Date: July 16, 2018
2018 marks the final year that the Vans Warped Tour will travel cross-country going coast-to coast with bands from various genres ranging from hip-hop and folk to punk and ska gaining a reputation and/or notoriety.
For me my first Vans Warped Tour was all the way back in 2000 when it was close to the South Side of Pittsburgh at a tiny little outdoor venue called the I.C. Lite Ampitheatre. This was my first ever music festival experience and it was glorious. For a measly $20 I was able to see many bands that would shape my youth for the first time. How about this lineup for instance…the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX, MXPX, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Jurassic 5, Less Than Jake, the Mad Caddies, Flogging Molly, the Suicide Machines, Good Riddance, Green Day, Save Ferris, Gob, Anti-Flag, Millencolin and AFI to name a few. Over the years I’ve been introduced to countless bands that I listen to this day.
In the mid-2000s as the musical scene and culture shifted towards a different gear, what started out as a traveling punk and ska festival began to encompass more mainstream sounds as well as a more diverse roster of indie music. There were still ska and punk bands at every show but as my musical tastes steered more towards the punk and ska scene, I was finding less and less bands whose sounds interested me. While I don’t want to sound old, bitter and closeminded but there are certain genres that just don’t interest me such as emo, screamo and screamcore and that ended up being the majority of the Warped Tour lineup for nearly a decade. It would take at least a half dozen bands each year at one Warped Tour date for me to travel the two and a half hours plus traffic to get there. Certain groups like Andrew W.K. or GWAR would get me out in a heartbeat but I was traveling to the show less frequently.
Now with 2018 being the final taste of this traveling musical circus, I figured that they would pull out all of the stops and make something spectacular happen by possibly brining some now-defunct bands out of retirement for it or by bringing back some of the events and attractions such as the half-pipe, midget wrestlers or the free Yoo Hoo wagon. Alas, none of that occurred and for me, the final Warped Tour was nothing less than forgettable.
Vans Warped Tour 2018…or the lackluster musical shit show review ahead!
First of all, the nearly two and a half hour trip to the venue took over three and a half hours from the time I left my driveway until the time that I parked my car. For some reason there was bumper to bumper traffic on every Pittsburgh roadway and then I encountered the atrocious parking situation at the Keybank Pavilion. They were taking five lanes of parking traffic and merging it into a single lane while at least three lanes remained clear but were sanctioned off for some reason.
After 45 minutes of trying to park, I finally made my way to the Press/Guest List tent to retrieve my press pass. I got my ticket and a wristband and was walking away when I was told that I had to make a donation to some random charity that I’ve never heard of. I said no thanks and was basically told that I could not enter without making a donation so I reluctantly donated to help someone get a little richer.
As for my press credentials, I might as well have used them for toilet paper since most of the bathrooms seemed to be running low that day. When I received word of press approval, I got a link to the “official” channels needed to contact bands for interviews and press related topics. I contacted five bands for interviews through those channels and received as many request replies as I own Infinity Gems. Apparently our little webzine doesn’t have enough clout to speak to Nekrogoblikon.
With no press contacts lined up, upon entering I tried seeking out some bands at their tents, but every band I wanted to talk to was nowhere to be found. There was no one but the lonely merch guy sweating it out on a steep slope on the side of a hill. Back in the old days you could find band members hanging out at their tents and mingling with the fans. Now everyone prefers to hang out in their air conditioned tour bus until their mandatory meet and greet with fans where you can stand in line for an hour to get a selfie with the drummer!
Asking around about a press tent or lounge to the Keybank Pavilion employees was like speaking Spanish to a gerbil. Apparently no such thing ever existed. Exhausting all of my options for interviews, I decided to just find the schedule and check out some bands. There weren’t any bands that I wanted to see playing for another hour so I decided to get some food. Checking around the venue for a short line for lunch proved fruitless so I picked a line and just waited. There were at least two dozen food locations around the venue and every single line was nearly thirty people deep. An hour and $30 later I had my lunch and found a seat close to the main stage and listened to a dying boar…I mean a screamo band while I ate. I did happen to notice that the main stage only consisted of one area for bands to play unlike every other year where the main stage was split in two and when one band was done playing the other would immediately start. There had to be at least a half an hour wait until the next band set up and hit the stage.
I had already missed one of the bands I wanted to check out (Nekrogoblikon) while waiting an hour in line for food so, after I finished my lunch, I walked around hoping to discover a new band. I had to have walked in circles for nearly an hour to no avail. There were a lot of bands playing at the same time that sounded very similar…or maybe it was just one band that was cloned and playing on different stages. Much like last year, I found myself gravitating towards the Full Sail stage due to the fact that it would host local bands and some smaller acts. I thoroughly enjoyed Kaizer Solzie with their street punk sing-a-longs, Tatiana Demaria with her soothing indie rock and the only other ska band on the tour not named Reel Big Fish…FUBAR a local band from Irwin, PA.
The band I was most interested in seeing was Reel Big Fish and they weren’t hitting the stage until around 5:15. Wandering aimlessly managed to kill a few hours and I had time to check out Every Time I Die, whom really didn’t impress me much, and TWIZTID…mainly out of pure freakish curiosity. Quite honestly, for a group that has a lot of songs about killing people and telling people to fuck off, they were actually decent. There was a large crowd for them, and the audience was dancing, raving and bouncing around. They even took precedence for having one of the only reggae songs out of all the bands on the Warped Tour…even though it was about smoking weed and telling people to fuck off.
Noting the remaining three hour gap between Reel Big Fish and the only other band I would even remotely be into seeing…Bowling For Soup, I decided to take a cue from TWIZTID and, after Reel Big Fish’s setlist tell the Warped Tour to fuck off.
I got my fifth refill of Mountain Dew (I bought the $8 refillable soda cup since they were sold out of refillable Warped Tour water bottles at noon), found a seat under the pavilion and waited in silence with the rest of the crowd for nearly twenty minutes. When Reel Big Fish hit the stage and made it through their allotted half hour, I found myself disappointed once again. Reel Big Fish played nearly if not the exact same setlist that they did at the Warped Tour the year before. I’m not one to look a gift fish in the mouth but, as one of the constant staples on the Warped Tour long after the ska punk scene was abandoned at the festival, I was expecting them to bring some other guest on stage for some medleys or tributes of do some brief covers of some of the Warped bands like Sublime or Less Than Jake…but it never happened. I guess that’s what happened when I expected anything fun and unique from the final Warped Tour.
Looking back on my experience of the 2018 Vans Warped Tour, I have nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth. Everything was a shit show as the employees were less than helpful at the venue, bands hid away from their fans, extreme temperatures as well as long lines for food and drink in the direct sun caused at least a half dozen people to be hospitalized and there were no unique moments to commemorate the end of an era. Perhaps it was my initial expectations due to the previous years Warped Tour being such a great show or perhaps I was just expecting too much from an event that has been bleeding money for years and struggling with the rising costs of running a nationwide touring festival, but after an experience like this year’s, I for one am glad that my Warped Tour days are finally over. RIP Vans Warped Tour…what once was great now only provides great memories.