Vans Warped Tour
25th Anniversary Weekend
June 29th & 30th
Atlantic City, NJ

It took a bit of time with my fingers hovered over the keys before I actually started to string some thoughts together about this one.
Covering a typical show, I can usually have everything finished in a day or two, sometimes a little longer if there’s other stuff going on. It goes without saying that this weekend in Atlantic City wasn’t a typical show, so not only was the workload heavier, there was some additional weight that came from the circumstances. My process was longer than usual, and there was a lot here to process. I’ll try keep this on-topic and relatively brief. 

I went to my first Warped Tour fifteen years ago when I was 12.
When I was getting ready for this year and mentioned that to my mom, who brought me to my first Warped Tour when I was 12, her response was: “… why did I bring you to Warped Tour when you were 12?” I think this came to a surprise to both of us – for her, she couldn’t believe that I’ve been going since I was that young, and I realized just how long it had been an annual outing for me. 

Fast forward to this spring: after the final cross-country run last year, there were some wondering what the plan for the 25th anniversary would be, while the people who saw “FINAL” and then stopped reading before “CROSS-COUNTRY RUN” were surprised or annoyed when there was an announcement about this year’s trio of celebrations. When it was revealed as three mini-festivals rather than a traveling tour, the mention of “… and much more” left plenty to the imagination. With two days of music from a roster of bands spanning two-plus decades, a small art exhibit documenting the past 25 years, and the reincorporation of the extreme sports events, all taking place just steps away from the ocean, the tour was going to make sure its last mark counted.

Going off of that for just one second, it turned out that one of my favorite moments of the weekend wasn’t even during a band performance. Throughout both days, there were BMX bikers, motocross riders, skateboarding, and wrestling events all taking place. Early Sunday afternoon, after they delayed the motocross jumpers due to high winds, we walked over to watch one of the wrestling matches and arrived just as one of the fighters threw the other out of the ring. He landed near a trash barrel and a circle formed around the two as they continued to scrap outside on the sand. One picked up the barrel and tossed it at the other, spilling garbage all over the ground. As he placed the now-empty receptacle upright again, every person around had the same thought in their mind – someone is going in that trash can any second now. I didn’t expect part of the weekend to include a small crowd of fans excitedly chanting “throw him in the garbage!” but sometimes the most fun things are the ones you don’t expect. Even better was what happened after: while the two fighters returned to the ring and everyone turned back to watch, a small group of not even a dozen stood around the trash pile for a second. Without saying a word, we looked at one another, looked at the trash, looked at each other again, and all started to join in to clean up the mess that was made. Once everything was cleaned up, one of the girls chuckled as we all separated, joking “I mean, we’re not monsters? Not littering is punk rock.”

Now, let’s backtrack a bit and start from the beginning: Saturday started off with a 6am alarm, a quick drive over to pick up my brother, then a surprisingly painless four and a half hours down the thruway. As the timer on the GPS dropped lower and lower, the temperature continued to rise and the excitement grew greater. Any other year, you’d hit some traffic near your exit and think “well, we’re here.” But you could start to feel that here much further away. Blocks away from the boardwalk entrances, you could see people getting out of their cars, adding handfuls of quarters to parking meters, checking into hotels, and coating themselves in the first of many applications of sunscreen; Warped Tour wasn’t just borrowing a venue for a day, it was taking over the city for the weekend.  

For as much praise as I’ve given to the tour over the years and how great this particular year’s run was, it did have its issues, albeit minimal ones, which is to be expected for a one-off event at a new location, especially one in such a centralized heavy-traffic area. I’ve been going to the Mansfield, MA date for the last five years or so, which took place at an amphitheater. With that, the entrance was more of a spoked wheel setup, with lines starting outward and converging in on the front gates. At the boardwalk, entrances were at various points down the beach, but all along the same strip. The spacing was helpful but early on, the lines were congested and confusing, so there were some slight issues as doors opened. And with the day’s first performances starting just moments after, there were some left waiting. All things considered, if entrance lines were one of the biggest concerns for the weekend, then it’s probably safe to chalk it up as a success. 

Once inside and situated, I started my day by watching a bit of Save Ferris while I debated my first conflict of the day – choosing between Less Than Jake or Eyes Set to Kill. Fun Warped throwback stories: the summer between 11th and 12th grade, my friend Tom and I went to the Uniondale, New York date and we drove down the night before the show, I don’t know why, and ended up sleeping in his van in the parking lot and a van pulled up beside ours around midnight and it was Eyes Set to Kill. There’s no more to that story.

Second story: the following summer, my brother, my friends Alec, Sam, and I went together and Less Than Jake opened the show that day. They started at 12:30, and by 12:40 Sam was in the medical tent backstage with a dislocated shoulder. He lost his wallet for a bit that day, too. But he was a trooper – he watched the rest of the day in a sling, found his wallet, got free water all day, and he got to watch Chiodos from side-stage, so it all worked out.

As the weekend drew nearer, a few changes were made to the lineup and for me, it only added to my interest. After I the Mighty, Plague Vendor, and Gym Class Heroes were announced as no longer performing, acts that were added ended up being some of my main draws for the weekend. Although Gym Class Heroes were removed, Travie McCoy announced he would still be performing, while MC Lars, the Pink Spiders, and locals Can’t Swim were all added onto Saturday’s lineup, the latter of which were an early crowd booster. Even without a center stage microphone early on, the five-piece still turned a side-stage schedule block into a main stage-worthy performance. The Pink Spiders followed next, bringing their perfectly-balanced brand of pop/punk. For a band that spent ten years on hiatus between albums, a comeback was long overdue and more than welcomed. Vocalist Matt Friction joked “Hey everyone, so, guessing some of you were surprised to see us here. But here we are! Who thought we were dead? Not, like, the band. I mean actually us.” Regardless of the degree that they were resurrected, it was a joy to see them not only showing signs of life, but as alive as ever. Teenage Graffiti tracks were as crisp as they were a decade ago, and tracks from 2018’s Mutations showed there’s still plenty of gas in the tank.

As I mentioned a little while ago, lines headed inside were an issue that weekend. Others were less from setup or planning than they were due to Mother Nature keeping with tradition, because it wouldn’t be a northeastern Warped Tour date without severe weather making an appearance. During the week leading up to the show, I had a constant eye on the weather. As we got to Thursday and Friday, the 80% chance of rain from Monday had dropped to 25%. In an area with casinos within spitting distance of one another, I would have taken those odds. And yet, almost right on schedule, around 4:00 Saturday afternoon we got the notice from security that there was weather moving in and they warned of the potential of a delay and possible forced exit. By 5:30, as Atmosphere was just getting his set started on the main stage, the sky was black and we were being ushered to the exit gates. The combination of confusion and concern in the faces of people watching from the casino windows across the street as thousands of damp, sunburnt, sand-covered concertgoers scrambled their way for shelter was a show in itself. With everyone going their own way, we kept our eyes glued to Twitter for updates. After about an hour back at my hotel room, which gave me just enough time to charge my phone and shake give or take thirty-five pounds of sand from my shoes and feet, they posted that gates would reopen soon and the show would resume with an adjusted schedule. 

When the sun came back out and Atmosphere wrapped up his set, there wasn’t really an opportunity to spot any concerns with audio or visuals – the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining, everyone was excited just to be back inside, the remainder of the performance was only about fifteen minutes, and with just one microphone and limited instruments, there wasn’t much to soundcheck. Unfortunately for Good Charlotte and Bad Religion up next, they were left on the receiving end for the brunt of these. But where less-experienced bands may have folded, the pair of Warped vets persevered. Good Charlotte pulled in the biggest crowd of the day up to that point, which would have been the case whether or not there was weather or not. The sound issues rolled over into the start of Bad Religion’s set, muffling their first few songs as well. Eventually things were resolved and the rest went off without a problem as the Warped legends added one final east coast performance to their legacy.

Saturday wrapped up the main stage out with 311 and A Day to Remember, and if you had asked me to come up with two very different bands to end a day at Warped Tour, this would’ve been a top-notch answer. 

Before the rain, A Day to Remember were scheduled for 8:50. Once we were back inside and everything resumed, the updated times were posted and they were given the 9:45-10:30 slot to close out Day One. Maybe it was the uncertainty over if they were going to get their chance to see them, or they may have been burning up any additional energy they were able to restore during the break, or they could have just been waking themselves up after 311, but the crowd was mayhem for A Day to Remember. I’m in double-digits for the amount of times I’ve seen them perform and this was easily the wildest, biggest, most reckless I’ve seen. By the end of the first song, the photo pit was cleared out so security could contain the chaos. Before performing “Sticks & Bricks,” Jeremy McKinnon looked out at the thrashing sea of bodies and talked about the meaning behind the title of the song, telling the crowd how it was named for a code used by Warped security when things were about to get out of hand and reinforcements were needed.
The crowd was told to prove the song right; they roared back and proudly obliged.

So, that was Saturday. If you’re reading this and you’re feeling tired, I hope you’ll rally just like we did, because we got to wake up and do it all again on Sunday. 

Before I go into the details and specifics, I’ll just preface it by saying Sunday was all-around smoother than Saturday. No long drive before, easier entrances, people had adjusted to walking through sand all afternoon, no torrential downpour halfway through the day, so on and so forth. Before the day even began, there was a buzz in the air that only grew stronger as the day went on, and the same thought was on the minds of most people – tonight was ending with blink-182. But we’ll get there.

The main stage started with another pair of Warped alums, with Atreyu kicking the day off, followed by Anti-Flag who, according to Wikipedia, have appeared on Warped more years (11) than anyone else, with the exception of Less Than Jake and Simple Plan (13). The same page also lists Reel Big Fish at 11 years. A few various articles I’ve seen have different numbers listed, but the ranking stays mostly the same. Either way, having the Elite Four more or less bookend both days was a great homage to where things started and how far they’ve come, ending with the ones who were there all along. 

The rest of the day was filled with both pleasant surprises and validated assumptions.

Early on, bands like Keep Flying and Hyro the Hero used every inch of their stages and every second of their stage time to ensure there was not a drop of sweat left to give. During a weekend packed from start to finish with some of the biggest, most-revered acts in the tour’s history, it takes something special to stand out and be recognized. Kudos to both of them.
Among the other standouts, Sleeping With Sirens may seem like a strange name to include here. But over the last few years, I’ve been both very impressed with them but also equally disappointed at times. There were shows where they were captivating and there were others where, harsh as it sounds, they were legitimately bad. This weekend was the former, as this was the best they’ve been out of any recent time I’ve seen them and the more I think about it, probably the best out of any time I’ve seen them.

As for the ones I expected to be great, getting greatness from Circa Survive is never a far call. Without it sounding like too much of an exaggeration, I’m hard-pressed to think of another band there that weekend, arguably in general, who is consistently as perfect onstage. Even performing within and on top of a swarm of fans, Anthony Green was impeccable, and his last request was met with open arms. “Thank you, Warped Tour,” he said as their set time came to and end, “carry me to the ocean, feed me to a fucking shark.” He climbed onto their upstretched arms and was passed person to person through the crowd, over the border barricade, and carried to the water. From stage to shoreline, I’d guess it was anywhere from fifty to a hundred meters, so even though there were fewer people as it got closer, roughly a dozen people made sure he got there. The applause as he splashed down could be heard from the other end of the beach.

Nearing the end of the day, The Used and Taking Back Sunday delivered back-to-back performances that could each have been a finale to the weekend on their own. First up, The Used brought a collection of fan favorites taken mostly from the self-titled debut and In Love and Death, scattered Shakespearean recitals, and an “…anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall’” moment before an explosive “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” brought things to a close. 

To nobody’s surprise, Taking Back Sunday also stuck with the heavy hitters, opening with “What’s It Feel Like to Be a Ghost?” and “A Decade Under the Influence” before finishing with a 1-2-3 punch of “You’re So Last Summer,” “Cute Without the ‘E’,” and “MakeDamnSure” which brought the house down, at one point literally – the crowd up front pushed a divider fence to the ground and spilled through into the side-stage area. Situational circumstances aside, these were the best sets I had ever seen from either of these two.

Lastly, the night came to its close with what was not only two days in the making, but twenty years. Naturally, the inflatable said 9:00, so when it was 9:05 and the lights were still down, the chants from the crowd grew even more deafening. Not like they needed to build any additional excitement, but it still made the moment even more special when the lights did come up and blink-182 came onstage. I’ll be the first to say I’ve never been the biggest fan of blink – not that I dislike them, but they were just never my thing. Also, with Alkaline Trio being my favorite band, I admittedly hold a bit of resentment towards them over the last couple of years, but hey. That said, I’ll add them as the final and biggest surprise of the weekend. The hype surrounding them blanketed the weekend, and from the second the stage lit up until the last note faded out, they lived up to it and showed why they were not only the clear choice to conclude these anniversary shows, but why they’re probably the band that comes to mind when you think of Warped Tour.

And just like that, while the last of the merch tents were broken down, cases of gear were rolled away, and people found their way to the exits, Warped on the east coast was over. Last summer, during the “final” year, I left with absolute certainty that there would be something next year to celebrate the 25th Anniversary after this. Now this year, I left with that same confidence that once the California weekend finishes up, there won’t be. 

There would be times I would mention Warped Tour or being excited to see bands that we listened to in high school and someone would mention their surprise that the tour was still happening or so-and-so was still together and whenever that happened, I’d have the same response: the shows still happen because people still go, and people still go because the bands can still deliver. Nostalgia can only do so much or carry you so far. If that weren’t the case, we could just stay home and stream the same 2004 versions of the songs, but if it’s 2019 and it’s still just as good now as it was then, I’m going to keep going.

I’m sure these sort of review/recap/reminiscence write-ups have been getting posted by the bushelful. But even if there are too many to keep track of, every one counts and I’m sure every one is different because everyone posting one has a different thing to say and a different story to recount. 

So, final tally for those playing along at home: after fifteen years, five girlfriends, four states, three cameras, two cars, and one friend’s dislocated shoulder, that’s a wrap on Warped Tour. Whether it was an overnight road trip with friends, a weekend away, or a solo fifteen-hour day down and back, it may have been the same tour every summer, but it was always something different – whether I was going for a different group of bands one year to the next, whether I was in a different point in my life than I was a few summers before, whether there were a dozen other things to account for, it was always something.
And though it turns out that I outlived Warped Tour, I don’t feel like I ever outgrew it. 

Thanks for the memories.
Warped Forever. 

Mountain View, CA Warped Tour will take place July 20th & 21st
Full Atlantic City photo album available here.