This article has been a long time coming. I think subconsciously I knew that this day would always come. But I never realized that it would come along so soon. No, this isn’t a eulogy surrounding a family member or a dearly devoted friend. Rather, this is a piece that I hope speaks to all of us, on some level, if we were ever lucky enough to encounter the Vans Warped Tour at one point in our lives or another. This isn’t going to be a typical review; yes I’ll be recapping the events of those two days in Mountain View in which what is supposedly the last ever Vans Warped Tour, but I’m going to be reflecting a lot on how much this tour has meant to me over the last eleven years of my life.
It’s funny; it seems that every time I’ve tried to sit down and write this article, I’ve distracted myself. It’s like I haven’t even wanted to put my fingers to the keyboard and admit the fact that it’s over. But…here we are.
In 2008, I attended my first Vans Warped Tour. I will never forget the anxiety that I encountered beforehand in anticipation of making sure that I saw every single one of my favorite bands. You learn very quickly, however, that you won’t (more often than not, you watch a little bit of a bands’ set, then bounce to another stage, and only stay for the full set of a few different acts throughout the day.) You’re not there to see a full band’s stage though; you’re there to watch your iPod, your Spotify playlist, your MP3 player, whatever you had on you at the time, come to life before your eyes, in brilliant Technicolor™ and stereo surround sound. In 2008, the iPhone had just been released; the idea of a smartphone was a brilliant new concept. How would you keep up to date on the set times? Where to find food? What happens if the schedule changed? Well, you would use something called a pen and paper (fuck, I sound old) and you’d run to the middle of the festival at the beginning of each date. What occurred each morning was a Warped Tour tradition in which fans would flock to a giant inflatable board, updated with the set times and stages that each band would be playing on, and write down each band and set time they wanted to attend. On this page would also feature autograph signings, acoustic sessions, and anything else happening throughout the day that you’d want to warrant your attention. Meeting your favorite band and having them sign a poster that would hang in your bedroom for the duration of your adolescence was only one canopy tent away. This tradition stayed firmly in place until the very last Warped Tour date (although the last year added a schedule on a nifty Warped Tour app where fans could preview the schedule shortly before doors opened each day).
One of the friends I was going with forgot his ticket, so after a slight detour to the other side of town, my Mom dropped my friends and I off and we were on our way (yes, my Mom drove me to Warped Tour. I was fourteen. So did yours, so fuck off). I will never forget the rush of adrenaline that came over me as I heard the opening chords to the iconic Mayday Parade song “Jamie All Over”. The album which it came from, A Lesson In Romantics, has just come out before the tour began, so it was the only album they had to their name. This was a big deal, and the moment they played it made me knew that I was witnessing something special happen. A swarm of people dropped their things and ran all the way through the grass to the adjacent stage just in time to catch the soaring chorus. Throughout that day, I saw everyone from a very new A Day To Remember (who within two years would take the prestigious main stage slots), to punk and ska veterans like Reel Big Fish, The Dickies, and GBH, to the music that would go on to define the sub-culture of emo and pop-punk that would dominate my headphones for the next decade of my life (All Time Low, Cobra Starship, The Academy Is…, Rise Against, Relient K, Anberlin, and dozens of other that I could wax poetic about for weeks if you allowed me the chance).
But after that summer, I made the decision that I didn’t just want to attend; I wanted to be a part of it. Various circumstances, conversations with friends, and a serious dedication to wanting to help others led me to the crazy idea of starting my own non-profit organization called Music 4 Life. This eventually led into the name Project 143 (due to a trademark infringement with another organization). We tabled at local shows in my scene, trying everything that me and my friends could do to raise money that we would donate to hospitals doing cancer research. That’s all I had intended the organization to do: raise money at shows and through working with artists. The joy that my friends and I got working with artists that we loved was unparalleled to anything else going on in our lives; that’s what made us happy. So we figured, why not donate the money to people who need it more than us? Tabling at various shows led me to talking with fans (who have since become longtime friends). Through these conversations, I learned that the Vans Warped Tour hosted a non-profit section every year at Warped Tour, both for internationally known and local organizations. I tried for months to find an “in”. No luck.
Somehow, someway…I found a message board on the Warped Tour website. I forget exactly what the situation was, but Kevin Lyman had posted his email address. Being fourteen, I copied the email address and added it into my address book. I remember sitting down and for an hour, typing out a long email address, stating my case as to why the charity should have a place at the tour. I immediately prepared myself for no response. He’s a busy guy. Why would he reply to me, some fourteen year old kid out of suburban NorCal?
He replied. He fucking replied. Within 12 hours. We were in.
My parents didn’t believe me until I showed them the email. See, growing up as an only child, I had this tenacity to come up with crazy ideas for projects and endeavors, but I would never finish them. Start and stop, start and stop. That was my method. It drove them crazy. When I received the email from Kevin, I vaguely remember my Dad going, “Ah…shit. Well, we gotta do it.” Something to that accord. It was hilarious, but all I knew is that I would be doing Warped Tour. For three days in Northern California.
Those three days turned into five the next summer. Then two weeks the following summer, with my Dad driving both my friend and I across the western United States to set up a table, raise money for the charity, and network with bands, companies and new fans that the charity had never been exposed to. It was the summer before I started college, and it was the only place that I wanted to be. Many kids I went to school with had trips to Europe, across the country seeing all the tourist-y things that the nation had to offer. My summer was spent on the Vans Warped Tour, and I wouldn’t change a fucking second of it. I learned more on the road about myself and other people than I had anywhere else. And of course, when you’re 18, you think you’ve learned anything (YOU HAVEN’T). But some of the most memorable things happened that summer; we met a girl in Pomona who had been affected by cancer in previous years, and was actually going to head in to surgery in the next few weeks to get rid of it. A few calls later, and we brought her backstage to a surprise meet and greet with the one band she and her boyfriend were there to see, Bring Me The Horizon. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. Even though the charity is basically non-existent at this point, that day was one of my proudest moments with Project 143, and it was all I could ever really ask for. Thanks to Warped, I was able to take an idea I had written down in my notebook years prior to raise money for cancer charities and turn it into something where I was allowing people who were actually affected by the disease to connect with artists that they loved and made a difference in their life.
By 2012, I would be in a bus, “living the dream” and officially part of the tour.
The year prior to the “bus year”, I had befriended a gentleman who was attending Warped, His band was not playing but it was his hometown and he was coming to see some friends take on a stage that he and his own band had played his year before. This gentleman’s name was Vic Fuentes. Vic’s own band, Pierce The Veil, headlined the main stage of Warped Tour the next summer, and he and his band graciously allowed me a spot on his bus for the last two days of the tour (as well as an extra day to hang out with them at Lake Shasta before my friend picked me up that night when they were en route to San Diego). Prior to these two days, the people at Music Saves Lives and a band they were sharing the bus with, Matt Toka, gave me a spot on their bus for five days, in which I traveled through Salt Lake City, Denver, Las Vegas, and Southern California. I got sick nearly every day of the tour with something different and ended up learning a great deal about myself. But perhaps the biggest thing to come out of that tour came out of the last day, in which everything went to hell.
At the Portland date (in which I was riding with Pierce The Veil), a mass text went out to every band on the tour stating that the venue had oversold by something like seven thousand tickets (!!!!) so all meet-and-greets, acoustic sessions, you name it were cancelled effective immediately. I actually remember walking around this particular venue and seeing them have to cut holes in the fences so that people would have proper avenues to exit due to how cramped the space was. This meant that all of the meetings with bands I was supposed to have at their tents during their meet and greets for Project 143, to take photos and sign autographs for items we were going to auction off, couldn’t happen anymore. I had a majority of the day free. But I also had an All Access Pass. And a camera. Which led me into the photo pit.
That day, I photographed nearly every single band on the main stage. I happened to snap this particular shot of a band that had worked with Project 143 a few times, Breathe Carolina. Something clicked in me at that moment. Maybe I had a knack for doing this. At the end of the night, after the very last note had wrung out from the last band of the tour, the parking lot our bus was in suddenly filled up with lawn chairs, coolers of beer, and conversation. I sat next to Kevin Lyman for a few minutes and we talked. To be honest, I just sat and listened and can’t really remember what I said, but I’ll never forget that moment. Surrounding me were members of Miss May I, Of Mice & Men, Pierce The Veil, the Warped Tour production, and countless other acts who I’d looked up to for so long. I really was just a bystander in all of this, a wallflower who really didn’t fit in, but so many people on that tour made me feel like I was welcome and I will never forget those summers because of it.
After that summer, I started to compile and organize all of the photos I had taken during the time I had dedicated to Project 143 and realized that while I loved a good number of them, I couldn’t really use any of them for the charity. The purpose of me taking photos at shows, up until that point, was to capture shots of any artists that were wearing gear from the charity on stage for use on our website and social media pages. I managed to pool a number of those shots, upload them to a website, and thus I began something called Shameless Promotions & Media. Which eventually turned into Shameless SF. The site that you’re reading this on. In the years that followed, I would photograph Warped Tour five times as a photographer, from 2015 up until this final year. I would interview artists in the press area, mingle with fans and fellow photographers, and spend every waking moment of each Mountain View date running my ass off to each photo pit to capture as many artists as I possibly could.
While I have a number of years and particular dates in Warped Tour history that I will consider among my favorites, this last year of the Vans Warped Tour will forever have a special place in my heart. It may have been one of the best years they’ve ever pulled off. Throughout each of the two days at Shoreline Amphitheater this past July, fans played witness to acts that at one point or another spear-headed every single generation of punk and alternative rock music. Old schoolers got acts like Bad Religion, The Offspring, Less Than Jake, The Vandals, and NOFX reigned supreme. The generation of pop-punk and pop-rock that followed, comprised of bands like Sum 41, Simple Plan, We The Kings, Set Your Goals, and many more dominated the two-day event. The metalcore-charged Monster-Energy Stage played host to some of the most impressive and chill-inducing acts the scene has to offer, with immaculate sets from the likes of August Burns Red, Silverstein, Memphis May Fire, and Wage War. The “BlackCraft” and “Full Sail” stages sat nestled away in the amphitheater, playing host to generations old and new alike with acts like The Aquabats!, Meg & Dia, Elder Brother, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, and One OK Rock.
It’s nearly impossible to recap every single artist that played over these two days; each one created a new memory that will forever be engrained in the history of this festival. Not only did each of these bands play what I would categorize as a perfect set, but they all made it their own. Anti-Flag brought forth the most energy I’ve ever seen them bring, and that says a lot given how over-the-top their stage presence is at each of their shows. The Used brought forth a monumental, career-defining set that will forever remain in the hearts of all the kids that grew up memorizing every word that Bert McCracken spilt upon notebook paper and later screamed into a microphone. There was a sense in the air that everyone knew this might be the last time all of these bands would be together, at least for a very long time, so they brought their A-game to every note, every vocal inflection, every stage dive, and every last moment they had up on that coveted stage, one that bands had fought for years to gain a spot upon. It didn’t matter what size the stage was on either day; the playing field was even, and the objective was the same: play your fucking heart out.
As I recapped in the soliloquy I provided above, I’ve done a number of dates of the Vans Warped Tour. I’ve seen countless sets, ones that will forever remain in my memories when I think back. The very last set of the night, of the last ever Vans Warped Tour, will forever be the first thing I think of when reminiscing on this tour. To recap: the closing spot of the entire festival was intended to go to NOFX. Who were, unbeknownst to most fans, stuck in Montreal after playing a festival there. This, as you could probably tell, created a problem. At 9:30 PM, the moment that they were supposed to take the stage and end the whole thing, Kevin Lyman walks out and announces what’s going on. The band are scheduled to land (finally) at 9:50 PM. In a humorous story, Lyman recounts that he had to do “the least punk rock thing he’s ever done in his life: charter a private jet”. None of the flights worked out, so a private jet would be the only way the band would make it back in time. But that meant that we had almost a half hour to kill. So how would the tour stall to make up for lost time?
By bringing out a consortium of band members that ranged from Quicksand, Sum 41, The Starting Line, The All-American Rejects, Atreyu, Thrice, Hyro The Hero, Yungblud, and countless others that I’m probably forgetting. They had spent the day in between their sets practicing various NOFX covers in anticipation that the band wouldn’t arrive on time. What unraveled was one of the craziest and most beautiful things I’ve ever seen at a concert. The last hour of the final Vans Warped Tour embodied what is exactly in the spirit of punk rock: it was chaotic, spontaneous, and hilariously fun. Many of those around me in the photo pit that evening will attest to hearing me state the following phrase over and over again: “Holy shit, this is the most amazing thing ever.”
It wouldn’t be until the last song of this cover set, “The Brews” (in which the tour brought up several fans to sing the song), that the members of NOFX ran on stage to a barrage of cheers from the audience. Without even missing a beat, Fat Mike grabbed the microphone and joined in the chorus as El Hefe, Melvin, and Smelly raced for their instruments and launched into a tightly compressed half-hour set. In the most memorable way, Warped Tour brought its twenty-five year legacy to a close with an absolute bang, and one that no one in attendance will ever forget.
While a number of people in my life are massively responsible for making things like traveling on that tour possible, I owe a massive thank you and gratitude to Kevin Lyman and the Warped Tour. Without Warped Tour, I wouldn’t have any semblance of a career, and for that I am forever grateful. Summers are going to be a lot different from now on knowing that this festival isn’t going to be hitting the road anymore. I will miss it dearly, as I know hundreds of thousands of people across the country will.
I mentioned at the beginning of this massive recap that I’ve tried to distract myself from writing this article because I didn’t want to come to grips with the fact that this is over. In a way, I think it was such a big deal because I attended my first Warped Tour during my first year of high school. Now, I’m 26. I’m getting married in two months. I’ve grown so much as a person in the last eleven years. Yet even though this music has been a part of my life for all of these years (and I am confident it will continue to be), there’s a part of me that knows a chapter in my life is ending. I was filled with anxiety leading up to the last date of Warped Tour because I think that, inherently, I knew this. But sometimes, things have to end so that something even better can come along. And no matter what, no one can ever take away those summers from us.
Whether we were part of the tour as an act that played to five people or five thousand people, a crew member that sweated it out in some of the most physically enduring conditions possible for three months straight, a patron who attended one time or all twenty-five times, someone who just went for a day because “that band with that one hit that’s kinda cool is playing”, you all played a part of the Warped Tour legacy, in more ways than you could ever possibly imagine.
Here’s to the miscreants, the fucked-up kids, the people who don’t know their place in the world. To the lost ones, the wanderers, the daydreamers, the true believers, the ones who dared to defy the status quo. Here’s to everyone who ever thought they could become a rock star, whether it was for one day, one week, one month, or summer after summer up on those stages. To the sleepless drives, the long nights, the ones who lived in the moment, took a chance, got up off of their asses, and threw themselves into the notion that playing in a silly little rock band could actually be one of the greatest fucking things they could ever do in their lifetime. To every kid who showed up early in the morning for a chance to get in first, who waited countless hours against the barricade or in lines at merch tents to meet their favorite artists for just a few seconds. To every crew member, stagehand, merch-person, food vendor, tour manager, publicist, and countless others who I know were crucial in the instrumentation of a tour of this caliber, summer after summer. If we crossed paths even once during any of those summers, from the bottom of my heart, I’m so grateful that we did.
And of course, to every naysayer, to everyone who said music like this wasn’t popular, to every asshole in schools across the nation that cast a dirty look at kids who dared to venture outside of the mainstream and listen to something other than filtered pop-radio. To those who made fun of you for wearing “that band t-shirt”, for constantly being attached to your iPhone, iPod, or whatever you used to listen to music. To those who told us we were stupid for believing in something so fleeting: you may actually have been the most important ones of all. We needed something to rebel against, right?
And yes. It may be gone. But our memories aren’t, and for that, we’ll be forever Warped.
Time to close this chapter. I guess this is growing up.