Warped Tour 2009
with Anti-Flag, Gallows, Bad Religion, The A.K.A.s, Bouncing Souls, and tons more!
Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, FL • July 26, 2009
The Van’s Warped Tour is a summertime staple, a rite of passage for music-starved teenagers and a nostalgic, though often frustrating, trip for anyone old enough to remember when the tour had a bit of a rougher, less commercialized edge.
Now in its 15th year, creator Kevin Lyman has scaled it back from two main stages to one, and with only about six smaller stages spread throughout the grounds — as opposed to years past when performances happened simultaneously, in seemingly every nook and cranny. It was an economic decision that allowed Lyman and promoters to keep the hot summer ticket price down — in the $25 range — and it worked. The pristine waterfront landscape of St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park was tightly packed with sun drenched, but smiling, fans who cooled their tattooed bodies near the water’s edge and beneath the swaying palm trees.
Though the lineup was far from impressive this year, a handful of memorable performances lifted the hellish hot Sunday out of the depths of musical mediocrity and made the sunburn and heat stroke worthwhile.
Like every multi-stage festival, everyone’s experience is unique. I couldn’t tell you how 3OH!3’s closing set was, if Underoath said a prayer before their set, or what All Time Low were wearing because I wasn’t there. With only a few main stage exceptions, I spent my Warped Tour perusing the small stages — checking in on the bands on the brink of breaking big. It’s at these tucked-in-the-corner stages where, often, the most inspired sets are happening.
In the case of Gallows, the magic wasn’t happening on the stage, but on the grass in front of it. It was there that fiery front man Frank Carter and guitarist Steph Carter performed their entire set, leaving the rhythm section onstage in the shade. Not content to merely stalk the grassy space surrounded by onlookers, Frank pulled fans in and encouraged the circle pit to not only continue, but to increase. This put the band members in harm’s way, but that was part of the apparent appeal.
As is custom for a Gallows performance, there was much in the way of cynical remarks and complaints on the part of the colorful front man (who, so I was told by other bands, is quite the “sweetheart” to those who know him) making him a sort of Johnny Rotten of the Warped Tour. While Frank ranted about everything from the heat, the bands on the tour, and the sorry state of modern music, his guitarist brother quietly climbed to the top of the nearby skate ramp — playing guitar from high above the audience. The short length of his own microphone chord was the only thing that kept Frank from joining him. The UK group finished up their winning set with “In the Belly of a Shark,” which they dedicated to a short list of bands on the bill that they give their stamp of approval to. The A.K.A.s were one such band.
The Philadelphia band has recently replaced both their guitarist and their bassist so there were some new faces on the stage — both of whom already fit in like an old pair of jeans. Speaking of jeans, midway through their early afternoon set, the heat was so intense that vocalist Mike Ski shed his own pants — performing in only a t-shirt and tighty blackies. Tossing out scissor kicks and gravity-defying jumps without a care in the world, Ski looked as giddy as a schoolboy. His remaining band members, especially keyboardist (and girlfriend) Josie Fluri, smiled at his absurdity, while Ski himself often exploding into laughter. “I haven’t even performed without my shirt since the ’90s,” he admitted, before playing the most memorable performance of “Valentine’s Days, Halloween Nights.”
It’s this carefree abandon, as much as the versatility of music offered, that rests as the base theme of this annual summertime musical circus. Fans can mellow out to the reggae grooves of Westbound Train before catching the female-fronted metalcore band In This Moment. For those looking to support their local musicians, some of the smaller stages feature regional bands like Orlando’s Idol’s End — a band recently voted “#1 Punk Band” by the readers of Orlando Weekly. Old school punk fans have Bad Religion and Bouncing Souls to satisfy their cravings for purity, while the new school punks like Alexisonfire and Senses Fail keep trying to convert fans with their punk/hardcore/screamo hybridization.
Straddling the line between old and new were politi-punks Anti-Flag whose high noon performance kicked the day off on just the right note. In front of an already widespread crowd and clad in all black, with stickers on their instruments proclaiming “This Machine Kills Fascists” and “What Are We Gonna Do About the U.S.A.?,” the hard-charging band wasted no time turning up the heat. Three songs in, guitarist Chris #2 climbed into the audience for a ride atop outstretched hands. One of the most outspoken, and sincere, bands on this year’s roster; had I seen no other bands play this day I could have left feeling like I’d gotten my day’s worth.
Other than the time the musicians often spend giving face, or body, time to their fans while onstage, they’re also seen doing signings, or even just strolling through the grounds to catch other bands’ sets. For the two months that the Van’s Warped Tour is spreading its organized chaos to the youth of America, the line between artist and fan is virtually erased. Now that is punk rock.
To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.
Warped Tour 2009: www.warpedtour.com