When Kevin Lyman started the Vans Warped Tour back in 1995, it was clear that he had founded something quite special. For four years by that point, Lollapalooza had been proving that the concept of a traveling rock festival can be super-successful, but Lyman focused heavily on punk and dialed up the DIY ethic. Ask any musician who has been on a Warped Tour and they’ll all tell you the same thing — it’s really hard work.
But apparently it was worth it. Here we are in 2018, and Vans Warped Tour is on its final run, at least in this form. In those 23 years, it has pretty much stuck to its tried-and-true blueprint, while wiggling enough to allow the likes of Katy Perry, G Eazy and The Black Eyed Peas to tour with the punks. Veterans such as The Germs and Misfits performed alongside brand-new bands (and the band Brand New).
It’s had its detractors; critics have claimed for years that Vans Warped has upped the corporate factor in punk — using the fact that skate culture is closely associated with the music in order to sell shoes. And there’s some truth to that. But still, peel away the bullshit and ignore the merch logos, and the event is all about the music.
First stop on this final tour is Pomona, and the big draws include Reel Big Fish, The Used, Black Veil Brides, The Maine, Simple Plan and Senses Fail. Excited fans filed in before 11 a.m. in the summer heat to catch the early bands and, in fact, to get their first glimpse of the schedule (as is the norm, set times weren’t made public until doors opened).
We found that many of the gems were spread across the smaller stages. Massachusetts metalcore troupe Unearth, for example, laid brutal waste to the Mutant White Lightning Stage. This band have been blending hardcore punk with extreme metal since 1998, and the set here was typically ferocious.
Over on the Owly.fm Stage, Dead Girls Academy impress a small but enthusiastic crowd with music from their recent Alchemy album, released through Victory Records. The fact that singer Michael Orlando is wearing a vintage Mötley Crüe shirt is a good sign; these guys blend contemporary emo-punk with classic, dirty rock & roll. The tunes are anthemic and memorable, and the band is super-tight. Much to love.
The Dollyrots headline the Shiragirl Stage, and that’s well-deserved. There are few pop-punk bands capable of consistently writing songs as catchy, lyrically engaging and just damn fun as this trio. Their own tribute to L.A., “City of Angels,” is the highlight of a set that is already one of the highlights of the day.
Special mention has to be given to Detroit horror-rap crew (and ICP little-brother band) Twiztid. It’s easy to dismiss anything juggalo-related, but these guys made an attempt to go their own way when they left the relative comfort of Psychopathic Records, and that’s to be admired. The music is a lot of fun, and certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Introducing “Kill Somebody,” the pair remind us that it’s not a good idea to actually kill somebody. Rather, play the song at top volume and get that shit out of your system. Apparently Twiztid see themselves as the musical equivalent of punching a pillow when you’re mad. It’s a public service.
Bands will always tour, and the name groups will have no problems getting exposure. For the smaller bands, Vans Warped allowed them the opportunity to tour the country with punk giants in front of huge crowds. Corporate connections or not, there’s no doubt that it’ll be missed.