Warped Tour is grueling but totally worth it

“You paid money to be miserable and yelled at.”

Yeah, pretty much.

It was 111 degrees outside when the dude on stage bellowed out a spot-on encapsulation of the Warped Tour experience, the sun above him every bit as merciless as the sound barreling from the speakers like a 100-car freight train loaded with contempt for humankind.

Vincent Bennett, frontman for deathcore depressives The Acacia Strain, offered this tidy summation of the 10-hour concert in question, addressing a crowd standing atop magma-hot asphalt behind the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday. The surface beneath their feet was so smoldering, it felt as if you were wearing electric socks to stave off the frigid cold instead of attempting to remain upright in the withering heat.

Even if you didn’t jump into the nearby Hard Rock pool fully-clothed (as hundreds did), your shirt and shorts or jeans (oh, the poor, poor souls who wore denim) quickly became as wet as if you did, saturated in sweat. Granted, there was refuge inside the Hard Rock, where bands performed at Vinyl and The Joint, but even that came with a price (walking into frigid air-conditioning while completely soaked in perspiration was fairly gnarly).

All of this raises the question, why do thousands and thousands of Warped devotees eagerly subject themselves to this, doing so summer after summer (this was Warped Tour’s 23rd go-round)?

1. Girl power

Flipping the script and her green hair alike, Shawna Potter leapt to the front lines in the battle of the sexes. “The gentleman will learn how to behave,” the War on Woman singer announced in song, her band’s catalog a call to arms against victim blaming, cat calling and the battle over reproductive rights — and this was all in the first handful of tunes the band played. At the same time War on Women played, so did “womanarchists” Bad Cop Bad Cop, whose activist pop punk was all singalong feminism. Sure, Warped is still pretty dude-heavy, but you’d have to go back to the Lilith Fair days to find a tour that features so many bands with female musicians. Among them: New Years Day, Save Ferris, Bad Seed Rising, Barb Wire Dolls, Sonic Boom Six, Doll Skin, Courage My Love, The Fantastic Plastics and Jule Vera.

2. Fake blood, real controversy

As the sun set hackles were raised when costumed metallers Gwar disembowled a Donald Trump likeness during a set-ending cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It).” The crowd ate it all up as if feasting at a buffet of gore, but some folks got mighty steamed when images of the carnage were posted on social media. Lest you think Gwar was playing sides here, they gave the same treatment to Hillary Clinton on tour last fall and eviscerated Obama in years past. This bunch isn’t partisan.

3. Swimming pool circle pits

“I wanna see a whirlpool!” Municipal Waste frontman Tony Foresta commanded, coining a new phrase for a new phenomenon: the swimming pool circle pit. Oh how the pool staff’s whistles blared when Foresta later enjoined the crowd to cannonball into said waters en masse. Easily the most fun stage of the day for everyone but the lifeguards, the Hard Rock pool was the place to be, from a stage-opening set by red-faced riff rockers Valient Thor, who valiantly refused to doff their jean vests despite the heat, to a show-closing throwdown by New York City hardcore lifers Sick of It All. “Who’s gonna save you?” Sick of It All frontman Lou Koller wondered in song at one point. Probably not those exasperated lifeguards.

4. Keytars and kilts

The heat did funny things to your head from time to time (Does this tour takes its name from the effect it has on your ability to perceive shapes and colors?). So you could be forgiven for wondering if what you were seeing was actually taking place when Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm hit the stage, or if it was just some rum-induced mirage. “This next song is about drinking beer and testing cosmetics on animals,” kilt-clad, keytar-gripping frontman Christopher Bowes quipped during a brief pause from howling out festive, accordion-powered sea shanties. His words felt a little superfluous though: Pretty much every Alestorm song revolved around drinking beer, save for the ones about guzzling mead.

5. Moshing with Mom and Dad

One of the coolest things about this hell-hot tour is how many moms and dads are always in the house (or on the pavement, as the case may be). Part of this is attributable to how the tour is operated (parents can get a free ticket to accompany their kids). But it also speaks to the communal ties of punk rock itself. The same people who went to Warped Tour 20-some years ago still go today; it’s just that now they’ve got mini-me’s in tow. Perhaps this is why Warped has managed to stick around for so long: It’s a family thing, whether the crowd is bonded by blood or beer.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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