By Crystal Larsen
Whoever said rock is a dying genre has clearly never been to the Vans Warped Tour, which on June 24 attracted thousands of eager eyes and ears to the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, Calif., for what can only be described as a daylong communal musical shower. With eight stages featuring more than 80 bands there was something for everyone, from metal and hardcore to punk rock, acoustic rock, reggae, and even folk. But beyond the music, it's the sense of camaraderie, among both fans and bands, that shows why rock is very much alive.
Local Los Angeles favorites Dead Sara recall attending the Vans Warped Tour when they were merely teenagers to see alternative rock group the Used. Now, not only are Dead Sara touring companions with the Used on this year's Vans Warped Tour, but earlier this year they toured as the opening act on the Used's tour in support of their latest release, 2012's Vulnerable. "That's the universe for you; it's bizarre," says lead singer and guitarist Emily Armstrong.
"I love Dead Sara," gushes the Used frontman Bert McCracken, who first heard the band's single "Weatherman" on Los Angeles-based radio station KYSR-FM. For McCracken, rock isn't dead because "music is music, no matter what people say."
"If [the music is] honest and from the heart, people will feel that love," he says. "Great, honest music will always be important."
Though they made their Vans Warped Tour debut 10 years ago, the Used are more important now than ever, evidenced by the thousands of festivalgoers who took up every bit of space surrounding the main stage for their 5:15 p.m. set, which included a mix of tracks from their 2002 self-titled debut to their most recent release. Though the ratio of band members to audience members was four musicians to thousands of screaming music fans, there was a strong sense that they were there as one. Fans literally carried each other on their backs as one person after the other was extracted for crowd surfing. McCracken even shared some of his water (spit from his mouth) with fans in the first few rows. Before ending their set with "A Box Full Of Sharp Objects," a track from their debut album, the Used paid a short tribute to a band known for writing some of the most honest music that's still relevant today. "Here is one of the greatest songs ever written," said McCracken before leading the band into the first few chords of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
An hour later Dead Sara took the Kevin Says Stage for a set that likely initiated many new members of the Deadicated (the band's official street team) with songs from their 2012 self-titled debut, including the radio hit "Weatherman" and a track rarely performed live, "Monumental Holiday." The set came to a monumental end when Armstrong threw the band's stage signage overboard to make room for her token cataclysmic dive off an amp. The crowd clearly approved of the raucous set and, as if to say thank you, Armstrong became a member of the crowd as she leaped offstage to join her fans, who she considers to be "the best drug."
Away from the Vans Warped Tour stages, dozens of organizations were in attendance to support the tour's philanthropic side, including the MusiCares Foundation, The Recording Academy's health and human services organization that in 2011 awarded Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman the MusiCares From the Heart Award for his friendship and dedication to the mission of the organization. When asked what they do to stay healthy on tour, both Armstrong and Dead Sara guitarist Siouxsie Medley agreed healthy eating habits, excercise and a lot of water are key to staying focused. For McCracken, it's a "power health smoothie" that gets him going every morning.
What's most fascinating about tours like the Vans Warped Tour is seeing the vitality of rock from stage to stage. While watching metal act Impending Doom an intense circle pit formed. Chaos erupted during punk rock act Anti-Flag's set. During English folk/rock band Skinny Lister's set I felt like I was at an Irish pub as fans engaged in their own takes on the classic Irish jig. And during rock/metal band the Railroad To Alaska's set, the crowd sang to every song.
That's the power of music. It heals, it inspires, but most of all, it creates community.
To catch the 2012 Vans Warped Tour in a city near you, click here for tour dates.