Rest In Peace To The Vans Warped Tour
BY: Jacquelyn Kozak
All photos and video by Jacquelyn Kozak
A hard pill to swallow: after twenty five years, the Vans Warped Tour has come to an end. I can confidently speak for music fans all over the country when I say that the gap in our hearts (and our summer schedules) is unfathomable. For the past quarter of a century, Warped Tour has given us a place to see our favorite bands, make new friends, experience new music, and most importantly, feel like we belong. In its raucous history, Warped Tour has made household names of groups like No Doubt, Neck Deep and practically any other alternative band you listen to. You name it, they’ve probably played the Warped Tour. Even Katy Perry once had her turn. This year’s Warped Tour boasted some anniversary-worthy names such as blink-182, Taking Back Sunday, NOFX and Less than Jake. Over the course of three separate events - two days on the beach in Atlantic City, a special single day set in Columbus, Ohio to kick off the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Warped Tour exhibit and two days on a beach on the other side of the country in Mountain View, California - we all said our goodbyes to the festival that raised us.
I started going to Warped Tour at the tender age of fourteen - smack in the middle of my awkward phase, which may or may not still be going on. At my very first Warped, my brother walked me through the gates, pointed at a nearby flagpole and said, “I’ll meet you right there at the end of the night, bye!” and walked away. I didn’t see him again for nearly six hours, when I quite literally ran into him in a Taking Back Sunday mosh pit. My final Warped Tour started very much the same, except the event was much bigger and the rendezvous point was the bar across from the boardwalk. Over the course of nine years, I somehow managed to get myself from one side of the barricade to the other. It was still hours until I ran into my brother again, but this time it was when he crowd surfed his way into the photo pit and nearly straight into me during The Aquabats.
I will admit, when Kevin Lyman announced the twenty fifth anniversary of Warped Tour was going to be on the beach I (not so) casually grumbled about it. By that I mean I was very actively displeased. There were so many logistical nightmares to contend with. How would they manage all of the people that went in the water? Would the whole beach be roped off? Walking on sand is so hard, would there be walkways? Would there be any shade at all? How would we crowd surf? How much sunscreen can one person physically use in one day? And, most importantly, for the love of God what were we supposed to wear on our feet?! Kevin himself chose to answer this last one via Twitter a few days before the Atlantic City date. His proposed answer was Crocs: “multi-functional and fashionable” and unfortunately, as if in some kind of fever dream, he was right. All of my friends were in Crocs by the end of Day one. Surely they hadn’t thought that putting a bunch of kids who almost exclusively wore skinny jeans and vans on the beach was a good idea. I’d like to meet the man that suggested this (and anyone who subsequently said, “Wow, great, let’s do it!”) and ask him what the hell he was thinking.
The weekend kicked off on what started out as a beautiful Saturday. I had the privilege of being the official photographer for Matt Butler, who opened the weekend for the Monster stage. If you haven’t checked out Matt’s music, I highly suggest you do so. He’s a little bit Johnny Cash and a little bit Bruce Springsteen and is incredibly charming. Hearing his music, you wouldn’t immediately think, “Oh yeah, it makes sense that this guy is playing on Warped Tour,” but somehow, it worked. The same stage later went on to house bands like Can’t Swim, CKY, and Set Your Goals. Everything went according to plan - until about 5 PM. Dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and soon enough we were in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. The crowd of 50,000+ was evacuated off the beach and into the downtown Atlantic City area to chants of “Let’s get wasted!”. The rain delay lasted about an hour - the perfect amount of time for me to hide out in the production office and squeeze in a nap in the green room with none other than Meg & Dia, whose set time was pushed back due to the rain. Regardless, the show must go on, and it did. Around 7:30 and with shorter, updated set times, we headed back to the beach.
The post-rain-delay-evacuation sets proved to be the most memorable of the day. We the Kings played just after sunset and their set list included “Check Yes Juliet” not once but twice. The first time, lead singer Travis Clark challenged the audience to get as far into the song as they could completely a cappella. To the amazement of the band, the audience proceeded to sing the whole song perfectly beginning to end. Meg & Dia, now sufficiently well rested, played their first set together in ten years. As someone who loved Meg & Dia when I was thirteen, being in the photo pit for this reunion was otherworldly. They played all their biggest songs and teased some new music. A Day to Remember closed out the main stage in an out-of-control party complete with about 75 gigantic beach balls and what is possibly the most dangerous thing to do on sand: crowd surfing on top of crowd surfers. That is exactly what you think it is - someone gets on top of the crowd and crowd surfs their way to the front with someone else standing on top of their chest. As soon as Jeremy McKinnon explained it, pairs of people started popping up all over the top of the crowd. The most memorable set of the day, though, had to be The Aquabats. They closed out their stage by splitting the crowd down the middle, jumping off the stage, and running down the aisle straight into the ocean. If that’s not a fitting end for a Warped Tour date, I don’t know what is.
Sunday was somehow even better. As the brand new Rockstar Disrupt tour was already underway at this point, bands playing both tours were booked for Sunday of Warped Tour, which lined up with a day off in the tour route. The Sunday lineup featured (but was not limited to) Anti-Flag, Circa Survive, Frank lero, Man Overboard, Neck Deep, Sleeping With Sirens, Trophy Eyes, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, and blink-182. Overwhelming to say the least.
The weather held out for day 2 and instead gave us nothing but sunshine and heat. I once again started the day on the Monster Stage, this time with my friends in Keep Flying. If you like pop punk with ska undertones that is self-described as “positive music for people who like fun,” you are probably already listening to Keep Flying. I’ve never had a bad time hanging out with them at a show. I was also incredibly thankful to be able to put my camera down and take a quick dip in the water with them afterwards to cool off.
The heat never broke and the day got busier. As dusk got closer, main stage security got tighter and the names on the schedule got bigger. When The Used finally took the stage around 6 PM, the sidestages were closed off to anyone but “property” of the performing bands themselves, and for good reason: the crowd on stage for every band after that point was absolutely packed with family and friends. The Used put on a phenomenal show as always, punctuated with lead singer Bert McCracken’s affinity for reciting Shakespearean soliloquies in between songs.
The absolute highlight of my day 2, however, was what came after The Used: Taking Back Sunday. They’ve been my favorite band since I was little and I’ve never been able to photograph them before. In the weeks leading up to Warped, my friends had all been speculating on how long it would take me to get so emotional in the photo pit that I’d cry. I’m not even a little bit ashamed to admit that the second Adam Lazarra opened his mouth, I burst into tears - a grand total of four seconds in. Watching him swing his mic up close was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I am changed.
The final Vans Warped Tour, on its twenty fifth anniversary, was beautifully wrapped up by one of the only bands on earth that deserves such a coveted time slot: blink-182. In an extensive set running the gamut of their oldest hits, their newer songs, and every absolute jam in between, they played us out beautifully. And as an added bonus, Kevin Lyman come out right after their set to introduce a surprise, which ended up being a proposal. The end of an era, the start of a couple’s life together.
To Kevin Lyman, the innumerable bands, all of the security guards, the stagehands, the tour managers, the merch people, everyone that had any kind of hand in this never ending summer that was the Warped Tour, we thank you. You’ve given us a place to feel like part of something bigger, you’ve commiserated with us when no one else has, you’ve saved our lives.
While I do maintain that having Warped Tour on the beach was a very poor choice and overall a logistical nightmare, I will concede that it was worth it. The flip flops on Day 2, however, are a regret I will take to my grave. If I’m going to spend a weekend dying in the hot summer sun, at least it’s for Warped Tour. Bury my sunburned, sand-whipped, pit-bruised body in front of the Journey’s stage. Dress me in my Sunday’s best (read: my nicest band tee and some black and white sk8 lows). Have Taking Back Sunday play me out to the tune of “Taps”. If the Warped Tour goes, I want to go with it.