The Vans Warped Tour comes to an end in 2018 after a two decades of bringing counterculture to an all-ages set.
Whether you had a punk/ska/indie phase, or you just got dragged along, Warped Tour has been a widespread rite of passage for American teenagers. I went to Warped Tour at two very different points in my life, and saw it through completely different lenses.
In his lengthy farewell note, founder Kevin Lyman highlighted what I loved about attending the festival perfectly.
"What has always made me proud was when I read that Warped was the most diverse show of the summer where you could find Eminem and Ice-T on the same stages as Sevendust, Pennywise, and 7 Seconds," he wrote. Yes, a lot of amazing rappers have performed at Warped.
My first time was in the summer of 2004, when Warped's Minnesota stop was in the shadow of the Metrodome. I was a fresh De La Salle graduate preparing to attend NYU the next month, and I wanted to attend as many rap shows as possible. That summer, Warped had rap acts on the mainstage and a hip-hop only tent named Code of the Cuts.
The hip-hop lineup that year was Atmosphere, P.O.S., Immortal Technique, Non-Phixion, Glue, Desdamona and a handful of smaller now un-Googleable acts who presumably joined along the way.
The few hip-hop islands brought in the younger kids who may have shown up for the punk, but then broadened their horizons to explore other music. While there definitely was a mohawked combat boots battalion marching by and proudly yelling "RAP SUCKS," it didn't register with the hip-hop fans seeing a stacked lineup that would command a ridiculous amount of money today.
In a pre-MySpace, pre-Twitter world, Warped Tour allowed a rare chance to interact with artists. Speaking to Non-Phixion's Sabac Red and exchanging information wound up landing me my first job in New York. Soon I was registering people to vote at the height of anti-Bush sentiment, the weekend after I got there. It's that unique instant kinship that made Warped's environment unique.
I returned to Warped in 2013. By then, I was a 26-year-old New Yorker. It was heartwarming to see the teenage outsiders still having their Christmas on those Warped Tour grounds. Dyed hair, piercings, smiles and screams greeted me. Attending as the invited guest of Mac Lethal, I was pleasantly surprised to be recognized by the smaller indie-rap acts performing on the urban music stage.
I was invited up to freestyle and perform at Warped Tour with no prompting whatsoever. It was a fun, anything-can-happen moment that my inner jaded teen in stylish shoes still treasures. My time on the mic aside, it was just really cool to know the touring music summer camp and carnival for the odd ducks still existed.
Young love blossomed, and bands made barbecue for each other, and there was still something about Warped that was the same couples-skate mosh pit it always was.
Minnesota's last chance for Warped is July 22, 2018.