FITCHBURG -- Bouncing Souls , a four-piece punk-rock ensemble, took the main stage at the Vans Warped Tour at 4 Wednesday afternoon. The thermometer at the Fitchburg Municipal Airport , where Warped was headquartered for the 40th date of its summer tour, read a sweltering 99 degrees.
``Welcome to Africa!" lead singer Greg Attonito shouted to the rowdy crowd. Attonito's white dress shirt was already transparent with sweat. He wiped his face with a blue towel.
``Man, it's Kenya-hot," one of the band's guitarists chimed in.
As Bouncing Souls launched into another furious, lightning-fast song, a cyclone of dust began to rise from the mosh pit in front of the stage. Teenage boys and girls were periodically buoyed up to surf the crowd. When they surfed too close to the stage, they got pulled down by burly security guards in orange shirts.
At the end of Bouncing Souls' set the crowd wandered off to see Motion City Soundtrack on the adjacent stage, leaving a large wasteland of dirt and crushed plastic water bottles where the mosh pit used to be. Sixteen-year-old Dave Pierce's bare chest, still heaving from the excitement of crowd surfing, was brown with dust and sweat.
``I'm so light I get shot right up in the air," Pierce said enthusiastically. (An audience member posted a message on the tour's official website yesterday claiming to have broken her jaw crowd-surfing during a performance by The Academy Is . . . .)
At a small, shaded kiosk near the stage, audience members took a break from the music to buy $3 bottles of Simply H20 Purified Water from a very tan, very athletic woman named Julia. Julia, who asked that her last name not be printed, is traveling across the country with the tour.
``I've been doing Warped for a long time, and this is the hottest we've ever had in Massachusetts," she said. ``Phoenix or Scottsdale, maybe."
A teenager with a ring through his lip walked up to the kiosk, dipped his hands into one of the plastic garbage bins of ice water keeping the Simply H20 cold, and popped a few ice cubes in his mouth. Julia sprayed him in the face with a plastic squirt bottle. She'd been working at this kiosk since 11 a.m. and would be here until the last band left the stage around 9 p.m.
``I dip my hat into the water to keep cool," she said, pointing to the garbage bins. ``And I'm in the shade."
By the time '80s rock icons Joan Jett and the Blackhearts , one of the festival's most popular acts, took the main stage around 6, the temperature had cooled to 87 degrees and the flow of dehydrated patients into the tour's first-aid stations had nearly stopped. (About 200 people were treated for dehydration over the course of the day, according to the tour's organizers.)
``Ooh, we got some cloud cover now," said Jett, who was wearing her trademark black bikini top and black leather pants. ``But we still want you to sweat!"
Jett's audience sweated enthusiastically to ``I Love Rock N' Roll " and ``Crimson and Clover" as well as tracks off her new album, ``Sinner."
On ``Riddles," the first song on ``Sinner," Jett skewered Bush administration doublespeak in her raw, angry, yet surprisingly playful voice. Toward the end of the song, Donald Rumsfeld's disembodied voice made a guest appearance, delivering his infamous `` known knowns" soliloquy.
Anti-Bush agitprop was in the air at the Warped Tour. The hard core punk group Anti-Flag declared Bush ``the worst president this country has ever had." ``Rock Against Bush," volumes 1 and 2, featuring antiwar songs by Anti-Flag, Bouncing Souls, and others, were on sale at the Fat Wreck Chords tent.
Near the end of its set, Anti-Flag tried to turn coping with the Fitchburg heat into some sort of metaphor for the current unpleasantness in the Middle East.
``Right here, today, this community set an example for the rest of the world!" front man Justin Sane screamed at the crowd.
The crowd screamed back, but it was hard to hear what they were saying.
Michael Hardy can be reached at email@example.com.