Ed. – Credit for all images: Jennifer Linnea Photography

In 1995, Kevin Lyman started a little-known festival called the Vans Warped Tour. You may have heard of it. Since then, it has boasted the finest of what pop punk has to offer. Along with this, it has showcased hardcore and emo music.

The festival was present for the ascension of pop punk in the 2000’s with bands like Blink-182 at their peak, the evolution of the genre in later years, and a whole new generation of bands coming up right now.

But alas, all good things come to an end. Over 20 years later and 2018 was the final cross-country Warped Tour.

Simple Plan getting the crowd excited at the beginning of their set in Denver, CO during the 2018 Van’s Warped Tour.
(Image credit: jenniferlinneaphotography)

I set out to the tour’s stop in Indianapolis, IN, this year to get a grasp on the spirit of the tour and what it means, in its closing moments of existence. I saw great music, colorful characters, and recorded great testimonies, from both newbies and veterans to the tour.

It is easy to find yourself lost in the expansive maze of tents and crowds of people. Luckily, I went with a friend who had already been a couple times, so he knew the routine. At one point, I asked a random guy to talk about the experience of Warped Tour, and he ended up being from one of the bands.

“My names Franki and… well, this is probably like my millionth Warped Tour. I’ve gone to every one since 2003 for at least one day. And now, my band is playing the tour. We’re called Farewell Winters from L.A.

“For me personally, Warped Tour means everything. It’s made me who I am and the community that is Warped Tour is its own thing. It’s hard to find this sort of camaraderie or overall good vibes. It’s unreal how it brings people together. It really is an honor to be a part of the last one.”

Early on in the day, I was standing in the crowd for 3oh!3 and noticed an insane variety of people. People who looked like Starbucks baristas, punks, and computer programmers alike were moshing and crowd surfing together. This is a testament to the ability of not only the Warped Tour, but music in general to bring people of all walks of life together.

Michael Orlando of Dead Girls Academy in Denver, CO during the 2018 Van’s Warped Tour.
(Image credit: jenniferlinneaphotography)

The atmosphere for every bands set I attended was one of pure jubilation. People puffing on strange foliage, running around like maniacs with their hands in the air… the works. The crowd surfing for Real Friends and State Champs was so intense that there were more people laying on top of the crowd than underneath holding them up (or it seemed that way). My cousin, who normally is a quiet, reserved person, went from standing in the back of the crowd to riding across the raised hands screaming and smiling ear-to-ear in only the span of a couple songs.

This brings me to another point. The Warped Tour was truly an experience for anybody. I met another first timer, named Katy, who said, “It’s my first Warped Tour and there was really only one band I know here, and they were the reason I wanted to come. Well, that and it’s the last year. But it’s been really cool to see new bands and have new things to listen to and everyone here is just so nice. I was watching Assuming We Survive and this girl fell down in the pit and immediately three huge guys picked her up.”

The Warped Tour was truly a place for the fans. The merch was reasonably priced, and they provided water for free (the venue was not so kind). Even the band tents had prices that almost suggest they were subsidized by the government. (I scored the new Real Friends album, signed, for five dollars).

Don Broco lead singer Rob Damiani in Denver, CO during the 2018 Van’s Warped Tour at the Pepsi Center.
(Image credit: jenniferlinneaphotography)

Regarding the venue, The Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center and Live Nation… screw you. If you bought a drink from them instead of a Vans tent, they strategically made water seven dollars and soda five (not refillable of course). I am sure the purpose was that soda was cheaper, so the sodium content would guarantee return customers throughout the day more. Real crafty people, for sure.

Along with this, the venue’s food prices were even worse. At a typical concession stand you could buy a few chicken fingers with fries and a drink for about eight dollars. The Ruoff Center charged twenty dollars. I didn’t even bother looking at alcohol prices. Enough said on this topic. Back to the good vibes.

Throughout the day, at every single band I watched there were these guys dressed in park ranger outfits, with 1970’s mustaches, sunglasses, and short shorts. They kind of looked like strippers. Everywhere you went people were paying attention to the Super Troopers. After a while, I knew I had to talk with them. I grabbed one named Ben, and he brought over who I assume was leading the pack, Nick, and he had this to say, “I’ve been coming here since 2007 and we have four of us here that were there that day as well.”

“We have like a ton of cousins that come every year,” said Ben, “and I’ve been here seven years, at least. We all just come as a family every year and have a good time.”

Nick jumped right by saying, “It started off just coming to see some bands and we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Then, we just started bringing more people every year. We used to go to Goodwill and just pick out stuff. Then we started coordinating the way we looked.”

Nat Motte of 3OH!3 jumping on the barrier during their set in Denver, CO on the 2018 Van’s Warped Tour.
(Image credit: jenniferlinneaphotography)

“As soon as I started going,” concluded Ben, “we would just kind of dress like trash. Then, we planned wearing scrubs one year and suits another. The culture of Warped Tour is incredible. You meet some really weird people, but we’re all here together and nobody give a shit. You meet a couple of douche bags that don’t really get the Warped Tour culture, but it’s just about coming here, letting loose, calling off work, and getting together with my family. It’s awesome.”

Later on, as I was watching Less Than Jake preform (who boasted the highest number of Warped Tour shows than any other band), they asked the Super Troopers (Ben and Nick) on stage to dance. They asked one of them to do a strip tease for the crowd, while the others danced and built a human pyramid. The crowd was going absolutely nuts, to say the least.

To sum up the experience of Warped Tour, I would say it’s a place where the fan and the band are much closer than a normal concert, and everyone there on both sides of the barrier is part of a shared hive vibe. It is a concert anyone can attend and find their own way to have a good time.

As one drunken kid blabbered to me (after vomiting), “Warped Tour… (more vomiting)… It’s just the place to be man!”