“What’s the deal with this line?” I asked a 17-ish-year-old kid working the window at the In-N-Out Burger in Ventura. “It’s for Warped Tour,” he replied, eyes rolling.
“Who’s playing this year? Like, who are the big bands?”
“I really don’t know, honestly,” he replied, patiently waiting for me to take my chocolate shake out of his hand. “No one really listens to that kind of Warped Tour music.”
If the testimony of a teenager working a drive-through window weren’t enough, the numbers bear out similarly dire straits for the beloved touring punk-rock-skate festival (and, if we’re being honest, punk music in general). Attendance is nearly half what it was a decade ago, though those numbers have seemingly settled in the years following the record-setting highs of the emo-splosion mid-‘00s.
Despite the noticeably smaller scale, the atmosphere at this year’s 805 Warped Tour stop felt similar to those of my youth, which is to say altogether nurturing and overwhelming. There are plenty of meet and greets, and various band members walk among the crowds not-so-inconspicuously so as to take photos and sign autographs with adolescent fans.
This year’s musical offerings were largely reflective of the tour’s over-arching trends. Essentially, Warped tour’s thirty-something bands can be cataloged by hyphenating three of the five basic “white kid” band categories: emo, metal, hardcore, pop, and punk (with rap and electronic music as alternates). Think metalcore-rap sounds cool? Try Attila, a band that’s so obviously from Atlanta it hurts. Like electro-emo-metal? Meet Breathe Carolina. How about emo-pop-punk? Say hello to Real Friends, and afternoons spent wondering how you ended up in your late twenties and listening to emo music.
This is music that’s every bit as short-sighted and earnest and mean-spirited as any American suburban 15-year-old, made by a bunch of kids who grew up listening to Jimmy Eat World, Eminem, and My Chemical Romance rather than Sunny Day Real Estate or At the Drive-In. That additional decade has made the thematic and musical elements of these emo bands altogether more explicit and effective in their respective emo-tional appeals (see: Real Friends’ “Late Nights in My Car” for reference).
Newer acts aside, this year’s lineup included a handful of tour veterans, who drew equal parts sympathy and affection from the adults in the audience. Performances from Finch and Saves the Day both proved exhilarating (who knew they were still around?!), but neither would surpass the surprise appearance from Linkin Park on the tour’s “main stage” (which was left vacant before and after their set). Extra security was brought in before the 5:30 p.m. performance, a precaution deemed necessary by the 6’4”, 300-pound guard working directly next to me in the photo pit. “People drove in from Arizona just for this show,” he said. “They might take the barrier down.”
Linkin Park’s set was Coachella-esque (I guess) in it’s use of cameos (Nate Barcalow of Finch, Mike Hranica of The Devil Wears Prada, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly), with frontmen Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington acting especially chummy on top of the speakers, as if to quell any rumors in the wake of Bennington’s pseudo-leave-of-absence to front Stone Temple Pilots in 2013.
Because an overwhelming majority of bands on the Warped Tour are signed to the same label (Razor & Tie, a subsidiary of RED and Sony), it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that most of the bands in attendance offered similar merch in similar tents, alongside volunteers from PETA and Army recruitment officers. For better or for worse, the Warped Tour is an environment created for 15-year-old outcasts by adults with varying motives and levels of resolve. All that aside, though, the Warped Tour has been able to maintain the spirit imported by Kevin Lyman, the tour organizer/founder who famously demands that bands who “behave poorly” clean up tour meal areas if they wish to stay on board, evidenced by the obvious camaraderie between tour performers and crew.
“This is punk rock church,” said the frontman of one band playing at the hardcore/metalcore stage. “Say hi to the person next to you, and go see a band you have never heard of,” he went on, while various mosh-pitters threw their arms around one another. “This is community. This is what it’s about.”