’ll go get it for you."

Random notebook dump: Lots of social politics, few if any election politics.

Bands watched include: The Interrupters, Less Than Jake, Knuckle Puck, Mother Feather, Old Wounds, Secrets, Waterparks, Masked Intruder, Vanna, Gideon, The Word Alive, Coldrain, Sleeping with Sirens, New Found Glory, Ghost Town, Motionless in White, Emarosa, Chelsea Grim, Mayday Parade, Teenage Bottlerocket.