Saturday for the first time in my life I attended the Vans Warped Tour. I had two reasons for finally caving in an attending; remedying the fact that in 25 years I have never seen Bad Religion, and to take my friend’s 13 year old daughter to her first concert so she could see some band that she really likes. I figured the massive generation gap would make for an interesting time and give me a chance to see what an event like this is like from the perspective of someone much closer to the target audience age.
The morning of the show I hit the Vans Warped Tour website to get the information about where the venue was, its address, and to print out driving directions. The venue was at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, which they had on the website listed as being in Chicago. I’d never heard of this place before and figure it must be some newer venue of some sorts. So I click on the link on the website that takes you to get the map and I print out the driving directions from the link on that page. Upon looking at the map it printed I see it’s on the south side of the city and near the lake. Without giving it much additional thought I packed up my gear, picked up the kid and set forth to this destination the map had for me.
After one wrong turn thanks to faulty directions by Google Maps telling me to go east instead of west on one particular exit, we get to where this printout is telling us to go and not only is there no venue there, but the place is a ghetto and is pretty much totally blown out. I’m talking if you broke down there in your car, you’d just want to leave it and get the hell out of there asap and not care about your car! This obviously was not the place. With no fancy internet phone and no GPS system in my car (something my young sidekick made a point of), I quickly started dialing friends I thought might be near their computers. On my second attempt I got hold of Thor who was able to help. He did what I did and came up with the same incorrect map. Then he did some additional digging to find out the venue was not in Chicago, but it was in Tinley Park and this place used to be called Tweeter Center. I was pissed, I knew where that place was but didn’t know it changed names! We wasted well over an hour getting to this incorrect destination. So Thor gave us directions culled from Google Maps to the proper address based on where we were. This tacked on another half hour or more to our travel time.
Wouldn’t you know it, Google Maps screwed us once more by telling us to turn the wrong way on Ridgeland from where we were, and that cost us about another 15 minutes. Now at this point I knew what time the band I wanted to see was playing, but because I was text messaged the lineup for three of the stages, however I had no clue what time the band my young sidekick was playing and on the way there she asked me, “What if we miss Boys Like Girls, if that happens I’ll cry”. This only added to my anxiety because the last thing I needed was to let this kid down and thus feel the wrath of her mother!
We finally arrived at the venue and pulled into the parking lot. I was quite excited to see they weren’t trying to charge people for parking there like they do at some other large arenas. We walked up to what appeared to be a main gate and I asked where I go for the press passes, I was told to go to this other gate on the opposite end. When we get there, we are told that we were told wrong at the first gate and where we came from is where we needed to go. All along I’m wondering what else can go wrong and am getting more and more anxiety hoping that the band she wants to see isn’t on stage as we’re being led on this wild goose chase. We finally get our passes and enter. Near the entrance is a sheet of paper tacked to the pole with the full schedule of every stage (there was like six of them). Luckily we did not miss the band she wanted to see and in fact had about two hours to spare before they were playing. I let out a sigh of relief and felt like a big burden had been lifted off of me. I started reading the schedule closer and try and discern who was playing where and when, and who I might want to take photos of.
Then I took a good look around and was completely overwhelmed. There were tents, people and stages in every single direction. There weren’t any signs indicating what direction which stages were in so we just started walking around to try and soak it all in and figure it out. They had a stage called the Hurley stage and one called Hurley.com stage. That alone was cause for confusion. Also it appeared that while some of the stages were spot on in their schedule, some of them were running way behind.
It is impossible to see everything at this event, don’t even bother trying. The goal of the event is of course the event itself, not certain particular bands or aspects. You really have to focus on what it is you are there to see and when and hope that nothing conflicts. I’d have liked to shoot photos of The Unseen but they were playing at the same time as the band my sidekick wanted to see was playing so I missed out. There were other times when there was overlap so you’d have to miss part of one band’s set to see another. With so many bands on the bill I imagine the overlap thing isn’t a huge issue with a lot of people depending on who they fancy seeing. Most bands were given 30 minute sets, some had 45 minute sets. The schedule is figured out seemingly at random the morning of the event so you really don’t know what you may miss if you plan on arriving late (or if you get lost due to faulty information through a website).
On top of the multiple stages, there were plenty of tents full of merch, food, drinks, clothing, records, temporary tattoos, autograph signings, skateboard and BMX accessories and you name it. There was also a skateboard ramp set up with a competition, and a BMX exhibition as well. There was a ton to see and do at this thing, and plenty of opportunities to blow through a couple of paychecks spending money on it all. I saw kids walking around with multiple t-shirts, skateboard decks, records, etc.
Hot Rod Circuit
Hot Rod Circuit
Hot Rod Circuit
After doing a lap or two to get a feel for the place, we stopped by one stage as Hot Rod Circuit was starting so I could start snapping some photos. They weren’t bad but didn’t really stand out amongst the noise coming from other directions or the other bands of the day. After shooting a handful of photos, I opted to walk around some more.
This brought us to the Huley.com stage which was on the main stage in the pavilion. They split that pavilion stage into two side-by stages and as soon as the band playing on the one stage would finish, the next band would start right up on the stage next to them. It was really efficient how they had it. When we got back there a hip-hop band was playing called POS. They were pretty entertaining actually so I stuck around to hear a few of their songs.
Next up I found The Toasters playing back on the first stage I came across so I stopped and checked out some of their set. When I told my sidekick I wanted to stop and see them for a few minutes she asked me what they sounded like. I told her they were a ska-punk band to which she immediately asked me, “What is ska?”. Man did I feel the generation (actually two generations) gap right then and there! I did my best to describe it to her but with no previous frame of reference, she still didn’t understand it until she heard it in person. Suffice it to say she was even less of a ska fan than I am. The Toasters were as energetic and played as well as the last time they were here which was at Riot Fest and they had a pretty decent crowd checking them out, however upon further inspection a lot of them seemed to be camping out at the stage waiting for The Unseen who were playing next on the same stage.
Bless the Fall
Bless the Fall
Bless the Fall
Bless the Fall
From there we were off to the Hurley.com stage back in the main pavilion to see my sidekick’s favorite band of the moment, Boys Like Girls. I found her a safe place with a good view where I could leave her while I shot photos of them. We were early so on the stage to the left (which name escapes me at the moment), Bless the Fall were playing to a rather large audience. They were really energetic and the crowd were going nuts. At one point their singer did an Iggy Pop by walking on top of the crowd and singing from their shoulders. There were kids being tossed over the barricade while crowd surfing at regular intervals. It was certainly a fun spectacle to watch and the band itself wasn’t bad either.
Boys Like Girls
Boys Like Girls
Boys Like Girls
Boys Like Girls
Within about three minutes of them finishing, Boys Like Girls started their set. I moved over to that portion of the pavilion to start shooting photos and turned around and noticed the crowed seemed to more than double in size since we arrived. It was made up mostly of teenagers, many of them were young girls around the same age as my sidekick. I felt woefully out of place and ancient sitting here shooting photos of this pop band while young kids were jumping and singing along. There was a fair amount of crowd surfing going on and I had to watch my back while shooting to make sure I didn’t get nailed by some young girl being pulled into the barricade by security. The security at this show did an excellent job of safely catching kids and returning them to their feet inside the barricade and escorting them back into the crowd. Not once did I see anyone working security be rough with any of the kids or display an attitude. They had their work cut out for them too. Many of the barricades were these makeshift bike rack things at least on the sides and there was a team of guards whose sole purpose was to brace these things from caving in as the crowd kept surging forward. That is one job I do not envy!
Boys Like Girls
After about 40 minutes, Boys Like Girls were done playing and my little sidekick had the biggest smile on her face, which made the entire hell of the morning getting there worthwhile. Now it was getting close to being my turn. Bad Religion were going to be playing in less than an hour.
We stopped for some refreshments and we saw some band that sounded like Pantera but not nearly as good playing on one of the smaller stages. At one point they instructed the crowd to start a circle pit around this tent nearby and the crowd went along with it. It was a decent sized tent so it really ended up not being a circle pit but a big group of kids running laps around a tent like they were in gym class.
After hanging around the wrong stage for about ten minutes, I realized my mistake and hauled ass to the proper one to get in my place to shoot Bad Religion. This also would remedy the fact that in all these years, I’ve never seen them and I was looking forward to scratching them off the list of bands I want to see.
They opened with “American Jesus” and the crowd, which was the largest I saw for a band that day, went crazy. Every thirty seconds another pair of kids was being pulled down off the top of the crowd. They played some of “the hits” and a couple of tracks from the new album (which I was not familiar with) which made their set last about 45 minutes. They were all smiling on stage and played a very energetic set to a very enthusiastic crowd.
After they were done and without any bands I felt the need to see, we hit the road for the much shorter trip home than the one that took us there. So what did I think of the experience of Warped Tour? For the relatively inexpensive price of the ticket, I think that one gets more than their money’s worth out of it. There is so much to do and so much to see you’ll really never run out of things to do, at least not before running out of energy or money. For an old punk geezer such as myself you may feel a bit out of place or have very limited interest in the lineup, but for the younger generation I’d say it is the one festival worth your time, especially if you are more familiar with the bands on the tour than I was.
Some random observations:
- There was supposed to be a press tent, however I never found it and the few people working the venue I asked had no idea where it was either. I went the entire time I was there not being able to find it.
- I regularly saw teenage kids holding up signs that said “Free Hugs”. I didn’t see anyone take them up on their offers. I also saw some far less original signs either being held up or painted on shirtless guys that said such clever slogans as “Free Licks”(with arrow pointing towards their crotch) and “Show your tits”. Do they really think people are going to take them up on that?
- They really could use some better signage at this event pointing people to where the stages are.
- I like the idea that there is no headliner and each day the lineup changes, but they should expand their text messaging service (which is great in concept) to provide the lineup for all of the stages, not just three of them. This way people can plan their day before leaving the house.
- The one guy who my sidekick bought her Warped Tour t-shirt from really had a bad attitude and seemed to hate his job.
- I lost count at the amount of bands I heard, even in passing, asking the audience to “make a pit and move around”. I’ve always found it rather lame when a band has to ask the crowd to move around. Just play your asses off and if you are doing a good job, the movement should come naturally.
More and larger photos will be available from my Flickr stream starting tomorrow. Thanks to everyone at MSO and Hector at Epitaph for the passes.
I hate hate hate google maps. They always give me wrong directions. I’ve just started carrying an atlas in my car and doing things the old fashioned way.
I think Warped Tour is a neat thing for kids to experience. It’s a lot cheaper than some of the other music fests.
Sounds like my experience with Warped Tour in Vancouver, 2006. I went to help a friend staff his booth; he’d be busy signing teenage girl’s records and clothing, so he needed people to deal with selling things, etc. Free access to something I’d never pay for? Same oddness at the gate; front gate wasn’t open, and no staff in the area knew what a media entrance was, let alone where to ask. Also, no radios to ask anyone… Went around to the load-in gate, and nobody there knew, but let me in anyhow, without a pass or wristband or list. Then I had to track down the media guy who was running around between stages, and get a wristband from him. He didn’t have a list or radio either, but just coughed up a band. Amazing.
Good times, but some of the people there really did seem to hate their jobs; I guess when you’re 21 and you thought you were punk rock only a month previously, only to realize you’re just a cog in the Vans machine…
Though there were a couple other band merch tents where the guy selling merch thought he was cooler than anyone in the place because he was working with the band… not clueing in that he’s not IN the band…
The thing that confused me most was the ever present “tip jar” where you could get a FREE STICKER or other trash if you tipped the staff a couple bucks? Heavy prices for cheap stickers…
I forgot all about the tip jars! Nearly every merch tent had them. I don’t know how many people are going to get tipped by kids dropping 20 bucks on a t-shirt, especially the guy with the attitude I mentioned.
The food stands also had tip jars I think. If water wasn’t four dollars, I’d bet they’d probably have gotten more tips!
I really loved that you couldn’t buy food with money… you had to buy fake money to use at the food stalls.
So, long line #1 at the cash machine, followed by insanely long line at the money changers’ tent, followed by really really crazy long line at the lemonade place and then another long line to get that hot dog. If you bought too much fake money, you were stuck with it… I’m hoping it was some odd venue thing, and not typical.
I didn’t think of it until now, but I should have used my last 75 cents of fake money in one of the jerk’s tip buckets…
Your situation must have been unique to that venue. At the one here all the food tents just worked on regular cash.
It was kind of hot that day so needless to say the longest lines were for the vendors that had water and gatorade. The beer vendors were pretty vacant since most of the crowd were younger than 21.
Tips jars for t-shirt vendors? Some balls they have – I wouldn’t tip them a squirt of piss!
I can’t believe they charged $4 for water! I can’t remember if it was Pitchfork or Intonation fest, but they were selling big things of water for $1 last year and there were also spots where you could get free water.
When it’s this hot and you have that many people outside and in sweaty pits, it’s a fucking crime to charge that much for water. Ugh.
need i remind you of some other observations:
1.half the time you had no clue where to go and turned to me for directions, && me thinking “this is who my mom left me with!?”
2.the ghetto was scary
3.you forgot to mention that Boys Like Girls rocked. no doubt.(i thought that your section about them was a little too short so I’ll add some stuff.)
Boys Like Girls was without a doubt awesome. they played five minutes to midnight, dance hall drug, thunder (acoustic), heels over head, hero/heroine, and ended with their best song – the great escape. it was really amazing how everyone around me was standing on their seats screaming out every word to every song by heart. every seat in the theater was packed and there was a huge crowd of people in front of the stage to try to get as close as they could to the band. also the people who were actually in seats were standing up on them. people even crowded around where i am positive they couldn’t see just to hear the band play. the band was really energetic and played all the songs amazingly. (with only one noticeable mistake in the song called dance hall drug). but it was clear that the crowd knew every word and often the band held out their microphones and we sang the lyrics at the top of our lungs. so, in conclusion, Boys Like Girls had an awesome concert and the crowd had a great experience.
&& now some tips for the next time you attend warped tour:
1. look up the RIGHT directions to avoid wasting your sidekicks time
2. avoid saying things like “i hope the band hasn’t played yet” because you just make your sidekick more worried.
3. take pictures of your sidekick at her first concert for her family to see (i was just informed your in big trouble for not doing that)
thats about it. over && out.
— your sidekick