That right there is a picture of me (on the left) and my older brother John at our first ever Warped Tour, way back in Chicago in 1997. I've attended every year of Warped since then, and it's not by accident: The feelings I felt that day 13 years ago in Chicago are some of the most exciting I've ever had in my life. That day was spent in parking lot J of the United Center, watching great bands (the Suicide Machines, Social Distortion, Less Than Jake) and, uh, not-so-great bands (Limp Bizkit, Sugar Ray), during an absolutely unrelenting rainstorm that started around 2 p.m. and ran for the next six hours or so. But even at 15, I knew Warped Tour was important. It brought together an underground scene that hadn't yet truly embraced the internet, forcing thousands of disaffected kids into the same asphalt jungle to show them that, hey, maybe they're not so weird after all—there were other people out there that liked loud, fast, sometimes angry and usually heartbroken music, and it's time to meet them.
Me with Lars from Rancid, 1998
Every year, Warped Tour delivers a diverse lineup, from radio-rock stars to up-and-comers hustling to get a crowd at a smaller stage to even local and regional bands getting what will probably be the biggest break of their short careers—a slot on the DIY-friendly Kevin Says Stage. Every year, hundreds of thousands of concertgoers show up to have the time of their lives, some roadtripping to multiple dates just to relive the experience time and time again. Every year, dozens of bands get the post-Warped "bump," with positive buzz from their sets on the summer institution propelling them onto bigger tours in bigger venues in front of more people. Yet every year, people spent countless hours cutting the Warped Tour down.
"It's not punk enough."
"The bands suck."
"I'm too old for it."
"It's too corporate."
The list of complaints goes on. And sure, it's easy to attack the Warped Tour. AP gets a lot of similar shit slung toward us by people with nothing better to do with their time than hate indiscriminately, and I get it: It's easy to hate the top dog. Kevin Lyman created one of the most important things that's ever happened to punk rock in all its forms and permutations, and if you want to hate him for helping first unite a subculture and then practically turn it mainstream, then go ahead.
Me with Gabe Saporta (then of Midtown), 2000
Now, I'm not ignorant: Of course there are problems with the Warped Tour. One of the biggest complaints people lob toward Lyman & Co. is the involvement of sponsors from the "other" side of things—corporate America. Let's be realistic: While I'm not privvy to the exact figures, it most likely costs a fortune to put on Warped daily for two months straight. Everyone from the bus drivers to the soundmen to the stagehands have to get paid, and let's not forget the cost of gas, catering, etc. For many, Warped is their sole dependance for income for months, if not an entire year. (I once heard a story that NOFX's merch guy lived off tips alone for the rest of the year after one summer—which reminds me, always, always, always tip your merch guy.) To help the tour stay afloat, Lyman partners with sponsors to help underwrite the fest, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you, if companies like Vans didn't support Warped year in and year out, the tour would simply cease to be. Look at how many tours have been getting dates lopped off due to low ticket sales this summer: Lilith Fair is falling apart, Christina Aguilera and Limp Bizkit canceled their tours outright, and hell, even the American Idols Live tour just nixed nine shows due to poor ticket sales. But Warped's different: Whether 1,500 or 15,000 show up, the show goes on. It goes on because it's more important to bring music to the masses than spend all day worrying about the bottom line.
Me with Bad Religion's Greg Graffin, 2002
As I said above, I've been attending Warped since 1997—there are literally people going to the tour this summer that weren't even born then. And that is truly a testament to Warped's endurance: There will always be new batches of disaffected teens every single summer who feel like they have nowhere else to turn, that they're outcasts in their school or home life. All it takes is one trip to Warped to open your eyes and realize, "Hey, I'm not the messed up one. They're the messed up ones," right before you go running into the mosh pit for the seventh time that day.
Me and Andrew W.K., 2003
Bands, fashion trends and scene cliques all come and go, but if we're lucky, Warped Tour will be here forever. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get some sleep: Cleveland's Warped date is in the morning, and this is like Christmas Eve for me. I'll see you in the pit!