Back in the summer of 2003, as a 16-year-old I experienced my first music festival. It had become almost a rite of passage for teens at the Jersey Shore to attend Vans Warped Tour when the buses invaded Asbury Park (where it was formally held). It was the perfect beginners' guide. Moms obviously wouldn't drive to every show you wanted to attend over the summer, and Warped Tour offered the one-day getaway opportunity to see all your favorite counter-cultural bands at once. Although, this was prior to Asbury's gentrification and snooty new hipster look, our parents were fine with us flocking to a parking lot occupied by thousands of our peers. It was like a massive punk-rock field trip.
That was the last summer that I attended the Warped Tour, and while this was surely due to my evolving taste in music as well as the Tour's migration to a hot ass field on the premises of Monmouth Park Racetrack, I always maintained a certain level of nostalgic respect for the festival. The international pilgrimage of bands on a 50-plus city tour acted for many people, similar to me, as a crash course Festival 101. And at the same time, it was a great way to see top-tier punk artists perform alongside some serious up-and-comers. As the years passed, headliners continually shuffled, but it was generally the same crowd of worthy musicians leading the way. It almost acted as a punk rock retirement home. And I mean this in the most endearing way. Getting to see bands like Bad Religion, NOFX, and The Bouncing Souls was great for the artists themselves to receive exposure, as well as for the fresh crops of 16-year-olds who would otherwise never hear an Anti-Flag record unless they were looking.
Let's observe this at a more metaphoric level. Have you ever seen an elderly grandparent play with a toddler? It's probably one of the most adorable things ever. Although they're decades apart in age, an oddly strong bond is shared between the two. While one is beginning a new life, the other is on its way out. It's actually pretty beautiful. And a similar relationship was shared between the young Warped Tour attendees and these older, end of the road bands.
Every year, just out of curiosity of which old vagrants will be gearing up for their last ride, I scroll the Tour's lineup. This year ... it was barren. Any trace of what I had long associated to be the foundation of the 90s and early aughts punk revival was gone. Even last year had names like Rise Against atop the lineup. But 2013 was different. The Tour has been invaded by mall rock culture of Hot Topic hangouts and gimmicky, anime-like personas. I'm sure there are a few talented acts performing, but without legitimate headliners, Warped Tour seemingly lost its punk roots.
At first, I considered perhaps it's the fact that I'm getting older and the torch has been handed down to bands like Bowling For Soup and Mest without my conscious recognition. But that's just fucking crazy! In addition to these dweebs, there seems to be an overabundance of youngsters that are trying way too hard. This year's co-headliners Black Veil Brides, seemingly one of the most popular young bands on the tour, spend far too much time trying to look like 80s rock stars, and not quite enough time writing anything but anthemic rock farts. They look like five of Nikki Sixx's illegitimate sons formed a band that sounds like Nickleback with a double bass pedal. These are the fellas who were outed for using fake cabinets
on stage during one of their Warped performances.
While it's undoubtedly a generational transition, it's still sad to see the elements that made Warped Tour so great disappearing. This evolution tends to happen with festivals. You'll still hear Bonnaroo veterans telling tall tales of its jam band birth. And they just had Paul McCartney headline. But then again, Paul McCartney doesn't wear makeup or play shitty music.