Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 2:48 pm | Fair 70º


Paul Mann: Vans Warped Tour Throws In a Few Surprises

The festival boasts no less than nine concert stages and more than 60 live bands

The rock-and-roll circus that is the Vans Warped Tour pulled into the Ventura Seaside Fairgrounds on Sunday and crammed extra surprises into one of the longest days of the year.

The tour started in 1994, when Kevin Lyman, a professional skateboard show promoter, got the idea to mix a music festival with an extreme sports event. The name was taken from a long-forgotten surfing and skating magazine called Warp.

In 1995, the festival became the Vans Warped Tour, promoted by the shoe designer of choice for surfers, skaters and snowboarders. The festival boasts no less than nine concert stages, with more than 60 live bands per show, performing on a rotating schedule. Numerous food vendors and a sea of merchandise and environmental issue stands give the festival a carnival-like atmosphere. A half pipe allows spectators to watch pro skaters and BMX riders perform spectacular tricks. Although a center piece of the festival, the half pipe seems to have gotten smaller over the years, probably because of setup issues.

The concert attracts huge throngs of music fans in their tweens to twenty-somethings. There are a few older hard-core music fans, but the claustrophobic and chaotic conditions tend to scare off most of the mature and gentrified crowd. At the peak of the afternoon, it was hard to navigate the fairgrounds through the masses of spectators to get to the various stages. To add to the chaos, there were no predisclosed set times or site maps.

Unlike festivals such as Coachella or Bonnaroo, where fans religiously study set locations for weeks so they can optimize their time in front of their favorite bands, the Warped Tour relies on a day-of-the-event posting on an inflatable board. Small handwritten notices posting band names and approximate set times have fans scrambling to find the many stages. Add to this the fact that most bands only have 30-minute set times, and you have frenzied fans scurrying about in all directions. But this really only adds to the mystic and excitement that surrounds Warped Tour.

Low ticket prices ($35 the day of the show) and the massive lineup make Warped Tour one of the best summer concert deals of all time. The promoters accomplish this Herculean feat in a number of ways.

The first is the very democratic way the show is organized, with little room for typical rock star egos. The bands travel from city to city in near around-the-clock bus schedules. Most have 6:30 a.m. wakeup calls. There is no time for sophisticated sound checks. Instruments and sound systems must be shared. One band is designated the cooks and must prepare a meal for the entire staff of roadies and musicians. Another band works as roadies for a coveted performing spot on the tour.

Secondly, the promoter cut out one of the biggest expenses associated with a concert: lighting. Since the festival takes place during long summer days and ends at sunset, there are virtually no lighting rigs needed. Finally, in what has always struck me as a classic American irony, the concert is one of the most corporate-sponsored music events ever conceived, with different companies naming and subsidizing each of the stages. Other subsidies and giveaways are rampant throughout the venue, from drinks and stickers to music CDs and video games — this at an event with American punk music as its core, with numerous bands screaming lyrics of “Anarchy” and “antidisestablishmentarianism.” But if it weren’t for the corporations, no one would get to hear their explosive rants.

Speaking of hard-core punk, on a small piece of cardboard tacked onto the bottom of the inflatable band schedule, there was a list of bands playing the Old School stage. The list read like a veritable who’s who of punk rock in its golden era of the late 1970s. Many of the bands, in fact, had played the legendary CBGB’s punk nightclub in New York at the end of that decade. Those bands included Flipper, TSOL, The Dickies, Guttermouth and the legendary Fear. The latter was a special added event for Ventura.

Some fans got into the act, too.
Some fans at Sunday’s concerts got into the act, too. (Paul Mann photo)

Lead singer and sometimes actor Lee Ving agreed to perform in conjunction with a movie premiere, later that evening at the Ventura Majestic Theater. At a news conference backstage, with the cast and the crew of National Lampoons’ new film Endless Bummer and Ving in attendance, the surprise movie premiere was announced. A coming-of-age film about surfers living in Ventura in 1984, Endless Bummer boasts a stellar new cast of actors and a classic punk rock soundtrack. Check back with Noozhawk for my review.

Although the Warped Tour has always been dominated by punk and hard-core bands, there is always a sprinkling of diverse musical acts thrown in. This year was no exception with great sets by country pop star Alana Grace, Southern jam band Shooter Jennings and classic Indy pop band Dear and The Headlights, just to name a few.

Other strong performances came in from Warped Tour regulars such as Bad Religion, NOFX and the newest version of the Ataris. The lead singer of NOFX tried to stir up the crowd by making a derogatory comment about Michael Jackson being a child molester, but all that accomplished was me getting hit on the head with a cup of beer in the photo pit.

Two of the best performances came late in the day on the main stage. First there was an extended set by hard-core band The Devil Wears Prada. Fluctuating between electronic rap, rock and heavy metal complete with head banging, its explosive antics whipped the crowd into a frenzy. 3OH!3, the final band to play, took to the main stage after the official 8 p.m. close of the event, and since it was one of the longest days of the year got to play and extended set until nearly 9 p.m. This electronic band had a younger crowd screaming, with their pop star looks and spontaneous dance routines.

The Vans Warped Tour has become a summer right of passage for two generations of young music fans and is about as American as apple pie. Bands who play the tour realize they have only 30 minutes or so to make a lasting impression and stand out in a sea of musicians. Consequently, most play their hearts out to capture the imagination of new fans.

It all makes for an intense and fascinating look at the current state of American music. Hopefully the tradition will continue for a long time to come.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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