Review by Zach Micklea | @ouunderground
Photos by Matt McCormick | @mccmatt
My life-changing experience at the Vans Warped Tour
The Vans Warped Tour turned 21-years-old this year, making it the longest running touring music festival in North America. It was founded in 1995 by Kevin Lyman, who still runs the tour today. It started as a punk rock festival with bands like the Deftones, No Doubt and Sublime playing on the first bill.
Now, more than two decades later, the tour is a mixed-genre festival featuring rock, hip-hop, metal, EDM, acoustic and its foundation, punk rock. Michigan has been on the list of tour dates each of the 21 years, using venues like the Phoenix Center in Pontiac, DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston, the Pontiac Silver Dome, Comerica Park in Detroit and for the last four years, the Palace of Auburn Hills.
This year was my seventh time attending, but my first as more than just a standard concertgoer.
I went with the President of Oakland University Student Video Productions, Matt McCormick. We were stuck on I-75 for nearly an hour with cars lined up for miles in every direction. Some even parked on the shoulder to use nature’s bathroom, otherwise known as a bush.
Walking through the halls of a building I have been coming to since I was a child on a tour that I have attended since I was an angst-filled teen felt unreal for a moment.
Matt and I arrived to the press room and were welcomed by the Warped Tour Press Manager, Danielle Mardahl. On a table to the side were sheets with all of the bands that were doing press listed and what times they were going to be available. We were told to sign up for any band we wanted to talk to that we haven not already been in contact with. For the previous two days, I had been emailing tour managers, texting guitar players and talking on the phone with publicists trying to set up interviews so our press schedule was already pretty full.
After checking in, we had a bit free time to watch some bands play and get some photos. I headed towards to Acoustic Basement stage to see Grey Gordan and Koji — two No Sleep Records solo artists. It is always a privilege to see the two perform.
My first interview of the day was with Tony from Then, Now, Always — a clothing line that encourages positive changes and growth in people’s lives. We spoke on the floor of the Palace where the bands on tour came to eat.
I wanted the interview for multiple reasons. First, Tony is a former band member that dropped everything to pursue his passion for promoting his message and second, because I wanted to get the perspective of a vendor on the tour, rather than only musicians. It was a pleasure talking to Tony and learning from such a genuine person, which makes my conversation with him the second of my top ten moments.
From there, I made my way to Miss May I’s set on the Unicorn Stage. This was the first time of the day when I took advantage of my photo bracelet. I showed it to security and got “the pit”—the three-feet-wide area between the crowd and stage. Not only was I able to get amazing pictures, but to be so close to the stage at Warped was a new experience.
When the set ended, I had a little bit of time before the next band I came to see, so I wanted to at least try and get an interview with RiFF RAFF. At his larger-than-life merch table was his drummer, Emerson. He looked like a mini version of the Neon Icon. Emerson told me that RiFF was not doing any press while on the tour, but it was worth a shot to ask.
It was now time for Citizen to play on the Journey’s Right Foot stage. It was my first time seeing them since the release of their latest album, Everybody is Going to Heaven, which I ranked number three on my list of Top 50 Albums of the Year So Far.
I saw Lee Corey Oswald’s set. This is another No Sleep Records indie rock band that happens to also be massively underrated. Their latest release, Regards, came in 2014, but Lee Ellis — the lead singer and rhythm guitarist — released his debut solo album earlier this year.
I was able to take some photos in the pit during their set as well, which started with a Weezer cover of “Buddy Holly.” Their crowd was small, but their sound was the opposite. The drummer, Corey Ciresi, played in his underwear, while their lead guitar player, Dan Silver, played like someone from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I had to leave the set a bit early to make it to my interview with Kaya Stewart. My conversation with her turned out to be number five on my list of best moments. She has been gaining an extreme amount of exposure due to the fact she is only 15 years old and her single “I’m in Love with a Boy” has reached number 30 on the iTunes Pop chart.
Kaya met me in the press room and we talked about everything from her deep relationship with her fans to kicking food under the fridge instead of picking it up. She was hilarious and a very grounded young girl. The best part came when she told me that it was her favorite interview she had ever done.
After talking with Kaya, I had to rush to meet Matt at Trophy Wives’ merch table for my interview with three of the members from the band. This did not feel like an interview. It was more hanging out. I met with Sam, Chris and Mike and we talked about their journey to get on the Warped Tour, which started with a battle of the bands in Rhode Island to them earning a spot on ten dates of the tour.
At the end, I challenged them to a paper airplane contest. I lost miserably, but it earned the number six spot.
I had a few minutes to walk around the tour and meet a few people including Sabrina from STAPAW, which stands for Supportting Tattoos And Piercings At Work. She told me that the company gets signatures to send to corporate offices of major companies to get them to change their policies on tattoos.
As a person with his fair share of tattoos, this was something I could get behind and I signed the petition. Sabrina also told me that the organization sent one of the petitions to Starbucks, which led to the coffee kings allowing any and all employees to have tattoos and not require them to be covered.
This is one of the beautiful things about Warped Tour. Not only are there nearly 80 bands representing almost every genre, but there are clothing companies with a powerful message like Tony’s and small organizations like STAPAW.
The next set to go on was a big one. He is sometimes known as the Neon Icon, the Versace Python and Jody Highroller. He is RiFF RAFF.
I made my way to the pit. It was crowded to say the least. Instead of just stand around, I decided to take advantage of the moment as I jumped onto the security barricade to get a good picture. I did not expect the crowd to react the way it did. The two thousand plus people in front of the stage screamed as if RiFF himself was on stage. I beckoned for the crowd to get louder and it sure did.
First to the stage was his DJ, who played a remix of O.T. Genasis’ “CoCo” to pump up the crowd. Next came Emerson waving a “Neon Nation” flag. After a few minutes, Jody Highroller himself ran on stage with another flag and the set started with “How to Be the Man.”
It was everything you can expect from RiFF RAFF, ridiculously entertaining for reasons unbeknownst to me. His entire crew was there including his security guard and professional boxer, Big Burly.
Simple Plan playing on the Shark Stage was one of my favorite moments. The band formed in 1999 and played on the tour that same year, but have not played on it since 2012. Simple Plan is a staple in the world of punk rock and a heavy influence on many of the punk bands we hear today.
I knew this would be the largest crowd of the day. While in the pit, I, again, jumped on the security barricade to get a good picture. The crowd was easily five times the size of RiFF’s.
Immediately after I jumped down, the band stormed the stage and started off with one of the best punk songs ever written called “I’d Do Anything.” Pierre Bouvier, the lead singer, jumped into the crowd while singing and stood on the hands of the thousands willing to hold him up. It was one of the most moving performances of the day and ended with the crowd favorite, “Addicted.”
When Simple Plan finished, it was time to for the Wonder Years, who were also playing on the Shark Stage. Dan “Soupy” Campbell, the frontman, had already played an acoustic set as Aaron West & the Roaring Twenties, but this was the set fans were most excited for. The band’s popularity seems to be exponential these days as they have gone from being the openers on the tour to headliners in just matter of a couple years.
After a few songs, I left. It was now time to check out a few bands I haven not heard before. One of them was a woman from London going by the name TAT, short for her real name, Tatiyana. She was not playing on the Acoustic Basement stage, but she was playing as an acoustic act.
She sang vulgar songs of love and loss and was irresistibly entertaining because of it. When Tatiyana finished her set, I spoke with her a bit about when she plans to come back to the states. She told me about her new album and how she is going on a full U.S. tour in 2016 to promote it.
After seeing a few smaller bands that were closing out the other stages, the show was over. Matt and I met with Detroit-based Shapes & Colors, who played the Kevin Says stage earlier in the day. We hung out in the parking lot for a bit waiting for number nine on my list— the after-party barbeque.
After the sun went down, the crowd left and the stages were packed up, a crew fired up the grill. A lot of the artists that are on the tour were in line with Matt and I as we paid our donation and filled our plates.
We went back to Shapes & Colors’ tour van to eat, talk about the amount of violence in the news today and the impending doom of a volcano in California. After a bit, the band’s manager, Christian Skirmont — who also works for Sleeping with Sirens, Third Eye Blind and Go Radio as a Guitar Technitian — invited us to hang out at PVRIS’ tour bus.
Being able to walk through the tour buses and talk with artists I have grown up listening to was surreal. I spoke with Levi Benton from Miss May I, Grey Gordan, Josh from Every Avenue and I even ran into my friend, and friend of WXOU, John Bee from American Opera.
It was late. The sun took its toll on Matt and I and the bands were getting ready to leave for Chicago. We said our goodbyes and made our way back home.
The Vans Warped Tour has been part of my life for seven years now. It has been one of the biggest days of the year I look forward to. It is what makes the summer for hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. Kevin Lyman has created something amazing. For that, and this life-changing experience, I thank him.
Photos by Matthew McCormick
Check out highlights of Saturday’s Common Ground Music Festival: