If I told a young person or school kid in the early- or mid-2000s (or really my middle school self) that I was heading to the final Warped Tour for the weekend, they would rightfully lose their minds. Warped Tour has been the epitome, the Mecca, of pop-punk and pop-rock music since it was first founded by Kevin Lyman in 1995. The tour took on Vans as a sponsor in 1996 and then the final outcome was born: Vans' Warped Tour. Since then, the Vans-sponsored tour has become a relic of music festival history and a reminder of the time 'scene' kids and Hot Topic fashion peaked.
I got my first taste of what would become my favorite genre of music when I was nine years old. My choice of poison (after hearing my cousin's extensive PC-game-playing background music) became Green Day, Coldplay, and Linkin Park. These bands quickly became my preferred online Solitaire soundtrack throughout long, otherwise-uneventful summer breaks. Even with my continued musical exploration through different genres, the Warped Tour-esque genre of music and culture comforted and excited me like no other.
The pop-punk gods answered my adolescent prayers (involving candles decorated with Gerard Way's face and repeatedly chanting the lyrics to every song from A Fever You Can't Sweat Out) and granted me the opportunity of a lifetime: going to the Last Ever Warped Tour. Erika, my friend and our lovely UCLA Odyssey EIC, made my week by inviting me to go with her to the tour stop in Mountain View.
I was a sweaty, sticky mess by the time we came out of the hour and a half wait that led us into the Mountain View Shoreline Amphitheatre and grounds. The max temperature of the day reached 96º and we. were. feeling. it. Enthusiastically, but exhausted, the first hour went by exploring band stages highlighting hardcore bands with meme-able names [see: Deez Nuts], and finding any food or drink available. I annihilated 5-6 large iced lemonades in the few hours that I was there. Upside: Shoreline has relatively clean bathrooms, thoughtfully accessible all over the grounds.
Short of sounding ungrateful (because I am thankful that I got to go), I didn't feel like I was at Warped Tour. Or, let me clarify. The Warped Tour that I had heard about and dreamed of since I was a little kid.
Looking around, I saw my fellow concert-goers and thought 'this seems just about right.' I was surrounded by kids and parents rocking matching mohawks and varying styles of colorful hair teamed with enough spikes, chains, and bolts to make a bike go "Goals..." I was with my kind of people and listening to my kind of music. What was missing? Something that would make Warped Tour feel unlike any other music festival that I had been to.
I am transitioning in life: from college to post-grad life realities coupled with the situational changes of moving back home. I made the executive decision that I would even cut off my green hair (which I have temporarily dyed purple) to add even more to my fresh, new start. The last step was to use the start of the summer to fulfill as many childhood wishes that I never acted on when I was younger to I can make room for new crazy adult hopes and dreams. I needed (quite selfishly) Warped Tour to be another aspect of that transition. Never having gone before and assuredly never going again, I needed the Tour to make my FOMO regrets into another experience for my nostalgia bank.
Like I said, the people there were my kindred spirits and the food truck foods fueled me throughout the day. But I didn't feel like I was at THE Warped Tour.
That is, until we reached the actual amphitheatre venue in the evening. Earlier, we had heard Mayday Parade and 3Oh!3 perform from a distance and, even though those were amazing, I felt more drained than energized to keep moving throughout the festival. We headed towards the protection of the canopy-covered seats to get ready for Simple Plan: our most-anticipated band of the day.
To be completely honest, we felt like we were through. I had an intricate backpack/tank top tan (I was lucky compared to other folk's raging sunburns), was somewhat dehydrated, and ready to rest my soul (and my soles). And that was incredibly disappointing for me because I actually had to drag myself to see one of my favorite bands for the first time ever. How crazy is that?
Feeling self-indulgently annoyed, something clicked when I walked into the amphitheater and saw the energetic crowd singing along with the artist on the stage. I realized that I had done the ultimate wrong: forgetting to love what I've always loved, and instead putting something on a pedestal. Just like Shane Gray from the classic coming-of-age musical, Camp Rock, I'd forgotten about the music. There's no way that anything, anything at all, could hold up to more than 12 years of wistful romanticization. I needed to change my mindset quickly and just enjoy the moment that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Or that's what I would end up regretting years later.
Walking into the seats, I didn't know what to expect.
What greeted us: an entire happy, content, joyful (and every other synonymous-verb) audience singing along to Aussie singer and band, Tonight Alive. There, I felt, for the first time in that day, unity. The crowd jumped up and down and screamed lyrics and resorted to waving their arms wildly when the words escaped them.
I got caught up. In the energy, in the crowd singing in harmony, and in the pure adrenaline that radiated from the stage as the band poured out their hearts. I didn't know any of the songs, but I got swept up and found myself poorly singing the choruses anyways.
This rush continued through the performance and the next act, The Maine. After another great set, including the showcasing of an audience member's singing (hyping) talents on stage, we mentally and emotionally readied ourselves to truly enjoy Simple Plan.
We were severely and grossly underprepared for the life-changing set that we were gifted. Partially, I was energized from getting a kick out of looking over and seeing Erika lose it every time they announced the next song in their set. However, most of my further-developed appreciation of the band came from the dedication they showed on stage. The lead singer welcomed us with gusto, the drummer both sang and crowd-surfed, and they even had Travis from We the Kings perform on stage with them.
I finally, since I stood in line at 11:30 a.m. in the sweltering sunshine, felt like I was there: at THE VANS' WARPED TOUR.
When We the Kings performed right after, Travis conducted the audience in an acoustic rendition of "Check Yes Juliet" that caused him to tear up and take down his tied hair. I looked around the people around me—the excited fangirls to my left, the married couple who were slowly dancing together on my right—and all felt right. When we walked back after that set, towards the cars that would take us home, the sun was setting over the grounds and the hills surrounding them. All that we could say, over and over, was, "that was the perfect way to end Warped Tour."
Another goal has been met on my bucket list and I am thankful for it. I hope that as many people as possible get the chance to visit the tour before it is over for good. I am so glad, for middle-school me, that I can finally say that I went to the Vans' Warped Tour!