Every year, a slew of up-and-comers follow the Vans Warped Tour in hopes of expanding their fan base and taking themselves to the next level (and hopefully snagging a spot on the tour in the future!). This is their story: the barnacle bands.
“Hey, you guys like pop punk? You want to check out my band?”
It’s morning in a dusty parking lot. It’s hot. Probably real hot. The long line of people, a mix of everything from black Converse and beanies (It’s so hot, why are they wearing beanies?) to band shirts and Puffy painted homemade tank tops loops around the gravel.
“Yeah, sure.” Acknowledgement and a lack of cursing. Success.
This is the barnacle bands' office for the day. Armed with iPods and headphones, they go to work. These are the bands that follow the Vans Warped Tour across the country with hopes of gaining new fans, meeting new contacts in the scene and making just enough money to fill up the gas tank to get to the next stop. These are the guys that just want you to check out their band. No worries if you don’t like them–hey, thanks anyway.
Jonnie Baker, lead singer for the pop-punk four-piece the Groundbreaking Ceremony, is one of those guys in one of those bands. He and his bandmates have just completed their third summer following the tour, and they’ve done their fair share of pounding the punk-rock pavement to promote their band.
“The best you can do is just be a friendly face,” he says. “We didn’t go out there like, ‘Hey, listen to my fucking band.’ You just kind of spark a conversation. They’re not customers. They’re not a number. They’re not $5 in your pocket.”
Peddling CDs to Warped attendees is a big part of following the tour and, with exceptions and some blurred lines, there are three ways bands follow Warped Tour: One, hit the parking lot lines, and only the parking lot lines. Two, hit the parking lot lines, then head inside the gates if possible or three, hit the parking lot lines, then work (unpaid) the rest of the day for the tour (i.e., Kevin Lyman, Warped Tour founder, says it’s okay that you’re there.) The Groundbreaking Ceremony—which got their start after winning a spot on the Ernie Ball Stage on the 2010 Scranton, Pa., stop through a battle of the bands—have done both the second and third. That first summer, the band, from State College, Pennsylvania, kept on their wristbands for two weeks for access into the tour each day. Not bad, but not exactly authorized.
For the next summer, they wanted more. After doing “a little research on our own, we found a way into the tour,” Baker said. “A friend of a friend referred us to the tour’s catering company.” They followed the 2011 and 2012 tour for their entirety, earning their official right to be there by boxing meals for tour crew and helping out with the stage production staff. With all-access laminate passes at their disposal, their own merch tent inside the gates and the opportunity to play occasional sets, the band sold a few thousand copies of their first album. Using what he calls their “no-pressure-sales environment,” Baker said people respond well to friendliness and a conversational approach. “For every person who shoots you down, there’s usually always another person who’s willing to give you a chance,” he says.
For Jade Estrella, guitarist of Richmond, Virginia-based pop-punkers Broadside, the same low-key method works best. But there are still people who reject the headphones. Estrella recounted a particular encounter with a guy who declined to take a listen.
“I was like, ‘All right, no problem, there’s nothing wrong with saying no, but why not?’ and he was like, ‘I only listen to good music,’” Estrella says, laughing at the memory from the summer when his band followed Warped Tour, two weeks in 2011 and the whole ride this year. “I was like, ‘But you’ve never heard it.’ And he was like, 'Well, that’s why; if I haven’t heard it, it’s not good music.’ So you just get those random jerks who are super close-minded.”
“I don’t want to stereotype anyone,” he adds, “but those guys who are really protective and have their girlfriends in front of them, they’re usually the first ones to be like, ‘No, no, go away.’ And it’s cool, we just say, ‘Thank you very much, I hope you have fun, stay hydrated and don’t die today.’”
“The worst response isn’t really a response, it’s just being ignored, like someone just walks by, and doesn’t even acknowledge that you exist,” offers Joseph Candelaria, who handles lead vocals and guitar for Forever Came Calling. The band, hailing from Twentynine Palms, California, followed the tour during the summer of 2010. His band's travels are well-documented in the Warped Tour documentary, No Room For Rockstars.
The golden time to work the line is from about 9 to 11 a.m. Bands like The Groundbreaking Ceremony often set a goal of how many CDs they want to sell (or in most cases need to sell in order to sustain their Warped Tour existence) in a day. “Once the doors start to open, the kids get really restless and they start moving and jumping around and getting excited, so they’re less able to listen to your band and pick up a CD,” said Baker. “We got up every morning and set quotas for ourselves every day,” Baker said. “You can be lucky some mornings and sell your entire quota, right there in the morning, or you might only sell five or six.”
For the Portsmouth, U.K., metalcore outfit Prolong The Agony, it was need-based.
“There was no option of phoning home and saying we need some more money,” says drummer Darren Draper, talking about the band’s 2011 summer-long stint, during which they worked for the tour in the same fashion as the Groundbreaking Ceremony. “We had to make it ourselves, so some days it was a case of, ‘We need to make so many dollars or we literally cannot get to the next venue.’ So as long as we had that amount, we would all be happy.’”