Warped Tour still sucking devotion and sweat from the sneakered set

Vans Warped Tour w. 3OH!3, A Day to Remember, Gym Class Heroes, Asking Alexandria, The Devil Wears Prada, and more



Noon Sun, June 26

AT&T Center

One AT&T Center

(800) 745-3000


This experience is not for the faint of heart (or eardrum). By definition, “warped” means “to cause to become abnormal or strange; have a distorting effect on; to turn from a correct or proper course.” The amount of bodily fluids expended each year by sneakered scenesters is evidence enough of the impressive loyalty to the hodgepodge of bands and Warped Tour itself. But don’t get it twisted — it is bigger than a freak show, more than mindless radio, and smarter than those who stereotype it. The tour, which celebrated its Sweet Sixteen last year, sells hundreds of thousands of tickets annually, packing major cities’ biggest venues with a reliability that is hard to come by.

A mid-’90s brainchild of entrepreneur Kevin Lyman, the project joined forces with skateboarding/BMX shoe manufacturing giant Vans to create one sweaty spectacle. Propelled by big brands with budgets, Lyman’s original conception found success by creating a popular home base for fans of ska and punk — genres that, at the time, were still relatively underground phenomena — and it continues to evolve annually under his general direction. Lyman was inspired by shows that pioneered the music-skating nexus and named the tour after the now-defunct Warp magazine.

The appeal verges on mainstream but maintains an edginess that keeps it central on the radar for younger, raucous demographics. All day, 10 stages play host to a soundtrack that paints the perfect picture of sensory overload. Despite criticism of rampant commercialism and a tendency toward cacophonous chaos, the tour continues to employ an insightful, open-minded model that gives U.S. and, as of 1998, international crowds exposure to a multitude of musicians.

There are the throwbacks, like tour veterans Less Than Jake, Sum 41, and Simple Plan, whose rabid fans show up in droves with an old-school passion for hard skanking. Ska legends Less Than Jake continue to prove why they’ve been a mainstay power since their first Warped Tour appearance in 1997.

“We have a huge cross-section of people included in our fan base, and people are always excited to hear us play,” says Less Than Jake sax player Peter “J.R.” Wasilewski. “It’s fun. [Warped Tour] is great for up-and-coming bands. Kevin [Lyman] has always had his finger on the pulse of the underground.” Wasilewski added that the tour’s atmosphere is different from that of a trade show like Austin’s South by Southwest simply because it is an actual tour, not a “drunken orgy for a bunch of industry people.”

Anthemic electronics by the duo 3OH!3 and the edgy sweetness of Paramore (skipping the San Antonio date … lame) are featured in 2011. But there are also groups that get stereotyped for “selling out” — Fall Out Boy, Katy Perry, My Chemical Romance, and others have gone on to enjoy massive mainstream success after their days playing on Warped Tour. “I saw Eminem get pelted with bottles in ’99, and look at him now!” said Wasilewski.

“Festivals are great because they are ‘occasions’ for the people going to them,” said Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Motte, from 3OH!3, a band that started touring with Warped in 2008 to great response. “People tend to be in a party mood, which really suits our music. I spend a ton of time orchestrating our live show to be, in my eyes, just the right combination of programmed elements, live instrumentation, and singing. I think that we have managed to keep that open, anyone-can-come-party atmosphere, as well as create a live sound that is big, heavy, and interesting.”

The bands that fall into the niche groups are incredibly loyal to specific, hard-to-stomach sounds — their fans are hardcore, figuratively and literally (or is it metalcore? Grindcore? Thrashcore?), and will most likely be found sneering at “poseurs.” Groups like the gothic Black Veil Brides and screamo I Set My Friends On Fire belong in this set with their attention to the slightest differences in genre stylistics.

Then there are the randoms. Often less abrasive, the music coming from this group of varied genres includes that of nerdcore rapper MC Lars and folk-punk outfit Larry And His Flask. Lars is a self-professed laptop-music junkie who garners appeal from the geeks with swag. “I take a light-hearted approach to being anti-establishment,” said MC Lars. “You’ve gotta question the powers that be so they can’t take themselves too seriously. Kevin [Lyman] understands the approach and encourages the discussion ... I’m just trying to express myself in this crazy, postmodern world.”

“[Warped Tour] isn’t traditionally our sound, but it’s a great mix,” said bassist Jon Wasleske, of alt-rock band Windsor Drive. “We’re excited to meet new bands, reunite with [rock group] Terrible Things and use the tour as a networking tool.” The guys got a taste for the game playing a single set at 2009’s Warped and will have the full-blown touring experience this year.

To little folks with big dreams, the glory of Warped Tour seems attainable, though riding on a bus in a giant convoy for weeks on end in the summer hardly seems glamorous. Regardless of who’s listening or what they take away, the bottom line is that many bands would remain completely unknown without the Warped stage to launch from. •


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