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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts


Paul Mann: Vans Warped Tour Kicks Off Summer in Ventura

Fans pack the Ventura County Fairgrounds for the annual summer music festival

Frontman Ronnie Radke of Falling in Reverse performs Sunday during the Vans Warped Tour at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
Frontman Ronnie Radke of Falling in Reverse performs Sunday during the Vans Warped Tour at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.  (Garrett Geyer / Noozhawk photo)

By L. Paul Mann, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

The rock-and-roll circus that is the Vans Warped Tour rolled into the Ventura County Fairgrounds on a gorgeous sunny summer Sunday.

Taking an Amtrak train from Carpinteria seemed like a no-brainier idea, since the Ventura train station is situated right across from the fairgrounds entrance. The free parking lot at the station in Carpinteria, combined with a $20 round-trip ticket price for the 22-minute trip made it an easy choice as a way to avoid the monumental traffic jam that Ventura’s biggest music festival creates each summer.

Although the train arrived an hour before the gates opened, there were already thousands of eager young music fans in a line that stretched as far as the eye could see. The mostly teenage mass of summer-attire clad bodies waited patiently in a single-file line to enter promoter Kevin Lyman’s own unique visionary world.

The festival consisted of a live music orgy that assaulted the senses on six main stages and several smaller ones for nine straight hours. Add to this a corporate giveaway of swag of monumental proportions, a carnival-like atmosphere of food and beverage vendors, games and socially conscious information booths, and you have what has become the most successful touring music festival in history.

By the time many of the most loyal music fans made it into the venue, the music had already started and the mad dash began for the prized front-row potions at the various stages. Other eager young fans lined up for the endless giveaways going on across the festival.

This year’s tour featured one of the most eclectic lineups yet, including bands from musical genres as diverse as punk, hard rock, goth metal, screamo, reggae, hip hop and EDM dance music. Clearly, judging by the size and intensity of the crowds at the two biggest stages, most young festivalgoers were fanatic fans of the predominantly screamo-type bands headlining the festival.

Most of these groups play short, intense bursts of hard-core, ear-piercing music, punctuated by lead singers who scream their lyrics in a primordial guttural growl. The result whips the young audience into a frenzy, punctuated with dancing, clapping, crowd surfing, mosh pits and sweaty surges of mass bodies toward the stages. One of the only large festivals to actually permit crowd surfing, the army of security guards are specially trained in unloading the surge of surfers as they catapult toward the front of the stage. In a firm but methodical way, they pluck the floating bodies from the crowd and push them through the gauntlet at the front of the stage and place them back outside in the crowd. The scene plays out over and over throughout the day, with as many as five or six bodies surging over the crowd at the same time.

A fan in a wheelchair crowd-surfs to the front of the stage. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)
A fan in a wheelchair crowd-surfs to the front of the stage. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

In a defining moment of the show, during a set by Phoenix-based sreamo band Bless the Fall, on the Monster Energy Stage, the crowd worked as a cohesive team to hoist a boy in his wheelchair and crowd-surfed him to the front of the stage. As the security guards gingerly pulled him into the pit, lead singer Beau Bokan high-fived the ecstatic young music fan while he continued to belt out the lyrics of the song. In fact, during the grueling nine hours that security manned the pits, I witnessed only one injury — to a man who was launched by his friends like a rocket over the arms of the waiting security. He suffered a nice cut on his head but was smiling like it was a badge of honor as he retreated back into the crowd.

While most of the crowd was centered on the main stages for the most well-known acts, a procession of some of the most interesting bands of the day proceeded to play to smaller crowds in front of the smaller stages. One of the best performances of the day was turned in by the Los Angeles band Dead Sara. The powerhouse quartet fronted by the phenomenal lead singer Emily Armstrong belted out some ear-shattering jams that harkened back to 1970s rockers like Led Zeppelin.

The group has created a lot of buzz lately but were content with playing to a few hundred appreciative fans at the Warped Tour, as other screamo bands gathered the masses by the thousands, on the other side of the venue. This band may well be Los Angeles’ next breakthrough music sensation. The band will also be appearing at this year ‘s Sunset Strip Music Festival in August. Click here for more information.

Backstage in the press quarters, the true spirit of the festival can be witnessed firsthand. The daily breakfast and dinner are prepared with the help of the assigned band of the day. All the musicians must line up for the meals, a hodgepodge of goths still in their makeup, reggae artists in their Hawaiian shirts and sandals, seasoned punk rockers, and young pop stars barely in their teens. It truly is a socialistic experiment unrivaled in the usually ego-laden world of pop music.

Each band also puts in long hours meeting and greeting their young fans in signing booths set up across the venue. The appreciative young fans sometimes wait for hours to meet their own specific pop idols. The Vans Warped Tour has been a right of passage for America’s youngest music fans for decades, and this year may be one of the most successful tours ever. The rock carnival is set to play Canada and England as well later this summer, bringing the distinctly American brand of music festivals to countries that pride themselves on their own unique music festivals.

Long live the Warped Tour and the teenage euphoria that it has evoked in generations of young music fans.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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