Warped Tour 2018: The Grand Finale18 July 2018 / by Michael K Newton (author)
The Vans Warped Tour rolled its massive production through Toronto one last time on a scorching hot Tuesday afternoon, satisfying the nostalgia of a sold out crowd surrounding the waterfront Budweiser Stage grounds. It was announced earlier this year that the touring side of the Warped brand would be folding after 23 years on the road, while the Warped Rewind at Sea themed cruise remains afloat.
With a double main stage situated on the sandy Echo Beach grounds, two Monster Energy Drink sponsored mid-size stages and at least four smaller stages tucked amongst a maze of vendors, Warped Tour remains at its strongest not only for its youthful variety of acts (mostly contained within the Alt and Hot Topic friendly scenes) but for its rotating freedom of choice.
At any given time, there are three or four acts to choose between seeing due to the generous array of artists Warped takes on the road. 62 groups were on the schedule to play Toronto, with stages starting just before noon and a large majority of that roster covering most or all of the impressive 36 shows within a 45 day trek.
Although sacrificing the clarity we take for granted in not hearing multiple artists perform really loudly at the same time, Warped Tour and its production team go a step further than the A stage, B stage ‘festival’ productions Toronto has become normalized to.
The outdoor space worked just about as well as a production as large as Warped Tour could hope for. Any older Warped Tour attendees will remember the absolute mess of sound bleed that happened when they tried to fit the same operation within the confines of a ball diamond during the 2001 Warped Tour visit to the (then) Skydome. At the least, The Flats at Budweiser Stage offers plenty of green space for relaxing or catching up with friends on the grassy outskirts, away from the action and noise.
For a small but hungry segment of the population, Warped Tour was a live action version of a sampler CD. You could argue that in the current instantaneous Spotify-driven world of music, it’s a dated and laborious means of musical discovery, but one that should be applauded, appreciated and looked back upon as an essential snapshot of youth culture in North America.
Clear in its final year, the Warped Tour has changed with the demands of time and musical trends. Gone are the skateboard demos from the earlier years, no more Comedy Tent (the adult ‘reverse daycare’ remains) and you’d have a really tough time finding much to hear along the lines the classic Fat Records / Epitaph skate punk sound many associate with the tour (the Warped Rewind Cruise offers more along these lines).
Instead, sometimes comically heavy music remains at the forefront, with an equally aggressive take on pop punk dominating the main stages. Spending the day walking around, I caught bits of hip hop (this is the tour Eminem cut his teeth on back in the summer of 1999), a gust of wind blowing through with what could have been considered Ska and a handful of backing track assisted FM “indie” groups.
Detroit’s Insane Clown Posse/Psychopathic Records associated rap group Twiztid brought out some local juggalo, never shy in their support, boldly face painted in defiance of the peaking mid day sun.
Texas group Kublai Khan stood out amongst the heavier of the acts, leaning more towards a sound reminiscent of Earth Crisis or 90’s Hatebreed as opposed to the chug chug growl sameness that often blended between stages.
Toronto saw Canadian acts Sum 41, Simple Plan and Bedouin Soundclash added as our “classic” groups, clearly aimed towards those who remember the Warped Tours of the early aughts, with Sum 41 drawing a massive crowd towards the end of the night while highlighting their 2002 release ‘Does This Look Infected’.
Twice throughout the day, a cover of the 2001 Warped Tour referencing track The Rock Show, by Blink 182 drifted over the crowd, early with Florida’s Mayday Parade on the main stage and later, with Montreal’s Story Untold on a smaller grass surrounded stage.
The track tells a story of looking forward to Summer, The Warped Tour and a girl that the protagonist met at the festival. A take on The Dead Milkmen’s ‘Punk Rock Girl’ for the Napster generation.
Seventeen years after the singles release, with a memorable video contemporaneous of MTV’s Jackass, Hurley and Volcom branded everything, the idea that two artists squeezed a tribute into their tight, time sensitive set lists starts to paint a picture. The crowd starts to shift.
Tiny second generation spectators bob on the shoulders of parental figures with faded tattoos. Baseball caps cover receding hairlines and I bump into some of the same people I went to Warped Tour with nearly two decades ago. It’s arguable that the Warped Tour hasn’t been ‘for me’ or ‘my thing’ for a very long time now. For many, there seems to be a ceiling where at some age, there’s just little of interest left.
What remains though is the realization that there are thousands of people at this concert who like me, grew up concurrently alongside the tour. In 2018 there is nothing similar to the scale and the operation of the Vans Warped Tour. With the cost and undertaking associated with a cross country multi stage tour, it’s hard to imagine there ever will be.