You know that moment in Jurassic Park when Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler and Dr. Malcolm see the Brontosaurus for the first time and John Williams’ score swells up and everything they thought they knew about life and living goes out the window? Dr. Hammond grins ear to ear as he greets their awe with “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” in a way that is both grounded and profound almost as if to say “yes what you’re seeing is real” and “pretty cool, huh” all at the same time. This is exactly how I felt the first time I saw Davey Havok walk into a crowd of fans, mic in hand, crooning his little east bay hardcore heart out. I didn’t know it until that moment, but this was something I always wanted in my life. On that day, in the summer of 2001, the Warped Tour became a part of my life. Seventeen years later, I get to say goodbye to it with one last dip in the circle pit.

My Uncle Ray played babysitter and concierge to my first Warped Tour at the tender age of 13. He drove my cousins, brother and me and managed to have a good time while looking after us at the same time. The youngest of my dad’s siblings, I learned everything I knew about punk rock from him. He lived with my grandparents at the time and every time we’d visit, I’d raid his CD collection and he’d let me listen to them in my Walkman that I carried everywhere, sometimes even letting me borrow some.

 

While it was clear he was holding back in order to make sure we were all safe, there were two points he left us in the care of my oldest cousin Chris: the first was the aforementioned AFI performance and the second was when Toby Morse from H2O left the stage to start a circle pit. Still reserved, I watched as my uncle tore through the pit, slam dancing and picking up dudes who fell down. My eyes lit up and the corners of my mouth extended as far as they can go. This was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. This was Warped Tour.

Less Than Jake Warped Tour 2016 Photo: Erik Casarez

The lineup obviously looked very different then, but the emotions were all the same. I filled with glee watching The Ataris and Alien Ant Farm but stayed far away from the pit. I loved watching, but I was deathly afraid to venture in. I piled on some merch – a shirt with Less Than Jake as legos and a Less Than Jake poster – and while I felt good about the day, I didn’t feel completely satisfied. When Less Than Jake took the stage, I decided I needed to truly experience the day. So I threw my shirt in my backpack and gripped that poster with all my might and headed into the pit with Chris.

 

At first, I was uneasy, but with Chris’ guidance I started moving with the crowd and immediately assimilated. Some random asshole pushed this girl down near us and was immediately pushed away by Chris and this giant dude with liberty spikes. Chris and the liberty-spiked dude gave each other a friendly nod, affirming ‘hey we got each other’s back,’ and we were able to enjoy the rest of their set with no problems. It was a moment I’ll never forget because my cousin was a baseball player and didn’t fit in to any kind of punk fashion aesthetic[1] and the sense of community he shared with the punker dude relinquished any leftover feelings of alienation I felt. In the pit, it didn’t matter what you looked like or how you dressed, as long as you were respectful and just there to have a good time you were welcomed with open arms. This is what Warped Tour has always been about, to me.

 

I’m 30 years old now; older than my Uncle was the first year he took me. Even though I’ve missed a few here and there, Warped Tour has consumed more than half of my life and the experiences along the way have been some of my favorite. Whether it’s experiencing my first exposure to second hand marijuana smoke during 311, laughing at the irony of Anti-Flag sing anti-capitalist songs on a stage sponsored by Honda, watching Fat Mike swear that El Hefe was in the Bad News Bears during NOFX’s [2] set or Lagwagon dedicated “May 16” to anybody who owned a Playstation,[3] there are chock full of little memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Watching Flogging Molly play for the first time in the rain was an experience I never thought would move me as much as it did. Warped Tour 2002 was rainy and the main stages were under this giant pavilion but pit access was limited. This year, Chris took me so it was just us two. Having graduated high school, he felt a need to watch over me in all my pre-adolescence. We tried to stay in the pit all day but I made the mistake of drinking a large Sprite and had to pee. We never made it back in so we watched the rest of the main stage acts from the seats. Then Reel Big Fish came on. Three chords into “Beer” and several people rushed the rails and all jumped into the pit. The security guards were outnumbered; they couldn’t remove them all. I stared in awe, waiting for Chris to yell “Let’s go!” since he was the concert veteran. He stared in awe, waiting for me to go run up so if worse came to worse he wouldn’t be considered a bad influence. So we both just sat, waiting for each other to make the first move for the rail… until they ended their set. Missed Opportunity.

Reel Big Fish Warped Tour 2016 Photo: Erik Casarez

My first Warped Tour as a high school student came in 2003 where I graduated from having a babysitter to being dropped off and picked up at the front gate. I met up with some friends from school and swayed to Mad Caddies who played so early, hardly anybody was there. I developed a crush on Agent M from Tsunami Bomb and scream sang along to The Starting Line before finally watching Rancid play towards the end of the night. There was a weird transition this year wherein mohawks and patched jean jackets were being replaced by dudes in girl pants with straightened hair. 2003 was the grace period between Warped Tour the punk rock festival and Warped Tour the scene queen festival.

 

My first high school girlfriend was away at camp when Warped Tour came around in 2004. She was beyond upset she was going to miss it, so she gave me money to buy her either a Taking Back Sunday shirt or and Autopilot Off shirt. The TBS shirts were $25 and the Autopilot off shirts were $15, so I bought her an Autopilot Off shirt and used some of the money left over to buy myself an Early November shirt. Between this and having an asthma attack while making out with her to the Underdog EP by Yellowcard,[4] it’s no wonder she dumped me a month later. That date did end with a solidifying of one of my dearest friendships. Andy was just an acquaintance at the time but I like to think when I offered to hold his merch while he ran into the Thursday pit during “Autobiography of a Nation” that we became friends that day.

Yellowcard Warped Tour 2016 Photo: Erik Casarez

Warped Tour 2005 still goes down as my favorite of all the ones I’ve been to. I got a group of my dearest friends we all carpooled together. Between crossing off No Use For a Name[5] off my bucket list and getting down to Mxpx while my best friend Pruitt drooled over Mike Herrera, it was the most fun I had at a concert since my first Warped Tour. We took pictures with Senses Fail, made fun of Pete Wentz forcing expletives in his banter during Fallout Boy’s set[6] and even watched My Chemical Romance play an extended set that was super sloppy but raw and energetic and in hindsight, I regret that I didn’t appreciate it more back then. This was the last time I felt like the Warped Tour was a place I belonged: all my friends in one place soaking in the shitty Texas summer sun and singing along to our favorite bands. It was our last Warped Tour as high school students and while we knew we wouldn’t be the same after that, we didn’t realize Warped Tour wouldn’t either.

 

I ended my Warped Tour streak after the 2006 summer. I was introduced to Every Time I Die and got to see Against Me! for the first of many times. While I had a blast finally seeing Saves the Day and Motion City Soundtrack after years of missing out, this year was the first time I felt old; maybe not too old to be there, but too old to enjoy it as much as I had the previous year. It could have been the hangover of having the perfect time the year before or maybe it was just that the Warped Tour had moved on to the next generation of kids. I had literally started summer school for college weeks before and I thought this would have been a perfect sendoff.

Ever Time I Die Warped Tour 2016 Photo: Erik Casarez

I didn’t attend another Warped Tour for five years and while I went off an on and enjoyed myself for the most part, it never felt the same. But I mean that in a good way really. Warped Tour was there for me during my formative years and it really shaped the person I am today, socially and culturally. When I say I grew out of Warped Tour, I don’t mean that in a condescending way I mean that it was there when I needed it the most, but now I don’t need it as much as these younger kids needed it. It makes me happy to know that for at least one day in the summer, there was place kids like me could go to listen to our favorite bands, meet new people, and strengthen the friendships we already established. This is Warped Tour.


[1] In hindsight, he looked more like a Dave Matthews fan than somebody who rocked Bad Religion

[2] Or more recently, telling everyone that Underoath doesn’t believe in dinosaurs

[3] “May 16” was on the soundtrack for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

[4] I also had an asthma attack while watching Yellowcard that day at Warped Tour, now that I think about it. I told her “you literally took my breath away.” She wasn’t amused.

[5] RIP Tony Sly

[6] “If somebody falls down, you fucking pick them up”

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