It’s hard for me to believe that the Vans Warped Tour is celebrating 20 years. It has outlasted Ozzy Osbourne’s OzzFest, the Lilith Fair tour, and the touring version of Lollapalooza.
On Friday, June 20, the 2014 Warped Tour came to Pomona, at the Fairplex, 80 miles or so from the Coachella Valley.
In its first decade, the Warped Tour focused on punk—but today, it has a completely different vibe. While some punk-rock veterans occasionally pop up, the tour now includes Christian metalcore bands, “emo” groups, and pop-punk acts. However, not everything is different: Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman is still involved, and the tour still offers low ticket prices and a DIY ethic.
One big complaint: It was nearly impossible to find a simple schedule of the bands spread out over 11 stages inside the Fairplex. When I saw a merchandise booth selling schedules for $2, I broke down and bought one, simply so I could navigate through the 100 bands playing throughout the day.
Close to 1 p.m., Beartooth took the Monster Energy Stage. The hardcore punk band from Columbus, Ohio, led by frontman Caleb Shomo, unleashed a brutal assault of heavy riffs and screaming vocals on the small crowd that had gathered. One of the first things I noticed was a sign hung on the top of the stage: “You mosh or you crowd surf, you get hurt, we get sued, no more Warped Tour.” This sign was displayed on all the stages; did it stop crowd surfing and mosh pits? Hell no. Beartooth, for example, encouraged the crowd to get closer and break out into mosh pits; Shomo himself even went crowd-surfing. During the last song, the crowd was amped up, and empty Powerade bottles and various objects went flying in the air.
Around 1:30 p.m., The Story So Far took the Electric Soul Stage. The pop-punk band drew a large crowd that was fairly typical of the Warped Tour in its current iteration; in fact, this particular stage seemed to have the largest crowds throughout the day. Fun fact: During the set, the band encouraged a man wearing a banana costume to go crowd-surfing.
On the Kia Soul Stage, the reunited Temecula band Finch (right) played around 2 p.m. About three songs in, rhythm guitarist Randy Strohmeyer attempted to talk to the crowd, asking how many people attended a 2013 show in Pomona. Drummer Alex Pappas sighed in frustration and cut him off by counting off the next song. The post-hardcore sound of Finch got the crowd going, but one has to wonder how long this third reunion of the band is going to last.
On the Warheads stage at 2:45 p.m., a band called Bad Rabbits treated the crowd to soul and funk, played with some heavy rock-guitar riffs, similar to the sound of Fishbone. No specific genre can be applied to Bad Rabbits; the band put on a fascinating show that was unlike anything else at the Warped Tour.
The Beatport stage, meanwhile, featured EDM artists. Photographer Guillermo Prieto and I caught a DJ who called himself NiT GriT. He opened his set by saying, “I’m NiT GrIT, and I make electronic music,” before dropping heavy bass and dubstep sounds. Unfortunately, he didn’t make much of an impression, as largely uninterested people walked by. While EDM has exploded in popularity, the Warped Tour crowd generally couldn’t have cared less.
At the Shiragirl stage, a small crowd gathered around 3:30 p.m. to catch a glimpse of Shiragirl herself (below). Shiragirl has been a Warped Tour personality since the mid-2000s and now runs the stage, named after her, that features female artists. Her performance offered some punk-rock appeal with a bit of Madonna style pop and backing female dancers.
“It’s been really awesome to see the Warped Tour reach 20 years,” Shiragirl told the Independent during a brief interview before her performance. “I’m honored to still be part of the family. I think this festival is amazing, and it’s the longest-running rock festival in America, and it’s for a reason: Kevin (Lyman) knows what he’s doing. I’m honored to provide a platform for female artists and bring more women to the Warped Tour as well.”
On the Hard Rock Kevin Says stage, Shot in the Dark—a band from Corona consisting of four teenagers plus 12-year-old lead singer Jacob Chabot—was quite a sight to see. Jacob had a stage presence that Pennywise would be proud of—and he even went crowd-surfing toward the end of the set. I was floored by how such a small kid could have such a huge stage presence.
Orange County band Well Hung Heart, which has played gigs at The Hood Bar and Pizza and Pappy and Harriet’s, followed Shot in the Dark. The hard-rocking blues band, led by Greta Valenti, put on a fantastic show. The trio knows how to turn it up and rock a crowd; Valenti also slowed things down to sing the chorus of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” Guitarist Robin Davey had some incredible blues riffs as well as some fantastic heavy rock riffs.
After the band’s performance, Valenti spoke to the Independent.
“It’s kind of a hometown crowd, but we don’t play the L.A. area that much,” Valenti said. “It was cool, but a weird experience, too, because even though a lot of these other bands are from all over, they have huge followings; we’re starting from scratch. … It was kind of a challenge to sort of tempt people over, but it was a lot of fun.”
Valenti also talked about how the band’s sound fits into the modern-day the Warped Tour.
“Some people just go, ‘It’s not that sound that I’m used to hearing on every other stage,’ so they don’t know what it is, and it’s not familiar to some people. There are also other people who say, ‘Wow, something different!’ and they’re really attracted to it,” she said. “So, I think it’s good to be different, because we’ll get truer fans that way, who have really gravitated toward us, because they like our sound, not just because they like a particular sound.”
I found myself back at the Kevin Says stage for a band called Plague Vendor around 5:20 p.m.—and I thoroughly enjoyed the bizarre yet entertaining performance. The band recently signed with Epitaph Records and has had write-ups in various punk publications. Frontman Brandon Blaine announced to the crowd he would throw out a CD—and warned that the person who caught it had better be moving and going crazy, or else he’d send his “parents” out to get the CD back. The band’s sound mixed heavy psychedelic rock with surf-rock; Blaine’s humorous stage antics included taking people’s iPhones and photographing himself; taking people’s sunglasses and putting them on; and demands of intense crowd participation.
While I don’t want to apply the term “emo” to any band, it was hard not to apply it to some of the bands playing on the Journeys, Warhead and Electric Soul stages. In the early evening, the reunited Cute Is What We Aim For took the Warhead stage. Frontman Shaant Hacikyan commented: “You’re probably thinking, ‘What the fuck? They’re still a band?’” The band’s songs were all overly sentimental and annoyingly poppy, and they left me wondering: How could this band be part of the Warped Tour?
There was at least one promising sign that the Warped Tour is embracing its history: The performance by tour veterans Less Than Jake. The punk/ska band has a sound that reminds of the late-’90s Warped Tour atmosphere. While the band didn’t draw a large crowd, there were some punk-rock faithful there to catch the show. The incorporation of humor into the stage show and the banter between songs is genuinely hilarious. They pointed out a man in the crowd holding up a sign that said he’d been waiting for seven years to see Less Than Jake; the band seemed genuinely flattered.
As the longest-running touring rock festival in America, the Vans Warped Tour has obviously succeeded in keeping itself relevant—despite the fact that people like me yearn for the Warped Tours of old with bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise.
Photos by Guillermo Prieto/Irockphotos.net.