I’ve been to the Van’s Warped Tour twice. The first time was on June 26, 2005. Dressed in torn jeans, my favorite worn-out Nirvana T-shirt and all-black slip-on Vans, I felt at home amidst the black-clad goths, tattooed punks and metalheads. Sweat stung my eyes as I gazed upon my musical heroes and my voice went hoarse as I chanted to the anthems of my teenage years, but I didn’t care. Like seemingly everyone else on that summer day, I was celebrating my newfound adolescent freedom.
Fast-forward to Warped Tour 2012, and I was paying a trip back to my past. It was really hot and really weird. Everything seemed to remain untouched. The same mohawked teenagers walked with their banged-up skateboards, the same hardcore lifers started mosh pits out of frustration or obligation and the same indecipherable patches dotted every leather jacket and every backpack.
Was I getting too old for this shit? I saw SA kids with spiked, rainbow-colored hair, metal chains shackling their waist like a straitjacket, and everything was black—really, really black. I found myself singing along to Taking Back Sunday’s “Cute Without the E,” even though I don’t really listen to Taking Back Sunday anymore, no matter how important their debut album was to me in middle school. The narratives of self- desperation and romantic bitterness left me confused and sad, but they also made me feel like a teenager: raw, young and beautiful.
In the last few years, the Warped Tour has been getting undeniably heavier. This year, veterans are making room for bands like Blessthefall, the Black Dahlia Murder, Bring Me the Horizon and Memphis May Fire. The lyrical content of loneliness and heartbreak is still the same, but the sound is louder and noisier. I won’t say it’s heavy metal, but it’s close. What were once hummable guitar riffs and wailing lyrics are now walls of distortion with guitars probably tuned in Drop D or C and throat-heavy squeals and screams. Guitar sweeps, aggressive gut-punching breakdowns and dissonant sounds are common, even welcome. If last year’s performances by Blessthefall and Memphis May Fire is a testament to how intense their 2013 main stage performance will be, then don’t expect anything for the faint of heart or ear.
While it may trend heavy, Warped Tour still tries to accommodate a more eclectic fan base. This year, those who find themselves with a bad case of arrested development, constantly listening to pop punk gems circa 2004, can go see Chiodos or Motion City Soundtrack. Those who prefer post-dubstep jolts can get down to rave-friendly Crizzly, Five Knives or Stephan Jacobs. Metalheads wearing tank tops with jumbo fonts will walk with cute flannel-clad indie-lovers, dancers in fluffy neon leg-warmers and 21-year-old nostalgics wearing their worn-out The Used T-shirt. No matter how old or how young, or whether you prefer hardcore or rave-ups, Warped Tour brings festival-goers back to a median mental age of about 15, and that’s a good thing.
In 2012, it was sort of nice and melancholic reminiscing about my first Warped Tour. There is just something about this fest that sets it apart from other music mega-tours. I’ve been to Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and while enjoyable, I didn’t consider them cornerstones of my haphazard youth. Looking back, Warped Tour was perhaps the best musical experience my teenage self could have dreamed of–it was that crackling, life-changing music event that everybody hopes for.
If you’re a first-timer, this will be your own private Warped Tour, just like 2005 was mine, and only mine.
Vans Warped Tour feat. Hawthorne Heights, Architects, Upon a Burning Body, We Came as Romans and more
Doors at 11:30am Sat, Aug 3
1 AT&T Center Pkwy