For the Vans Warped tour, it's all about staying fresh. Now in its 21st year, the venerable music festival and staple of American youth culture continues to find new ways to do just that in every sense of the word.
First of all, let's get right to the issue that hit everyone immediately this past weekend: the heat. Warped Tour is a summer festival, and heat's always been on the bill. But with a few thousand sweaty teenagers fenced in near and around the grounds surrounding Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, a 90-degree day becomes infinitely more unbearable.
Thankfully, Warped Tour has been at this game a long time. Although swamp ass was unavoidable, there were plenty of tents to provide shade, cool-down areas with benches and cooling mists (OK, one of them was more of a sputtering, temperamental hose, but still), and water-filling stations happy to replenish bottles and CamelBaks alike.
As for the music, headliners such as August Burns Red, Memphis May Fire, Pierce the Veil, and We Came as Romans drew the expected massive crowds at the Shark and Unicorn Stages. However, it was the emerging acts that really left an impression, as is often the case with an event that's been fostering and supporting up-and-coming artists for two decades.
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And, yes, Riff Raff was there, but honestly, who gives a shit? He's a bad joke that's gone stale and a curiosity with the staying power of a car accident in the side-view mirror. There were genuinely interesting discoveries to be made throughout the lineup, especially at the pint-sized Ernie Ball mobile stage (it's literally a truck and a stage all in one.) Located near the front entrance among the vendors and bathrooms, the Ernie Ball stage has always been a potent showcase for the little guy, the winners of local Battle of the Band competitions, where groups score national trips with the tour. One of the more recent success stories was Echosmith, a California quartet that took its hit song “Cool Kids” from Ernie Ball in 2013 to a main stage in 2014.
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This past Saturday was no different. Several bands made me stop on my way to buying lemonade so sour that my stomach is still angry about it. Two standouts were Youth in Revolt, a New Jersey hardcore band that nailed a fierce and chaotic cover of Lorde's “Royals"; and Stacked Like Pancakes, an energetic and intoxicating ska band that danced with the crowd and covered “Dammit” by blink-182, supported by a sick brass section. Beyond the intimate sideshow of Ernie Ball, there was Bebe Rexha, an Albanian-American singer/songwriter who brought a little pop-music diversity to the Journey's Left Foot Stage. Her current claim to fame is being one of the writers behind the Eminem and Rihanna collaboration “The Monster,” but Rexha is an engaging vocalist in her own right.
From past experience, the Hard Rock Kevin Says Stage is another great stop for unearthing new favorites. This year's gem was Candy Hearts, a buoyant pop-punk outfit similar to ’90s rockers the Muffs that were as sweet and as earnest as their namesake.
Perhaps the most novel element included in this year's incarnation by tour founder Kevin Lyman and his people is the Warped Comedy Tent. It makes about as much sense as having an acoustic tent at a festival built on the noise pollution of screamo and metalcore, but, damn, did they made it work. Sandwiched between the loudest bands on the tour, the comedy tent battled both the relentless heat and the howling guitars and won out for the most part.
All the comedians – Eli Olsberg, Chase Bernstein, and Dave Ross – were funny despite an impossibly tough situation. They mocked audience members mercilessly, each dripping in more sarcasm than sweat. Not everything killed, but it wasn't for a lack of wit; more often, the jokes fell flat because the audience was too young to get a Dick Cheney reference or bits about anything relating to adult life. Hopefully the comedy tent becomes a tour mainstay (perhaps placed in less-shouty areas) because as with the inclusion of a larger variety of genres, Warped Tour's primary attraction will always be its ability to evolve and remain at the forefront of what's next.