Warped Tour Reminds Us Why We Keep Going After All These Years

Photos & story by Shannon Shumaker

As a mid twenty-something who grew up in the emo/punk/hardcore/whatever you want to call it scene and spent the majority of my high school career going to concerts, the Vans Warped Tour was an integral part of my teen years. It was one of the first concerts that my parents let me attend without them and it was something I looked forward to every summer. I’d spent months researching the bands playing each year and coming up with a list of artists I’d need to see, only to get distracted and miss one in favor of catching something new that caught my eye. Each year holds a special place in my heart and countless memories, from watching in awe as Thursday closed out the day right at sunset my first year, or running for shelter while it hailed during 3OH!3 another. Warped Tour was a rite of passage for me, and no matter how much it changes, I think I’ll always find myself returning as long as it keeps running.

But boy, has it changed. In fact, that’s the first thing that my friends in my age group and those older than me mention when talking about Warped Tour, especially this year. Back when I first started attending Warped, the headliners were massive acts like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Thirty Seconds To Mars and Underoath - bands that are too big to play a traveling festival like Warped Tour anymore. As much as I’d kill to see a lineup similar to 2005 or 2007 again, it just isn’t going to happen. Although some of these veterans like Silverstein, Hawthorne Heights or New Found Glory still hop on the tour every once in awhile (or in Every Time I Die’s case, every other year) Warped Tour will never be the same as it was ten or even fifteen years ago. And to be honest, that’s perfectly okay.

Sure, Warped Tour is a great place to catch a dozen or more of your favorite bands all in one day, but easily one of the best things about the festival is its ability to showcase smaller acts before they inevitably break out. Back in 2008, Katy Perry played on the same stage as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster and Anberlin before she found mainstream success. In 2014, PVRIS made their debut on the Ernie Ball stage before headlining the festival a year later. Now, they’re currently on tour with Muse and Warped alumni, Thirty Seconds To Mars. In my eleventh year attending the festival, I still spent the weeks leading up to the Denver date researching the smaller bands and planning out my day. I love checking out these smaller artists before they get big, and that’s what keeps me coming back to Warped Tour.

This year, I found that I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of any of the headliners. I listen to bands like Dance Gavin Dance, Hands Like Houses, Neck Deep and Our Last Night frequently, but seeing them live doesn’t give me the same sense of excitement as I felt when I first started attending the festival. That’s not to say that those bands don’t do the same thing for the teenagers attending Warped now though, and that’s likely why events like Emo Nite are so popular, or why Warped Rewind at Sea will likely be a success later this year. Nostalgia. It’s weird thinking that the teenagers attending Warped for the first or fifth time this year might look back in ten years and feel that same sense of fondness when thinking about seeing Pierce The Veil, Black Veil Brides or PVRIS for the first time at Warped Tour, but that’s kind of the beauty of all of this.

Sick Of It All in Denver, CO

Creeper in Denver, CO

Warped Tour has always been the perfect first festival for many young concert-goers, and as I began to grow up, I started to wonder if I was beginning to outgrow Warped Tour. It seems that with each coming year, more of my friends are complaining about the lineup or that “Warped Tour isn’t the same as it used to be.” But how can they expect it to be? As trends come and go and smaller bands begin to grow, the artists that play and headline Warped (or any festival for that matter) will change. But Kevin Lyman and the rest of the Warped crew have managed to take this criticism in stride this year, and instead of simply ignoring their original fans or stepping too far into the territory of festivals like Riot Fest, they simply merged the two. The lineup for this year’s tour was different than ever before and to be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure how bands like CKY, Hatebreed, GWAR or Sick Of It All were going to stand alongside Attila, Andy Black or Beartooth, but I decided to take my own advice and go in with an open mind, and I’m happy that I did.

As I’ve done in years past, I spent some time researching the smaller bands on this year’s Warped Tour and took the time to break away from the main stages and artists I’ve seen countless times before and in doing so, I rediscovered what I've loved about Warped Tour since the beginning. I got to check out artists like War On Women, Knocked Loose and Trophy Eyes that have been causing a buzz for the past few months and was pleasantly surprised by Brighton pop-rock band The Gospel Youth and the more chaotic The White Noise, who both played two of the smaller stages on the tour. I watched old punks and hardcore kids mosh for Sick Of It All  and later saw some of those same faces crowd surfing and singing along with Counterparts. The nostalgia was at an all time high during Hawthorne Heights and Silverstein, but it didn’t drown out the excitement when I caught another killer set from Too Close To Touch or Stick To Your Guns. I also stood at the barricade and sang my heart out along with Creeper, a band I’ve quickly fallen in with over the past few months - something I haven’t done since I was a teenager.

As Warped Tour has grown up, so have the punks, emos, hardcore kids and metalheads that brought the festival to life over twenty years ago and grew up attending it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to grow out of it. I can’t speak for everyone, but my own taste in music is constantly changing, and thankfully, I know I can always count on Warped Tour showcase something that I might like. And if this year was any indicator, I know I can count on them to keep reminding me why I return every year, despite sunburn, sore feet and ringing ears.

A full photo gallery from the Denver date of the 2017 Warped Tour can be found here.