The Warped Tour was all started with one goal in mind back in 1995. It was supposed to give people, kids even, the chance to affordably see every band they might want to see. It will never be just music. You need a sponsor to put on something of this scale, but it has always focused on providing a veritable smogasbord to fill the belly of your ears. After years covering this, and many opportunities to speak with bands and individuals--including a chat with Matty Mullins of Memphis May Fire this year--I realize that there’s a disconnection between the artist and the machine. These are not intrinsically linked entities, nor should they be.
Music is music, and musician are musicians. Whether it be screamo, post-punk, indie, pop, hip-hop, metal, post-metal, electro-infused pop, or even the rare post-punk-infused-reggae-hip-hop-electro-screamo-metal, when the chips are down these are all just people doing what they love.
Says Matty Mullins: “I like to stray away from that. Sure, I leave that up to booking agents, our manager, the label, and I just like to look at everybody here as people. We’re all musicians all day long, so when we get together at night and BBQ, we just want to be regular people and leave the business to the suits.”
He’s not the only one. Budo, Grieves, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and MC Lars have all echoed this sentiment in interviews in the past. Take away the make-up, strip away the mic, and turn down the main, and you’ve just got a room full of people. Sure, on stage they look larger than life, but I can assure you that these are just a bunch of people that are as accessible as anyone else.
Maybe the Warped Tour isn’t what it used to be. It’s gotten bigger, the tour’s gotten longer, and the genres on display have become more diverse if not increasingly hard to discern with how interwoven they’ve become, but it is no less relevant than it used to be.
It is still attended by the thousands at every stop. The tour offers music for everyone of every decade, within reason. This year showcased a mix of the past, the present, and the reborn. Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday, Anti-Flag, and New Found Glory were bands I grew up with. On the same billing are bands like Rise Against, Title Fight, and Breathe Carolina. New faces and old acts provide a reason to come out for a scant $40 bucks. Not a bad deal for nearly 80 bands on display on the day. Hell, you could spend your entire day in the beer garden and accidentally see 15 bands.
Warped Tour is going strong. It runs on a renewable resource...young people. There will always be bands that see Warped as not selling out or buying in, but a chance to demonstrate their talents to fans...fans of music. Some see it as a rung up the ladder. I’m sure, though it might never be admitted, some see it as a step back or even a near desperate attempt to stay relevant and push this dream just a little further.
I don’t hate the Warped Tour. Sure, I could go on a tirade about the idea of punk-rock, antiestablishment music on display at a heavily establishment-sponsored event. I could prattle on about the liberal issues on display with tents ranging from Trojan condoms to I (heart shape) boobs to “To Write Love on Her Arms” suicide awareness to even the “Chance to Win a New Kia Soul” booth.
I could wax nostalgic about when this tour really represented something more than a chance to subliminally pitch to the youth vote and a prime demographic. I could even shit on the idea of a venerable band like Anti-Flag playing the Kia Main Stage to a crowd that can scant afford to finance such a car while the band rails against the government and the supposed American dream. It’s just music, though.
It’s a journalist’s wet dream. You’re able to slap your by-line on a lot of good copy and searchable photos. That’s what it means to me. It is also a chance to meet some inspiring people who never gave up on a goal in life. Can’t hate that, either.
I reserve the right to retract this statement at a later date, but the Warped Tour isn’t a series of sponsors taking advantage of brand licensing and association with a cool product like music to sell a couple more widgets. The bands get theirs, too. They get dozens of tour dates in front of a potential crowd of thousands while making money. It’s a commercially mutual reach-around.
The Warped Tour is peppered by liberal issue tents, and the odd outright pitch to the youth vote, sure, but for the patron it’s about the music first. It might not be my cup of tea, but it’s still a sight to see. I’m always reminded of Fear and Loathing when I attend. This is what we’d be doing if the Nazis had won the war. It’s a terrible spectacle, but it’s worth a go.
I’ve never seen the pyramids or the Grand Canyon, but I’ve seen a woman on stage set a washboard on fire. I’ve seen kids get tossed over a barrier crowd-surfing only to get up and run around to do it again, like some punk rock water slide. I’ve seen some great bands, some great mohawks, and have been allowed a glimpse into a youth culture I understand less and less. I’ve even seen a penis hug a Ninja Turtle. That’s worth $40 right there.
The Warped Tour is relevant. Not for me, mind you, but for someone; many someones, actually. I may never get it, but I get its place in Americana. It’s a roving carnival of show tune singers and side show freaks. It’s not Bonnaroo, it’s not Coachella, and it’s not SXSW. It’s Warped Tour. Sponsored by Kia, presented by Vans, and coming to a town near you. It’s may be by “them,” but it’s all about “us,” and it’s one hell of a show.
About the Author
Project: Poppycock, a digital experiment in collaborative writing and open dialogue. He is the author of two books, Doggy Paddling in the Deep End andWhat!? I Said, "With All Due Respect!" Both books are available through his blog, projectpoppycock.com (click on "The Bookstore"). All profits from the sales benefit charities atdonorschoose.org. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol