Warped Tour is an interesting beast for those of us who are getting "up there" in the years relative to the average punk rock enthusiast. As time goes by, many things falter: our interest in the newer bands in the scene, the inevitable tide changes of what "the current sound is" and our desire to stand out in the sun for 8 hours pressed up against hundreds of other smelly kids waiting to see thirty minutes of music from a slew of the large and the little of punk's current offerings. One thing that, hopefully, will never falter is our dedication to, and appreciation of, the music that makes all this happen. But that's for another review.
I headed out to Warped this year with no real mission in mind -- of the bands on the bill, I had no real desire to see anyone but New Jersey's Bouncing Souls. Wandering about with Mr. Kevin Wade of the now-defunct Punkrocks.net, I heard a few bars of Over It's set before fleeing the area. I then spent the majority of the day wandering between the backstage area (yes, how lame, not pUNX!) and visiting various booths.
A few things really struck me about the ways that Warped has changed over the years. First of all, the average show-goer in San Francisco would have looked just as comfortable being at Ozzfest as they would have at Warped. There were a lot of basketball jerseys and bandanas (I guess repping that whole Hatebreed/Madball/meathead hardcore style), a ton of dyed black hair, "Hot Topic goth pants," and so much screaming and double bass coming from the stages that I got worried we had come to the wrong place at some point. Just a different scene. The gigantic amount of sponsors' tents and twirling signs and completely non-music related booths was overwhelming. Half the time I felt like I was at some sort of outdoor "punk rawk!" flea market, but with extremely overpriced, out of place sunglasses and thongs (seriously, who wants a band's name down there?). The curmudgeon and the purist in me wishes a firestorm would come and wipe this all off the pier into the Bay, never to bother anyone again, but the realist in me knows the limitations and requirements of wanting to have a gigantic, traveling festival with thousands of kids attending. If you've been to Warped before, you know what to expect. It's still shocking and jarring though, I'll admit.
To be honest, I mostly watched the main stage acts. No one was amazing and no one severely disappointed. NOFX's set was entertaining, Underoath screamed a whole lot and man were Saves the Day whiny. While I spent a lot of time making jokes about the Casualties' special brand of ridiculousness, including a period of time where my brother only spoke in "Oi"s, there's a certain magic that you can actually see happen at Warped. I'd say that on average, being less than two weeks from having graced this Earth for a quarter of a century, I have at least 8 years over your average Warped-goer. This fact, combined with seeing things from the bands' perspectives, you realize how sometimes us old folk totally miss the forest for the trees. While I think the idea of an anti-corporate, progressive band being on the payroll of a massive corporation is ridiculous, when you see a literal sea of people holding up the peace sign along with Rise Against, singing along with every authority-questioning word of Anti-Flag and sweating to death just to sing along (forever) with the Bouncing Souls, you take pause; that sentiment, the politics (however tainted they may be) and the positivity all has to start somewhere.
I'll never wave the banner of Warped as being the most "punk rock" institution, or even really representative of the counter-culture, but it definitely serves as a gateway drug to thousands of kids who might never be exposed to the progressive politics, positivity and great music than can be found there, amongst the morass of angled haircuts and overly conscious fashionistas. And while no one expects everyone there to suddenly become progressive, to vote every time, to get out there and engage in direct action or even start buying CDs, you know it has to be reaching a lot of them. Let's face it, any kid who hears the opening lines of "True Believers" and isn't changed for the better isn't really cut out for this little sub-culture anyways.