Few summer tours get more advertising hype than the Vans Warped Tour, now in its self proclaimed “Lucky 13th” year. It’s the biggest production of the summer with the most bands, the most cities and the biggest crowds. So when the freight train of tour buses rolled to a stop in Phoenix, I decided that this would be the first year I’d go and see what the fuss was about.
Now the show was scheduled for a Wednesday which means most of us honest citizens are usually at work…unless you played hooky and took the day off like I did. With that taken care of I enjoyed a leisurely morning and actually got to the show pretty late. The doors opened at 11am with the first band playing at 11:20am, and I got over to Cricket Pavilion about 3pm. Nice thing about that was no line for tickets at the door and parking was better than I expected…probably due to the heat and the weekday factor.
For the first few hours I wandered the rows of merch booths and checked out the attractions. There was a sideshow, a halfpipe with skaters, a Harley Davidson display, several smaller stages, and of course hundreds of interesting people to look at. I must be the only person over 20 who isn’t yet sporting some kind of tattoo, piercing, weird haircut, expensive cameraphone, or other fashion gimmick. When I look at a picture of myself 10 years from now, you can bet I won’t be embarrassed at it. But that’s not the point…it’s all about the music.
The biggest crowds stayed inside the pavilion underneath the shaded canopy, with the second biggest crowd hanging around the two main stages. As each band wound up and the next band came on, the crowd simply shifted back and forth in the brutal sunlight. Whoever decided to move the Warped Tour from a grassy baseball field to an asphalt parking lot on a summer day in Phoenix was not thinking clearly. To say it was hot is like describing hell as “unpleasant” – they are both gross understatements. I believe the high temperature was 108F (42C) that day. In no time at all a river of sweat was running down my back as the sun blasted my retinas like a nuclear bomb.
Luckily for me I had the foresight to bring a gallon of cold water, which was disappearing quickly in big, refreshing gulps. The price for a small bottle of water is almost as high as minimum wage, and the food wasn’t much better. Four dollars for a hot dog, eight dollars for a mini pizza, and ten dollars for a cup of brew – it’s almost as bad as the movie theater. Waiting in line for food means careful planning as you could easily miss two or three bands while standing in line. Still, the lines were longer for food than for autographs and they moved slower than a funeral procession. Eventually I got a hot dog and sat down in the shade for a few minutes.
My arm was feeling the weight of my water jug as I headed back out to the main stage a while later. The sun was finally beginning to go down as I watched some more acts. In a thirty minute set, a band has enough time to introduce themselves, play their biggest hits and a few tracks from whatever new record they are plugging, and make a few jokes about the heat. Guess what, we live here all year round and we’re used to it. We know it’s hot. Just play already.
As it was nearing 7pm an excitement was building in the air. Everyone knew it was Coheed and Cambria coming on at 7:30pm and being the second to last band to play, it was gonna be huge. While everyone was at one stage watching Pennywise, I made my way over to the front of the second stage to get in a good position for pictures. Right up front by the railing, I watched the road crew set up as the time drew nearer. As Pennywise wound down, the crowd shuffled over to the stage where I was, which now had an enormous crowd behind me. After a quick soundcheck it was go time.
The band came out on stage dressed all in black, with no introductions or lame jokes about the heat. They went right into the good stuff with In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 and it was LOUD. I quickly realized that standing directly in front of the left stack was a deafening experience, but there was no way I was getting out now. Each hit of the drums was a wall of sound waves slamming into my body from head to toe. Surrounded by a mass of sweaty, glistening bodies I was trapped as they began to get wild.
My camera was shooting pictures while my body simply struggled to stay upright. Pressed up against the railing, a couple of shirtless guys began shoving their way to the front so hard it hurt. “Hey, I waited here for this spot and you’re not just gonna shove your way up here and take it asshole” I was thinking. Of course when the entire crowd begins swaying, well there’s not much you can do. It was then that the first of several crowdsurfers landed on me, out of nowhere. Luckily the camera was strapped to my wrist or it would have been trampled to bits upon impact. The music continued as the crowd was shouting and clapping and getting really worked up.
Something wet splashed against my leg. Was it vomit? No, just water this time. The girl next to me in the bikini top motioned for some water and I passed her my jug, expecting her to take a drink. In her drunken stupor she poured it all over her head, splashing a lot on me and my camera. “Thanks waterboy” she shouted. You’re welcome, hon. No, really.
As the band wound down my teeth were still rattling in my head and I was covered in sweat. Gasping for air, the crowd dispersed quickly and I was standing in trash up to my ankles. Making my way to the exit, I had a smile on my face and a bunch of great pictures in my pocket. It couldn’t have gone better, really.