The Vans Warped Tour, which has been a summertime institution since 1995, is in its final run. 2018 will be the last one. I grew up as a skateboarder and a punk rocker, so I can’t believe I had never been to one of these things. In the earlier days, they would have giant skate ramps and demos along with the mega-lineup of punk bands. Over the years it settled into being a day-long festival with multiple stages of punk, metal and alternative rock. A few years ago, my daughter asked me to take her to one of these but we never seemed to have a date in our area that worked. This year, I finally made it to the Vans Warped Tour stop in Columbia, MD on July 29th.
My daughter is just a few days shy of her eighteenth birthday. The Warped Tour landed in my area on a Sunday, so we made the plan to go. I am not a music festival fan. I like my rock n roll in dark, small clubs. But Warped is a single day, no camping required, lots of decent bands and I was looking forward to it. Our first stroke of luck was good weather. It was mid-eighties, crystal clear skies and not too humid. Normally the DMV (DC-MD-VA) region is hot and humid as heck with thunderstorms every evening about this time of year. Columbia, MD is home to a venue called the Merriweather Post Pavilion, about two hours from where I live. We headed out at 8:00 a.m., got in line at 10:00 and got in slightly early, at about 10:45 because we donated canned food and got in the “early entry” line. So here’s what you need to know about my experience at Vans Warped 2018, including some tips:
There were six stages and probably 50 bands. The set times for each band are not announced until the morning of the show when you get there. The website said there would be a huge scoreboard-style display of the schedule, but at our stop, there was only photo-copied handouts which people were standing in a long line to get for $2. We instead got a nice young lady to let us take a photo of hers – no line, no $2. Good start.
It is important to note that each band starts EXACTLY on time and plays for EXACTLY 30 minutes. With a schedule now comfortably stored on my daughter’s phone, we laid out our plan. Where to be and when was critical. For example, my daughter’s top priority was to see Waterparks, a pop-punk outfit from Texas. We plotted to get to that stage just as the prior band was ending so we could plow to the front while people were leaving (there was a thirty minute break between bands). It worked perfectly. All day long, we got good spots near the front when we wanted them, and relaxed toward the back when we needed a break.
My top choice for the day was a band called Palaye Royale. Their stage was one of the smaller ones and the crowd wasn’t huge, so we had no problems seeing them. They were spectacular by the way. Definitely an act to see live.
One of our other priorities was a band called Motionless In White. They played on a stage in a hot parking lot with a huge crowd and no shade in sight, so we were in the back for that one. They inspire a pretty intense mosh pit as well, which we were not up for.
The merch tables were awesome. You could spend A LOT of money just visiting all the great merch tents. The food was not very good and beers were $11 so I did not drink anything but water all day.
It’s worth noting that the kids at Vans love to crowd surf. So if you get up front, like we did for Waterparks, be ready to hoist some sweaty bodies over your head. You don’t want the be that person that drops someone. That’s not cool. Crowd surfing was non-stop at almost every set we saw.
As luck would have it, our well thought out plan for the day had the last couple of hours primarily at the biggest stage, which is in the big pavilion, under cover in the shade.
We saw one band that was totally out of character. They were called This Wild Life. They joked about being a soft rock band; a white trash acoustic duo, I think they said. They played guitars and kick drums. It was just two of them. They were mellow but very good and a nice change of pace. My daughter met them and picked up their $5 CD, signed of course. The tip here is to keep an open mind, you never know who you might discover you like. There’s a ton of bands at Warped, and you wouldn’t likely know them all.
When all was said and done, we saw, in this order, the following bands: The Maine, Waterparks, Palaye Royale, Motionless In White, Real Friends, This Wild Life, Movements, Falling In Reverse. The music began at 11:30 a.m. and went until 9:00 p.m. At 30 minutes per set, we saw 4 hours of live music (plus smatterings of multiple other bands). We bought some souvenirs, we ate a little food and we had an awesome day. My kid leaves for college in a few days, so the chance to spend an entire day with her, bonding over our shared love of music was priceless.
The Vans Warped Tour will likely be over and done for good before you read this, but if it comes back, I recommend it if you have the right person to attend with. Luckily, I did.
Ricki and JCE (John, to his friends & family) first bonded over their shared mutual love of Boston's Finest Sons - The Neighborhoods - and everything extended out from that rock & roll ripple. JCE lives in Culpeper, Virginia with his wife & daughter, and thinks a long-rumored new Neighborhoods record being released in 2018 would make this a perfect year.