Warped Tour greets the cool world
This article was originally published in the Boston Globe on August 1, 1996.
NORTHAMPTON -- The first tip-off that the Warped Tour is different was the seemingly genuine and unsolicited smile from the gatekeeper, 250 pounds if he weighed an ounce, with arms like lamb haunches.
If he had a bouncer face, that mask of icy eyes and intimidating scowl, he didn't wear it -- there was no need. What sets the Warped Tour apart from the summer festival lineup is what's missing. There's no attitude. No egos. No crypto-fascist security force. No bad karma.
The Warped Tour is a celebration of music and movement, a buffet of punk, funk, ska and skateboard culture. It also could be the most relaxed tour on the summer festival circuit, a no-hassles, no-headaches zone that seems immune from the mood-deflating woes that plague some big-venue shows. When it cruises into the Barnstable City Fairgrounds in Falmouth on Saturday, it's likely to carry the same vibe. As John (Norwood) Fisher of Fishbone put it, ``This is the epitome of musicians just kickin' it.''
It's an incongruous, intriguing combination of serenity and sonic fury that falls into place with show-capping sets by Fishbone and Boston's own Mighty Mighty Bosstones. There will certainly be other highlights: the hi-pop-ska of the Dance Hall Crashers, amps-on-11 sets from NOFX, the Figgs and Pennywise, old-school-meets-new ska from Rocket From the Crypt. It's a long day, with up to 16 bands performing one after the other for eight hours, so audience members pick their moments to be animated and when to downshift into rest mode.
Resting comfortably -- that described a knot of five friends from Whitman who drove cross-state to catch the Northampton show. After performances by New York-based punk traditionalists CIV and LA-based Rocket From the Crypt across the field, they were waiting for the band they came to see: ``The Bosstones,'' they said in unison.
``The other bands are good, too, but they're not the reason we drove two hours to get here,'' said Jeremy Mulligan, 18. He and his friends are probably representative of a large part of the Warped Tour audience, many of whom are too young or too far away to see these acts perform in clubs. This all-ages package deal enabled Matt Evans to get his first look at Fishbone. ``I had heard of them but never saw them,'' Evans, 18, said. Tuesday's show was the first for Dan Langley, 15, who endured the predictable ``first-time'' comments and good-natured teasing from friends Dennis Callow, 16, and Bill Bryan, 19.
That age range was probably representative of a large part of the just over 5,000 -- not including babies and dogs -- in the audience at Tuesday's show. The Warped Tour also stands out from the pack by including more than a token nod to nonmusical elements of youth culture. The skateboard scene -- which embraces bicycle motorcross and a recent cross-pollination with in-line skating -- is necessarily youth-centered. Eitan Kramer, 18, is one of the tour's resident in-line skaters. The motley patchwork of tan scabs, red scrapes and purple bruises along his elbows and forearms should be proof enough that the wheeled world is the domain of young men and women.
Only Kramer and his mirror know what grisly shade his left hip is after the hard spill he took on Tuesday. He smacked full weight into the deck of the high-walled half-pipe ramp, a structure shaped like a squashed U to enable skaters and riders to do aerial acrobatics as they zip up the walls. Even as he shook off the pain, he explained why he likes his current summer job.
``I like to be able to skate and have fun and not have to worry about placing and competing,'' said Kramer, who has also skated in the ESPN-sponsored alterna-lympics, the X-Games. Being Warped, said Kramer, ``I get to hang out, listen to bands, meet people in a new city every day.''
For the audience, there is always something going on during that eight-hour playday. After the skating gets old, there are rock climbers to watch on the portable artificial wall. When one grows weary of learning the ropes, there are video games to play. Sprinkled between these attractions and the stages are kiosks selling food, stereo equipment, T-shirts and footwear. (The tour is sponsored by Vans, Southern California-based makers of sneakers and snowboard boots.)
Southern California is ground zero of skate culture, and its accompanying sense of supreme calm is supposed to be a defining characteristic of So-Cal cool. On this tour, the stereotype seems to apply across the board; Kramer is from New York. If any band on the Warped tour could judge the level of mellowness, it would be Fishbone, veterans of the all-inclusive ska-skate-funk-punk scene.
Backstage, there's a noticeable lack of stiffness and rules, a feeling far more free-flowing than the quasi-military precision of Lollapalooza. On the Warped tour, said Norwood, ``All the bands have either played with each other before or, at the least, know the others by name or music. It keeps down the ego. Bands aren't in competition with each other. Maybe that's a '90s thing.''
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones joined the Warped Tour in Northampton after a mind-mellowing stint in a Woodstock, N.Y., recording studio. ``We were asked to do the whole tour, but just couldn't even though we wanted to,'' Bosstones horn player Tim Burton said, bobbing his head to the Dance Hall Crashers. The band's five-show segment will end just after Falmouth. The flexible lineup is indicative of the whole tour mindset, tour producer Kevin Lyman said.
``There aren't a lot of barriers here, either for the audience or the bands,'' Lyman said, speaking of mental hindrances as well as physical. ``We don't herd everybody around and try to control them. We just get young people without preconcieved notions of what a road tour should be.''
The freedom backstage seems to carry over into the crowd -- it's possible that this is the birth of the cool. Performers mingle with the audience before and after their sets. Skaters dispense tips and demonstrate them. Overall, the moshing seemed to be less frenzied and more friendly.
``A lot of days we just barbecue out back after the show's over,'' Lyman said. ``It's like punk-rock summer camp.''