For an annual summer tour that was developed in 1995, Vans Warped Tour continues to stay strong each year. Known as the largest and longest touring concert event, stretching throughout the entirety of North America and select countries in the United Kingdom, Warped features nearly one-hundred bands from the alternative, pop-punk, metal, and alike genres combined. From household names such as Yellowcard, Good Charlotte, and We The Kings to small-town bands catching their first break, Warped Tour is an all-day extravaganza of pumping, rocking music that will get you and keep you on your end-of-the-day blistering feet. Worded perfectly by Joe Taylor, the lead vocalist of Knuckle Puck—a pop-punk band from Chicago, Illinois—“Warped is a really, really great melting pot of a lot of bands and a lot of people seeing music…that’s a beautiful thing.”
The infectious partying atmosphere at Warped Tour demands to be felt and embraced throughout the entire day. “As you can hear, it’s kind of chaos,” Gustav Wood, lead singer of England-bred alternative-rock band Young Guns, shouts into my recording device while Ryan Key of Yellowcard belts the anthem of “Ocean Avenue” to an enthusiastically feverish crowd. “There’s music coming at you at every angle…loads of people selling stuff, shouting, getting drunk…it’s fun. It’s a little whirlwind of a tour and we’re in the middle of it.”
There’s no reason that a sane human being would spend ten hours on their feet, sweating like a Red Hot Chili Pepper in the scorching sun, no reason band members and crew would travel months on a smelly bus that you can’t poop on, tiring out their vocals: if it weren’t for the true love of music that everyone at this tour—musician, crew-member and audience member, alike—share. As Cody Carson from (this reporter’s completely unbiased favorite performance on tour) Set It Off projected to the crowd, there truly was no difference between those on stage and those in the crowd. Everyone was there for the same reason: their love of music.
Perhaps the most amusing anecdote of this year’s tour was the vast number of attendees who indulged in Pokemon Go. Those who played it on the tour forged friendships with each other while calling out animated invitations such as, “I’m on Team Instinct too!” or “Do you know where that Pikachu went?” Issues, the band known for hit-songs such as “Mad At Myself” and “Yung & Dum,” decorated their entire set in honor of the Pokemon Go craze and even sold merch with adorable pocket monsters stamped on them. With the main stage set up as a Pokemon Gym where players battled against each other, this craze only enriched the experience that Warped Tour never fails to grant their adrenalized crowd.
Not only is Warped Tour a place to have fun, but it stands as an environment where fans seek out an atmosphere of belonging. Warped, and the respective pop-punk genre at large, embrace the outsiders who may feel isolated and queer anywhere else. Those who may struggle in their own skin find solace among the fellow anti-heroes that surround them during this beautifully enriching time. John O’Callaghan from Phoenix, Arizona’s The Maine shouts to the crowd, “No cool kids allowed here!” accentuating the emphasis of the tour that celebrates the weirdos that fall between the cracks.
Higher than a sense of personal belonging, Warped Tour strives to spotlight those in more immediate need than the average attendee. Tents scatter throughout the park raising money for charities. The army moves through the grounds recruiting future soldiers. There was a tent set up enticing the passersby to create cute and heartfelt cards for homeless kids. Before one of the sets, a Warped employee beseeched the audience to remember those struggling with mental illness. She communicated that there may be someone standing in a neighboring position in the mosh-pit suffering from depression or some other mental health problem. She reminded us all to reach out to each other: communication is the most successful way to terminate suffering, after all. In a world full of terrorism, poverty, depression, and Donald Trumps, Warped Tour not only provides their fans with enjoyment and an escape, but fights to eliminate as much affliction as it can, all while strengthening the bonds of unity to music-lovers around the nation.
Since each set runs only thirty-minutes long, this limits the bands to perform only their most-popular, upbeat-tempo songs. This can therefore cause the lack of intimacy between artists and audience to diminish; something that full-length concerts often have the timing and resources to bestow. In spite of this, audience members garner the connection they crave through a multitude of sources such as the fellow fans surrounding them, the limited yet still substantial connection with the bands, and the euphoric air of joy surrounding them at all times. Warped Tour is not an event that can be easily described to those who had never experienced it before. Call it something in the air, but Warped Tour is far more than a concert. It is an uplifting, soul-illuminating, character-building adventure for the outsider within us all.