In a little over a month, Chris DeMakes will have spent one full year of his life playing the Warped Tour.
It all started 17 years ago.
Then, DeMakes’ band, ska-punk mainstays Less Than Jake, first joined the traveling festival that’s become synonymous with punk rock in all its permutations, withering summer heat, more sponsorships than a NASCAR driver’s fire suit and mobile stages erected in parking lots where crowds sizzle beneath the sun like breakfast meats on an asphalt griddle.
“We’re celebrating our 365th show of Warped on July 26,” says DeMakes, marveling at how this will be Less Than Jakes’ eighth tenure on the tour, which is more than any other act in Warped history. “I can’t even believe it.”
Warped turns 20 this year, which means that it has officially become older than its target demographic, teenagers, for whom it’s an annual rite of passage, as much of a summer institution as sleeping in, immortalized in song by Warped vets Blink-182 on its hit “Rock Show.”
“It’s like the carnival coming to town. And everybody wants to go to the carnival,” DeMakes says, noting that the reach of the tour extends beyond the music, to kids who may not even be all that familiar with the bands playing on a given year. “They’re just there to be a part of it. They might listen to rap music or country music, and they can still enjoy themselves as much as kids who are in the front row moshing.”
Some of those kids grow up, start bands and eventually get to play Warped themselves, like Las Vegas’ electronic-tinged metalcore band Survive This!, who released its debut, “The Life You’ve Chosen,” last fall and is on the tour all summer.
“It’s been our dream,” says singer Shawn Zyvoloski of playing the festival, which he’s been attending since he was a teen.
“It’s almost like being in high school for a band. We’re coming in as freshmen right now,” he continues. “There’s bands that have done it multiple years, you’ve seen them grow as you’re growing. I think it’s great for kids to see everyone getting together no matter what the genre is or the way that they dress, just building that relationship with people and that friendship. It’s the kind of moments that you don’t forget about in your childhood — or even as an adult.”
Survive This! and Less Than Jake are but two of the nearly 90 acts who will be playing Warped this year, the lineup encompassing influential pop punk veterans Saves the Day, the electropop Breathe Carolina, hardcore traditionalists Terror, the self-effacing hip-hop of Watsky and dozens more, ranging from reggae to electronic dance music.
Together, it all makes for a massive production.
“With the bands and the crew and the truck drivers, it’s about a 1,200-person tour,” DeMakes says. “It’s like its own little town moving to a different place each day. Plus, you add the 8,000 to 15,000 people a day who are there, and it’s a crazy little world that we travel in out there.”
This not-so-little world is a long way from the tour’s inauspicious origins in 1995.
Two years after that, when Less Than Jake was first approached about playing Warped, they barely knew of it.
“We got a phone call from our manager at the time, ‘Hey, there’s this thing called Warped Tour. You guys want to do it? It’s two weeks. The money’s pretty good,’” DeMakes recalls. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, what the hell?’ We had no idea what it was. It wasn’t like you could just go online and go to Wikipedia and look up ‘Warped Tour.’ It was a really unknown thing.”
Since then, Warped has become known for a number of things, like its novel approach to slotting band performance times, rotating them each day rather than featuring locked-in headliners, and helping launch the careers of an eclectic array of acts as they were first making a name for themselves (The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem and Katy Perry all played Warped before they became stars, in addition to more punk-leaning bands such as Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Dropkick Murphys.)
And of course, the Warped experience can’t be addressed without acknowledging the challenge of weathering the brutal summer heat, for the bands and fans alike.
Zyvoloski recalls getting heatstroke during his first trip to a Salt Lake City Warped stop a little more than a decade ago.
“I was so sick, because I refused to leave,” he says. “I ended up walking out looking like a lobster.”
At the 2013 Las Vegas date of Warped n the Silverton parking lot, temperatures were so high, fans were almost as focused on finding shade as they were on watching bands.
Mercifully, the tour moves this year to the grass-covered intramural fields at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Both Zyvoloski and DeMakes say that they’ve been training hard, like athletes getting ready for the start of a new season, to meet the tour’s physical demands.
Speaking of the latter, his band, which formed in 1992, has been around longer than some of its tourmates on Warped have been alive.
Like the Warped Tour itself, DeMakes is getting up there in years — though, in the case of both, it’s hard to tell.
“I always equate it to Major League Baseball, the 40-year-old pitcher who’s out there,” he says. “Yeah, you can laugh at the old guy, but the old guy knows a few tricks.
“You might be 22 years old,” he continues, “but I’ll still run circles around your ass, kid — and I mean that affectionately.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.