The Vans Warped Tour kick-off party, held this Thursday at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, brought together some of the biggest names in alternative music today to celebrate the tour’s 18th year. It is hard to believe the fest has been around that long. What began as an outlet for the nation’s top punk and alternative bands to tour and get close to their fans has turned into a worldwide phenomenon and launched the careers of some of the top name’s in music today.
“I started this festival 18 years ago as a way to bring people together and give bands and kids alike an outlet where they could be heard,” said Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman.
This year’s lineup includes everyone from the popular Anti-Flag and The Used to Taking Back Sunday and the lesser-known Forever Came Calling. As the founder of one of the country’s hottest summer music festivals Lyman knows how to pick just the right bands to cater to his audience.
Having spent years going to music festivals all over the country most festivals cater to a relatively broad audience. Summercamp is for hippies, Pitchfork is for hipsters and Lollapalooza is for everyone. While Warped showcases almost as many bands as Lolla it has found a way to cater to an audience that has an average age of fifteen. Looking through the crowd at the kick-off party, the press were the oldest ones in attendance.
As a unique treat for those at the party, the night started off with a special showing of the documentary No Room For Rockstars. Created by Stacy Peralta and the producers of Dogtown & Z-Boys the film follows multiple bands during their time on Warped Tour.
While the film tries cover the whole range of bands on tour not nearly enough is spent following Forever Came Calling. When we first meet the band they are selling CDs outside of the first stop on the tour in California. Made up of four guys in their early 20s the band’s only wish is to be playing the tour next year. All they are looking for is a chance. Living out of their van the band is on the fringes of the festival yet represents Warped Tour in its purest form. Their devotion to succeed shows in each and every conversation the viewer sees. Outside of fans the other bands represented in the film are interesting, but really nothing that hasn’t already been seen.
This was especially true of Mike Posner, a true anomaly on the tour. Posner’s music is pop, there’s no denying it. Although he shows some signs of a rock influence his music has more in common with Justin Timberlake than Yellowcard. Even during interviews with other bands on the tour, it is never quite clear why Lyman chose to bring Posner on board, even though the success of his music has obviously brought in a lot of fans.
You could feel the audience bristle with excitement as the movie came to a close. As soon as the main doors opened hundreds of teens, a lot of them girls, rushed to the stage to get as close as possible to the show. Lyman took the lead as the master of ceremonies and wasted no time getting the show started. “Before we start I would like to make an announcement. I’ve decided who is going to be one of the headlining bands for the 2013 tour, it’s Forever Came Calling. I just really love the passion these guys have.”
No further introduction was needed as the band took the stage and, despite their short set, managed to rock the house. Since the film was shot, the band has already been on three North American tours but still look as if they are fresh from the streets. Their music continues to evolve but thankfully their personalities haven’t. Living out of a car, unsure whether or not you will survive the day, changes you and that is something the whole band seems to have held on to. Pounding out song after song, the band managed to play about 10 songs in a 15 minute set and they made every single one count.
The band was followed by punk rocker Matt Tonka, Still in his 20s Tonka manages to produce the kind of punk rock that was common in the late 70s and early 80s. No gimmicks, no glam, just all out chaos with a hatred for the system. Oddly the audience didn’t totally get Tonka. Granted, the music clicked for a few people, but it was weird watching many of them just stand there for half the show unsure what to do.
Which brings us to the heart of what is wrong with modern music today. Tonka has the talent and the energy to make a dent in the punk rock world. But punk rock has changed from wanting to take down the system to becoming a part of it. Over half the audience grew up with stores like Hot Topic that have commercialized the music and fashion of what was supposed to be an outlet for outcasts. They took the soul out of the music and I admire Lyman for booking artists that are trying to put it back.
There is a strange balance to the Warped Tour, especially this year. Tonka joins punk purists like Anti-Flag and The Used while goth pop rock bands like Falling in Reverse and Vampires Everywhere! continue to grow in popularity. Lyman’s vision for taking alternative and punk bands and bringing them to a new generation has been unquestionably successful. “All signs point to a great summer to come in 2012,” says Lyman.
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