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Adventures in Warped Land
An Odyssey Through the Vans Warped Tour
Featuring Interviews with Dropkick Murphys, The Used and The Ataris
 
 

By Jamie Gadette and Eryn Green

 
 

hose Crazy Kids
In the eight years since Steve Lyman started a festival to celebrate the fusion between skateboarding and punk, The Vans Warped Tour has grown to massive proportions, bringing an annual dose of joy to members of an alternative nation. However, over the years, the event has fluctuated in accordance with societal trends, leaving fans to wonder whether the original spirit is strong enough to survive a flood of popular mainstream mediocrity.


In order to discover how the tour has truly held up against the forces of MTV and numerous faceless corporations, two valiant reporters went to the Utah State Fairgrounds, where the 2003 Warped crew arrived for a day-long festival on Saturday, June 21. The following is the story of their adventures, including a final outcome that will leave the reader inspired—or hopelessly despaired.


Jamie’s Crying
Merciless heat and tired feet. These are the conditions I’ve come to connect with the Warped Tour. A slightly jaded lens has clouded more positive reflections on the punk rock festival. There was a time when the event sent chills down my spine. Five years ago, anticipation surged through my body as it sat jammed against another half-dozen eager bodies as we raced to the show in a sky blue Chevy. Our white-trash taxi took us straight to the Fairgrounds, where goat pens and manure-ridden fields were transformed into an unruly rocker’s playground.


Though we were all born too late to participate in the genre’s uprising, we understood its roots and yearned to keep the movement alive. Yet in some ways I feel as though we’ve failed in that attempt. The punk rock that inspired me has been overshadowed as industry-driven groups claim to produce the same type of rebellious, politically motivated music from which the movement sprouted. The majority of new “punk” is not composed of D.I.Y. warriors, but rather puppets on corporately pulled strings. Bands of this nature seem to be slowly taking over the Warped Tour. However, perhaps this was simply a gross generalization, so I volunteered to cover the festival with hopes of dispelling my cynical summations.


In order to ensure all encompassing coverage, I enlisted Eryn Green to aid in my crusade. The fresh-faced ingenue was far from naive, yet held the tour in somewhat greater esteem. I hoped his optimism would offset my skepticism.


We arrived on time, only to find ourselves delayed by a missing press pass. Eryn wasn’t worried, but I wasn’t going to leave him behind (not yet anyway). After a brief round of pleading with a disinterested tour PR representative, we received the extra pass and proceeded to cross into the unknown.

 
     
 


Eryn Gets Ditched
We emerged from the self proclaimed “Press-Pit” (which was really more of a roadie graveyard) and were immediately accosted by what Jamie best described as “sensory overload.” The Warped Tour is a giant maze, where stages lurk unlabeled like those cool clubs with no names. The only way to get around is in an ambling, nonchalant manner, for if you actually try to get anywhere, odds are you will never reach your destination.


We flipped a coin and headed left toward the nearest source of noise (apparently, the Brian Stage). Oh god! What a mistake. Our first official Warped Tour musical experience was that of A Simple Plan, a Montreal-based pop-punk band that has been with the tour since 2001. Lead singer Pierre Bouvier did his best impression of Sum 41’s Derek Whibley, right down to the bleached-blond mop atop his bouncing head. It was formulaic at best. After maybe 30 seconds on stage, Bouvier announced that Salt Lake City was surely the coolest place ever. Jamie and I were not certain how to take his compliment.


Shaking our heads in disgust, we took off to locate something that might prove original skepticism false. But when I paused to take some notes on how much fun I wasn’t having, I looked up to find that Jamie was gone.


Jamie Hooks Up With The Girlz
I left Eryn to explore the vast intricacies of the tour. In addition to featured bands and requisite skate and BMX demos, a slew of tents offered supplementary entertainment. One row included the Girlz Garage (formerly the Ladies’ Lounge), where Boarding For Breast Cancer’s Laura Edelstein schooled me on the recent ins and outs of women’s health care. The non-profit organization offers a hip way to remain disease-free. Keeping women safe and comfortable is one of the main goals of the Girlz Garage. The tent is also designed to promote the women on tour, though this year only two bands feature female musicians—Tsunami Bomb and Damone. Yet the Garage is a good sign that the Warped Tour has not abandoned the culturally and politically aware mindset that fuels punk ethics. Edelstein praised the tour for keeping up with the times.


“I think it’s awesome how the tour has evolved,” she said. “We’re next to the hip-hop tent this year, and it’s cool to see the tour incorporate different sounds.” She had a point. Maybe the Warped Tour didn’t have to remain in its original state. Perhaps it was changing in a way I never expected—one that didn’t necessarily include sell-outs and talentless imitators.


I left the Garage and headed next door, where Kelrock from Uprock was laying down some beats. Other local talent was on hand including The Numbs, Self Expression and Foeknawledge (a.k.a Foek, a.k.a Foekus). Foekus, a wickedly talented lyricist who eschews meat and drugs, grabbed the mic and told the crowd that while he loves women, he refuses “to kiss girls unless they’re wearing vegan lipstick” or hook up with any “chicken-heads” (in both senses of the term).


As thrilled as I was to witness this awesome display of passionate innovation, I still needed to see whether or not my theory regarding punk rock was correct. I headed to the Maurice Stage, but on my way I spotted Eryn. He looked rather distressed.

 
     
 


Eryn Makes a New Friend
I bumped into Jamie somewhere near the “Press-Pit” and told her about my adventures. I had caught a few good acts including the Suicide Machines, a band that I found at the Teal Stage, just before the group’s 30 minute set (note: each band is allotted a half-hour to pump out the jams, a rule that highlights the A.D.D. nature of the tour).


The Suicide Machines provided what turned out to be one of the day’s better sets, performing ska/punk tunes from more than seven years’ worth of material. The Detroit natives pleased the old-schoolers while also attracting the new. A four-year old with glue spiked hair swung some mean fists in the mosh pit in front of me, giving insight into a question that had been nagging at me since we arrived: What was the significance of the Warped Tour?


Yet just when I thought I’d found the answer—that bands like the Suicide Machines were the reason that the tour rocked—I bore witness to a very unsettling undertaking: A group of next generation, converse-clad, emo sick kids were openly mocking a group of spiky-haired, leather-clad old-schoolers. I was aghast at the display of disrespect for those who had paved the way for a new scene.


Noticeably shaken, I made tracks away from the Western Stage, hoping to erase the scene from my head. Was it possible that all the things I remembered the tour standing for—tolerance, unity, rock and roll—had been replaced by silly feuds and misplaced aggression?


Jamie and a Murphy
As Eryn related his troubled experience, I pointed out that although it was disturbing to see the bountiful display of ignorance from the younger set, the “silly feuds” were not exactly a new phenomenon. In fact, one of this year’s headlining bands, The Dropkick Murphys, had taken a five-year hiatus from Salt Lake City after an unpleasant incident with a group of local straight-edgers at the 1999 Warped Tour. Just as I was relating this fact, Murphy’s mandolinist Ryan Foltz walked by. I caught up with him and started up a conversation regarding the band’s return to Utah. In regard to the group’s absence, Foltz cited that it was not simply the threat of additional brawls that kept them away, but also the unlikelihood of attracting clubs to house the Murphys.


“It doesn’t make sense for us to play a show just to have it shut down,” Foltz said. “So we waited until things simmered down [before coming back to town].”


It seemed as though the Warped Tour provided a nice buffer for a tentative comeback. But what were Foltz’s overall views on the tour?


“The good thing about this tour is that a lot of kids are going to see bands that play with a lot of heart,” Foltz said. He cited fellow tour members The Unseen as one of the groups to still embody the punk-rock spirit. The Boston quintet has appeared on A-F Record compilations, a label run by punk stalwarts, the members of Anti-Flag. I agreed with Foltz’s observation, noting that The Unseen’s appearance that day had helped reconfirm my faith in the endurance of old-school purity and heart. The highlight of the band’s set came when drummer Mark Unseen abandoned his kit to take over the mic. “You guys paid a lot of fucking money to be here so let’s have some fun, alright?” He then launched into a rapid fire song fueled by a string of “Oi! Oi! Oi!”s, inspiring a few walk-outs from some shocked “tweenies.”


Before Foltz and I parted, he offered another observation on the tour’s enduring appeal: no rock stars. “It’s the kind of music that is not really ego-driven,” Foltz said. “Everyone is going to be friends at the end of the tour.”


Eryn Loses His Lunch and Chats With a Videogame

 
   

After Jamie’s lecture on the history of punk-related feuding, I headed back to the Brian Stage where The Unseen was playing. The highlight of the show came when the band played a song called “Are We Dead Yet?,” a question I had been asking myself since I got to the show. The answer? Hard to say. The circle pit seemed to yell, “Nay! We be not dead! We be but alive!” But the majority of the crowd seemed apathetic and only responded to Mark Unseen’s middle finger as he announced, “This is a song from our first record and I don’t think any of you have ever heard of it.”


I agreed and exited the stage with a large, scary looking man who I thought might be able to help me on my quest. His name was Lukas Norton and when I questioned him, he just turned, scowled and said, “I am shaking with rage from the display of idiots.”


Fair enough, though not really helpful. When Norton walked away, mumbling something about being a punk since he was 10 and taking this shit personally, I took it as my cue to pursue other avenues of enlightenment.


On my way to broader horizons, I bumped into Michael Davenport of The Ataris. He and I ended up talking about the importance of size, stage size, how the tour has changed and ultimately what its importance is. He offered some uplifting insight.


“I think the meaning of the Warped Tour is education,” he said. “We need to educate the old schoolers about the new schoolers, and vice-versa. The Warped Tour is about kicking ass for people who are not necessarily [fans of all the bands].”


Very good point. There were several bands that I saw today that I was not a fan of prior to their sets, but after seeing them rock, I had to give them the credit they deserved. Of course there were also some bands that I really liked (cough, cough…The Ataris) that thoroughly disappointed with their shows.


Maybe I needed to focus on the music itself and not the populace whoring itself to it. Maybe I needed to stop looking and start listening. Worried that I had wasted so much time on the wrong focus, I rushed outside while Jamie spoke with some guy from the Dropkick Murphys. I am not sure what they talked about, but I think he told her to steal my lunch money, because after they spoke, Jamie stole my wallet, took my cash and muttered something like, “So long, sucker” and took off.


Still, my spirits were not dampened, and I ventured forth into the land of the next unknown band.


Jamie Longs for G.G. Allin and Drinks Smoothies with The Used
I left Foltz and raced to the Brian Stage where Andrew W.K. was slated to appear. I was excited to see the man whose onstage antics (blood smearing and general irreverent behavior) had garnered him a fame that could very well have escaped him had it rested solely on his musical abilities. Unfortunately, the craziest thing the long-haired “party guerrilla” did was wear gross sweat pants while pouring energy drinks on the audience. His gruff, professional wrestler-style voice echoed across the grounds as he offered hyperbolic speeches such as, “It’s up to us to make this day one to remember for the rest of our lives!”
Suddenly feeling as though this was part of a recreation of my high school graduation, I opted to miss the end of W.K.’s mellow (i.e lifeless) set.


That was a mistake. I wandered over to the Maurice Stage where a bunch of young, Strokes-like boys were busy dismantling their instruments. S.T.U.N, a newly signed Geffen band, was brimming with energy. However, the overwhelming enthusiasm failed to translate into quality music. “Our first album comes out on Tuesday!” said lead singer Christiane J. First, not latest, but first album. I stayed just long enough to listen to a horrid cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall, Part I.” The generation gap had not been bridged.


Another up-and-coming band, New Transit Direction, was playing at the Volcom Stage. The local rockers proved that being young and new on the scene did not necessitate a complete lack of maturity. NTD was classy and composed as members raced through songs that originally debuted in more low-key venues such as Kilby Court and the Urban Lounge.


It was satisfying to see one of Salt Lake City’s many talented bands finally get the recognition it deserved. Just as I was wondering how NTD managed to snatch a spot on the tour, I noticed Branden Steineckert, drummer for fellow Utah-bred group The Used, standing to my right. We started chatting,but moved from the stage to avoid the mounting noise. Over a couple of Maui Wauis, Steineckert discussed NTD’s involvement along with his band’s own rise to success. “I think Quinn [Allman, guitar/vocals] helped out New Transit,” Steineckert said. “They’ve been friends for a while.”


It’s not surprising that The Used would want to spread some of the stellar karma it has accumulated since its recent retrieval from obscurity. “Last year we were such the new band,” said Steineckert. “We’d be playing for like 30 kids.”


Though the band has since garnered increased status, Steineckert reconfirmed the sense that the tour does not cater to massive egos. “It’s not glamorous—it’s dirty. You’re eating together and dealing with the same weather conditions,” he said. “There are no rock stars on Warped.”


Suddenly I realized that no matter how few original acts remained on the Warped Tour, no matter how many YooHoo and Easy Mac trucks distracted from the main action, superficial threats can not destroy punk’s heart. “People can nitpick over whether [punk] is dead or not,” said Steineckert. “I don’t give a fuck anymore.” With that, the mohawked faux-redhead sauntered off to prepare for a hometown performance.


Eryn’s First Time
They say it’s always easy to remember your first time, but I am having a hard time. I know I was young, maybe 15, and I know that there were lots of people around. I was sweaty and thirsty…but I am having a hard time remembering the specifics from my first Warped Tour. Ain’t that always the case? I’ve grown up on the music of the Warped Tour. It was a chance for me to see all of the awesome bands that never came to my town playing with some of the bands that did. And, while show promoters made up for lower ticket prices by gauging the public with expensive bottled water, I think I always had fun.


But it’s been a while since I had such fun at a big show.


I heard the trademark bass riffs of Rancid peripherally and made my way to the show. During the set, near the end when they played “Ruby Soho,” I realized what everyone else had been talking about. The unity and the trust that I hadn’t seen all day was all around me at the Rancid show. The circle pit was a true circle—the old schoolers put their arms around the new-schoolers and I felt good.


The show ended and I went to find Jamie (and retrieve some of that lunch money). But I got sidetracked when I thought I saw Sammy Hagar wailing in pain on the stage. “Hey Sammy—you alright?”


Sammy replied, “Yeah man, but I’m not Sammy Hagar. I’m Zach Davidson from Vendetta Red and we’re about to play. You should watch.”


I agreed and took my place in the crowd. Vendetta Red had amazing stage presence and sang with, not to, the crowd (even though no one knew the words). Davidson screamed and yelped like a man from a band without any fans—a man who just wanted people to hear him. The set ended with Davidson hanging from his feet on the rafters, and me remembering why I liked the Warped Tour so much.


Jamie’s Tidy Conclusion
The day closed out on the Dropkick Murphys’ show, which was greeted not with fists, but with special homemade flags emblazoned with encouraging slogans like “Let’s Go Murphys!”


The Boston band performed old favorites along with songs from its new album, Blackout, while fans celebrated the long-awaited return of bagpipes and hardcore.


I squeezed through the swelling crowd, past smiling faces and across a field littered with mounds of cups and flyers. My feet were tired, but I was not. In fact, I was actually inspired. The Vans Warped Tour was not the abomination I had concluded it to be. In fact, the festival proved to be one of the remaining lifelines to a genre that is dangerously close to burning out.
jamie@red-mag.com
egreen@chronicle.utah.edu