Diversity found at Vans Warped Tour 2011 in Detroit

Courtesy of Suburban Noize

BY TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
Published July 10, 2011

Every summer, a throng of die-hard music-lovers converge in the parking lot of Comerica Park in Detroit for the Vans Warped Tour. The day long music festival — dedicated to the music and mayhem that typifies skate culture — draws a crowd of surprisingly diverse characters ranging from adolescents to adults, scenesters to hipsters and goths to straight-edge punks.

If this year’s crowd proves anything, it’s that the ideals of adolescent rebellion, solidarity and outright zaniness that gave life to Warped in the mid-’90s are still alive and well. A sea of black t-shirts mill to and fro between nine stages, each declaring its wearer’s vulgar, tongue-in-cheek philosophy.

“F*** you, I’m fat,” announces the shirt of a stout, thirty-something concertgoer. “My feet hurt … from kicking so much ass,” declares another.

These brazen attitudes aren’t just shared by the Warped fans, but by the musicians they worship. A screamed introduction thunders through the air to kick off the first band playing the tour’s Advent Clothing stage, one of nine soapboxes scattered across the ballpark lot.

“We are a sucky band, and I am a miserable human being!” announces the lead singer, who avoids mentioning his band’s name and instead cuts straight to the chase.

“Everybody raise your middle fingers in the air,” he demands. Once he’s satisfied that at least half the crowd is complying, he cracks a sinister smile. “Now, that’s what I call a sea of ‘f***-yous!’ “ At that, the fans’ screams dissolve amidst a rollicking hardcore breakdown, the moshing commences and random objects sail through the air like dollar bills at a strip club.

Unlike the fickle, gimmicky commentary that accompanies most live performances, the singer’s words sound unusually sincere. That’s because the Warped Tour faithful aren’t here to live vicariously through the bands. Often, the lives of the bands, their fans and the other Warped attendees are one and the same, rooted in the rabid fan culture of skateboarding.

Just ask Pipinnetti, a teen who came all the way from Albuquerque, N.M. to compete in the Vans Skate Amateur Mini-Ramp Skate Jam, a competition that gives young trick skaters the chance to prove themselves on a small half-pipe, driven by the encouragement of their light-footed comrades and the attention of a smattering of passersby.

“I didn’t come here for the bands,” said the beater-clad teen in a matter-of-fact monotone. “I came up here to skate, for a chance to go to Hollywood.”

Nearby, a beardy, brawny Warped representative sits in a metal folding chair, intently watching every ollie, grind and kick-flip. His name is Brent, and he explains that he’s sitting in at every tour stop to judge the ability of each and every would-be Tony Hawk. At each stop the top skaters are declared finalists and win prizes ranging from shoes to small cash rewards. The best from the entire tour are flown to California to skate at a larger event for a monetary prize and the publicity that they hope will turn their dreams into careers.

Many of Warped Tour’s veteran acts have memories — at once fond and painful — of their time as aspiring skaters, when their dreams were as profound as those of Pippinetti.

“My music career was made at a time in my life when I was squatting with a bunch of other skaters in an abandoned house called The Blue Room,” said Scott Russo — frontman of the punk rock act Unwritten Law — in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “My whole life revolved around doing drugs and trying to be a professional skater."

Russo, whose band produced the chart-climbing singles “Save Me (Wake Up Call)” and “Seein’ Red,” is an intriguing combination of roughneck and fragile. Clutching an oversized plastic vaporizer cigarette in one hand and an umbrella in the other, he speaks with an undertone of restlessness in his voice.

When asked why he’s chosen to weather the hardships of a broken home, a lifelong battle with drug abuse and countless creative differences (his band has released six studio albums, released by almost as many different labels), his response is as pointed as Pippinetti’s.

“No matter what we do as a band, I always feel like something’s incomplete,” Russo said. “I can’t stop until I finish what I started.”

The resilience that carried Unwritten Law through 20 years of trials and tribulations is a welcome mantra at this year’s Warped Tour, especially in an era of the dwindling record sales figures.

But as mainstream music adapts to the advent of bigger and better technologies, the bands at Warped Tour adapt with it. In an attempt to mitigate the decreased interest in punk rock purism, Warped has taken on more and more genre-bending bands in recent years — this year’s lineup included plenty.

A noteworthy example is the metalcore group Attack Attack! from Westerville, Ohio. Their set features the choppy, distorted guitars and double-bass drums of metal coupled with healthy doses of techno and Autotune.

Bands like Attack Attack! embody a widespread trend in which older music genres like pop and rock draw more and more from the contemporary influences of hip hop and electronica. In addition to the ska, pop-punk and rock tradition of Warped Tour and the trendy hip hop/electronic crossover bands of recent years, Warped went a step further by including several straight rap and dubstep acts in this year’s line-up, many of whom performed on a local stage tailored specifically to the Detroit music scene.

“This is my first year,” said Nevadan rapper Big B in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “We’re not your average Warped Tour band, so it was awesome that we not only got invited out here, but drew a big crowd of kids.”

Featuring a variety of musicians is one of the ways Warped Tour has broadened its audience base over the years when its grown from a fledgling tour with barely fifteen bands in 1995 to a festival-sized attraction with over a 100 live acts and numerous tents catering to an eclectic amalgam of techies, metalheads, charitable donors, skaters, cyberpunks and about every other subculture one might imagine to exist. Who ever said punk rock was dead?