For the past 15 years, the Vans Warped Tour has been barreling through city after city across the globe creating punk rockers out of boy scouts and riot grrls out of band geeks.
The traveling punk, hardcore and emo road show has been coming to Houston since 1995. The first taste local punks got of founder Kevin Lyman's tour was at the AstroArena, starring such future luminaries as No Doubt, Sublime and the Deftones, along with members of the old guard like Sick Of It All and L7.
Everyone who is a veteran Warped attendee, even of they only went once, has a story to tell. Most involve baking on the concrete of the Astrodome complex and getting awful sunburns, but generally having your musical universe expanded. For kids who weren't yet old enough to inhabit clubs like Fitzgerald's, the Abyss or Instant Karma, the Warped Tour was an easy all-in-one way to meet folks like you and discover new bands along the way.
Rocks Off's first Warped Tour was in 1999, and as a nascent punk rocker it was a godsend. That first year, we had no identity when it came to punk rock. We came that first year wearing a pukka-shell necklace and shell-toed Adidas. By the next year, we were wearing cut-up black Dickies and smoking cigarettes next to the Hellcat Records tent, trying to talk to Brody from the Distillers, and proudly wielding a caustic smirk that only a teenage punker can get away with.
The Warped Tour today is a drastically evolving animal. Each year it seemed to get more corporate and middling in its line-up. Older punks stopped coming when bands like Agnostic Front dropped out of the Warped lexicon. Meanwhile, bands like NOFX and Bad Religion still made the summer-long jaunt, but with less vigor.
Kids born in the '90s don't seem to get the older bands, with the lyrical content steeped in depressing world events or erratic drug use. The newer groups like the Maroon 5-esque I Set My Friends on Fire or teen harlots Millionaires use Auto-Tune to the nth degree and are more likely rep artists like mewithoutyou or Paramore as musical touchstones rather than Green Day or Rancid.
We asked some of Houston's music illuminati (mostly regulars on the Hands Up Houston message board
) about their cherished Warped stories. Most have fond memories, while others are more hilariously lurid and filled with various embarrassing bodily functions.
"For the first couple of years at the AstroArena they held the entire show indoors, splitting the headlining bands between the arena itself and two side-by-side stages in the AstroHall. This insured that there was no rainout, and also insured that every band sounded like they were playing in an echo chamber.
"NOFX played the arena stage at the end of the day, and announced that they were refunding their share of the day's ticket prices since it was supposed to be an outdoor festival and the sound sucked. With the help of the Aquabats, NOFX then threw $5,000 in cash over the entire floor and played their set to a room full of people scrambling like mad to get the money.
"NOFX also announced that they'd be celebrating one of their birthdays that night at Emo's, but that they knew it wouldn't matter since nobody at Warped Tour was old enough to get in.
"I also remember taking my little brother a few years later to see his first Mighty Mighty Bosstones set (he loved 'em), and during the show someone was fired out of a cannon over the audience. Some dude threw beer or something at [singer] Dicky Barrett, and he jumped offstage and chased the guy all through the entire parking lot. My brother asked if this was typical. I said, 'Kinda, except for the cannon.'"
"I went to the first one and had an awesome time. That whole show was indoors at the AstroArena. Fluf played first and just killed it, and yes, they played 'Peanut Butter.'
I remember O telling me how excited he was to finally go to Astroworld. I just didn't have the heart to tell him it was lame. Seaweed was at the top of their game. Bob was still on drums, and they just killed it. Quicksand was awesome as well and Sick of it All was bitchin'.
"As for the low points, Sugar Ray and local band the Jinkies (yuck). L7 played but it was the worst L7 show I have ever seen."
Rex, 10th Grade Cutie:
"That time when it got rained out a few years ago. I was thankful for that because that morning I had the most intense hangover I've ever had.
"The next day's emasculated indoor Warped Tour was a huge clusterfuck with muddy noise throughout and for some reason I wound up sitting through Meg and Dia's set while looking for a friend who, come to find out, had been toking up with the Unseen. I was trying to find where Novista was playing so I could throw shit at them and make fun of their bassist for looking like a douche-version of Jeff Goldblum."
Daniel Mee, the Jonx; Houston Press/Rocks Off contributor:
"I saw Social Distortion on the '97 tour in Atlanta. I remember Mike Ness telling some story about hanging out with his friends and running into groups of jocks or some other non-punk stereotype and getting into fights. He ended the story with: 'Sometimes we got our asses kicked . . . but sometimes we beat the FUCK out of 'em!'
"Big cheer, song starts. The story was nothing but the punk version of canned stage banter and my brother played me a tape later on where he gave the exact same speech, right down to 'Sometimes we beat the FUCK out of 'em!'"
Rad Rich, Houston hardcore legend:
"Seeing Ice T and Suicidal Tendencies play together and watching Nazi skinheads get kicked out and them driving off in a big pick-up truck. The afterparty was held at the bar next to Lola's, where nobody showed up."
Jill McKee, PR agent, Meridian:
"I was selling merch, and unexpectedly, and to my horror, I split my shorts up the back when I bent down to grab a box of shirts. I will be forever in debt to the Surfrider Foundation, which was in the booth next to me. They gave me a sarong to tie around my waist. I still have it today."
"So I was waiting in the ticket line with my friend who will remain nameless. We were attempting to get the backstage passes that New Found Glory had left for us. (This was like ten years ago, and yes I'm a little embarrassed.)
"When we reached the front of the line, we were told that NFG had canceled that date along with several others due to the singer's illness, therefore there were no backstage passes to acquire. We decided to regroup and figure out what to do. Ultimately we resigned to purchasing tickets.
"While in our second wait in line my friend started to feel a little queasy. We had gotten seriously ham-boned the night before. So there we were waiting behind ten or so people in the scorching heat and my friend starts vomiting on the pavement, splatters and all. The people in line and within sight of this display were totally disgusted, some beyond words.
"Then I heard somebody say, 'Sick, that dude just puked up a cigarette butt!' Sure enough, there was a bile logged butt that hadn't been on the ground prior to the incident. Gnarly, to say the least. At any rate, we braved the heat and tried to enjoy ourselves. It fucking sucked for the most part."
"The highlight of the day was hanging out with Saves The Day in their tour van drinking warm beers and smoking joint after joint of really poor-quality weed. At one point we were talking about how stupid MxPx is, and they walked right by us."