When We Were Young Festival has been a topic of debate ever since the news of the festival was released back in January of 2022. People were skeptical that a festival with a lineup of over 60 amazing artists like My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Avril Lavigne, Bring Me the Horizon, etc. was just too good to be true. Some skeptics thought that the festival wouldn’t happen and that almost seemed like it was coming to fruition when the first day of the fest was canceled due to high winds.

DAY 1 – October 22nd, 2022

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, I was greeted with whipping cold winds as my car shook and rattled down I-15. I had received a wind advisory alert on my phone but was hoping the wind would settle by the time I made it to the festival. When I was about 30 minutes away from Vegas, I got the notification that the first day of the festival had been canceled. Now having a whole day in Vegas to myself to explore, I decided to hit the Las Vegas Strip. As soon as I got to the strip, I knew exactly why festival organizers made the right call to cancel. Some of the gusts of wind almost knocked me off my feet as palm trees whipped around in a frenzy. As I looked around me, thousands upon thousands of emo kids and elder emo’s, such as myself, filled the strip looking for ways to entertain ourselves. Twitter user @misha_loves_you tweeted, “The Las Vegas strip is now the boulevard of broken dreams” which seemed very apropos at the time.

Nonetheless, many of the bands set to play that day rallied together to try to make it up to fans. All American Rejects announced an intimate pop-up show at a local barbecue joint. Metal icons Kittie announced they would be doing a Meet-and-Greet at The Hard Rock and later a show at The Sand Dollar Lounge. Bring Me the Horizon, Knocked Loose and Landon Barker announced a ticketed show at The Palms which sold completely out. Hawthorne Heights, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and Armor for Sleep performed in the casino of The Strat hotel. Although nothing could replace the experience of attending a massive festival full of all of your favorite bands, I hope that the people who got to experience these once-in-a-lifetime intimate pop-up shows, consider it a redeeming consolation.

DAY 2 – October 23rd, 2022

The wind had finally subsided and the weather was perfect. Thousands of people were queued around the Circus Circus lot waiting for doors to open at 11:00 AM. As you entered the massive outdoor venue, you were greeted with a giant black and white checkered arch that read When We Were Young Fest and a huge pink carpet beneath. It definitely would have been a great photo-op experience for a Myspace profile pic if the year were 2005. Throughout the festival grounds, you could see art installations, a mini skateboard ramp, Halsey’s about-face make-up brand station, tons of food options, and the most popular vendor of the weekend, the merch booth. Every time I passed by one of the merch booths, the line was full of people.

The music was divided into five stages: The Striped and Checkered Stages on one side of the festival grounds and the Neon Tent, Black, and Pink main stages on the other side of the grounds. Some of the acts I caught early in the day were The Linda Lindas, Meet Me @ The Altar, and Hawthorne Heights. In between sets, I was able to capture portraits of some of the titans of Emo including The Used, Silverstein, Bayside, and State Champs to name a few.

The hardest part of the day was trying to figure out how to maximize my time and see all of my favorite bands, but I’ve had my experience with sacrifice in the years of going to Warped Tour. This was no different except When We Were Young Fest was like Warped Tour on steroids. The stakes were a little higher because you would likely not see this many high-caliber bands playing in one location again not to mention the fact that you didn’t want to miss any part of the sets because there were so many surprise collabs that happened throughout the festival. Pierce the Veil brought out Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens to perform their hit collaborative single “King for a Day” which recently had a resurgence thanks to TikTok. Taking Back Sunday brought out Steve Aoki, The Maine brought out Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday, and Avril Lavigne brought out All Time Low to perform a cover together of Blink-182’s “All the Small Things”. These are the moments that made you feel like you were witnessing a part of music history.

Speaking of witnessing music history in the making, Paramore opened their set in the most epic way possible, by playing a song they have never played live before. “All I Wanted”, a deep cut and fan favorite off the 2009 Brand New Eyes album finally debuted live for the first time at When We Were Young Fest. As Hayley Williams took to the stage and the first chords started to play, screams erupted from the crowd. Hardcore Paramore fans have waited 13 years for this moment. In a 2013 USTREAM video, Hayley answers a fan’s question about why they never played this one track live. She stated that “Basically I wrote the hardest vocal melody ever in the whole world.” She goes on to say how this particular song would be a strain on her vocal cords if she were playing it night after night and that “All I Wanted is like the one [song] that I can’t mess up. Like if I mess that up, I’ll never forgive myself. So, I think a lot of the reason we never played it is because I’m scared of it.” Hayley did the song justice and belted out those high notes beautifully.

The night closed out with My Chemical Romance on the Black main stage and the recently reunited Canadian metal giants, Kittie, on the Stripe stage. The crowd was tingling with energy as MCR took the stage after a long day of great music. Surprisingly to me, they opened with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and the crowd lost its collective mind. MCR kept the crowd singing and screaming throughout the set by playing all of their classics and ended the show with fireworks. It was an interesting artistic choice to see Gerard Way and other band members come out in prosthetic makeup, but it didn’t affect their performance or the crowd’s reaction in the slightest. Kittie’s performance started 5 minutes after MCR on the other side of the festival but there was still a nice size crowd that had formed around the Stripe stage waiting for the band’s set to start. One fan in the crowd was holding up what looked to be an original Spit-era Kittie shirt with pride, and I am sure they were elated when the band played several hits off the 2000 album including “Brackish”, “Spit”, and “Charlotte”.

I couldn’t possibly begin to express how unbelievably amazing this festival was in every aspect. The lineup was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I have attended and covered too many of these to count. It would be impossible for anyone in attendance to say they didn’t have a good time watching all of these bands perform and bear witness to the fun surprises many of the bands had planned for fans. I hope that the success of this festival propels it far into the future so that all fans can experience the juggernaut that is When We Were Young.