In the early days of the Warped Tour, bands traveled via beat-up vans and drank beer for dinner; now they have luxury tour buses and catered meals. You can still find exceptions -- the Deviates, a band from Los Angeles who just signed with Epitaph Records, were making the trek in a modest rented mobile home, but most bands traveled in nicer rides.
The sprawling festival, attended by some 8,000 fans, took up the Nautica Stage -- which was divided in half so that a band could be setting up while another was playing -- and the adjoining parking lots, where several smaller stages, a ramp for skaters and bikers, and a large assortment of booths were assembled. The Warped Tour offered both a wide mixture of music (everything from ska and punk to hip-hop) and a veritable army of vendors, selling everything from clothing to video games. It was hard to walk anywhere (and in fact, so crowded, it was literally hard to walk) and not see the name and logo of a sponsor -- the clothing company Volcomm had its own stage that was attached to the back of an RV. Amid the young clientele that sported logo-emblazoned T-shirts and cargo shorts, it was actually more radical to not have your head shaved and have no piercings.
Despite having lost its punk edge, the Warped Tour still has a few things going for it. For one, by limiting each band to 30 minutes, it does away with the need for acts to feel competitive with one another. Even "headliners" such as Green Day, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and NOFX were allotted only a half-hour for their performances. The festival is also one of the only package tours that caters to the local scene. On the Ernie Ball-sponsored stage for local acts, Cleveland bands such as Ivet, Disengage, and the Signoffs played. As remote as the stage might have been, it still provided a good forum for new acts to perform to bigger audiences than they normally would. Canton's Spare Change 00, a favorite of tour organizer Kevin Lyman, even managed to do an early evening set on the Volcomm stage, which was reserved for national acts.
The Warped Tour also deserves credit for booking an eclectic group of bands and for being more hip-hop friendly than other package tours. Rap acts such as Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples fit right in with the other performers, most of whom were hardcore or punk rock. There was even a wide spectrum of punk bands represented, including everything from pop punk (Green Day) to straight-edge punk (Anti-Flag), Christian punk (MXPX), and Irish punk (Flogging Mollys). While Green Day singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong maintained "punk rock wasn't about music for fucking jocks," during one of his long-winded rants, punk rock is no longer about celebrating anarchy. Armstrong stopped the Green Day show when one fan appeared to be hurt, and Dilated Peoples broke out into a rhyme about the evils of war toward the end of their set.
The real excitement of the Warped Tour, however -- and the only part truly warped -- was the human cannonball, Dave "the Bullet" Smith, who dressed in an Evel Knievel-like jumpsuit and was propelled through the air by a cannon into a safety net several yards away. The cannonball sequence, which took place as Green Day's set was ending and the Bosstones' was beginning, represented the one event on the Warped Tour that had any sense of drama and danger. It's a sad day when a human cannonball can be more extreme than amplified music. After an unsuccessful attempt two years ago, local promoter Packy Malley has brought back "Party in the Park," which will take place every Friday between now and Labor Day at Chester Commons (East 12th Street and Chester Avenue). Admission is free, and Malley himself will man the turntables, calling himself DJ Malley for the affair.
"Anyone in Cleveland who is 30 years or older remembers this event; it's a big deal," says Malley, who has recruited the Crooked River Brewing Company to provide refreshments. "I brought it back because I like to have fun."
The events will also serve as fund-raisers for the VH1 Save the Music program. The second installment of the Chris' Warped Records-sponsored "Music Education 101" series will take place on July 22 at the Blind Lemon (11729 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood). The lineup for the free show of regional acts includes The Chargers Street Gang, My 3 Scum, Brandtson, and Boulder. For more information, call the Blind Lemon at 216-521-4981.