The Vans Warped Tour, 2004: Peace, Love, and Punk Rock
Ross Gordon
7/22/2004 6:41:40 PM

Punk rock has come a long way from its anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-everything roots. Or has it? This year’s Vans Warped Tour in St. Louis busted up some punk rock misconceptions, proved others, and placed most punks, St. Louis punks, at least, in a, well… civilized light. While several people fainted from the heat (110 degree heat index), and most everyone got sunburned, no one left feeling financially burned from this quality event (okay, maybe a little burned from the $15 UMB parking fee, but the $30 ticket price was justified).

Backed by the skater shoe label Vans, this was the 10th Warped Tour running. Where Lollapalooza failed, where Ozzfest overdoes it, the Vans Warped Tour carries on because of their no-BS attitude: they’ve got reasonably priced merchandise ($10 T-shirts! $1 and $10 CDs), authentic, no-frills punk rock shows, impressive sporting demonstrations (skateboarding and BMX stars), and in lieu of the main stage at UMB Bank Pavilion, Vans set up lots of small, accessible mini-stages that don’t spend thousands on light effects and set design.

Savvy marketers were still out and about, though. As an alternative to the traditional merchandise booths (although there were plenty of those too), people cruised around with Walkmen and Ipods and asked kids at random to listen to their bands. Never were so many Mohawks spotted in one arena. True to the punk ethic, moshing and crowd-surfing were allowed and actually encouraged at this event; a stunning improvement for the B&D Security-watched event. The enormous crowd raised the temperature (unfortunately), ensured many rowdy moshpits, created long lines, and made it hard to move from one stage to another; thus making it nearly impossible to see all the music you were there to see. Oh well. Here are a few lines on those that impressed us, one way or the other:

Billy Talent ruled the first part of the day. This Canadian punk band sounds like no one else and supplied the energy to get the crowds going.

Even though about 40% of these bands are actually “emo,” the punk bands and the crowd with all their tattoos, piercings, spiked hair and Mohawks show the fierce side of Warped Tour 2004.

Best of the show was Anti-Flag, one of the small handful of bands there that are a real punk band and not emo. This Pittsburgh-based outfit’s regular drummer, Pat Thetic, had to take a few personal days off from the tour, but his shoes were well-filled by another guy from a band also on the tour. Anti-Flag gave the crowd an adrenaline rush higher than the temperature of the asphalt that day. The most politically outspoken of the bands there, they called out against the war and in support the civil right to gay marriage, and got everyone chanting “Fuck Bush!” over and over.

Authentic punkers such as NOFX, Bad Religion, the Bouncing Souls and [former Rancid leader’s new Solo work] Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards seemed to attract the older punks; while the kids gravitated toward new, radio-friendly emo bands such as Yellowcard and Story of the Year. NOFX reminded us what true punk rock is, and they had the biggest mosh pit of the day. Their stage was decorated in happy little puppets that singer “Fat” Mike said they picked up from a truck stop the night before.

Flogging Molly brought an interesting and entertaining, albeit weird, perspective to the show with their plaid clothes, suspenders, drinking on stage, and accordion-based punk with Irish vocals.

Letter Kills showed that punk rock can have a softer side, as they actually achieved things like harmony and layers to their alternative-tinged music. Think punk rock with hip, scratchy vocals and a brain.

The Playstation 2 van afforded the lucky concert goers who could squeeze in some air-conditioned comfort and a mental diversion from the physical pain of the scorching heat. Other opportunities for playtime included free scooter rides and, of course, the chance to witness skateboard greats like Anthony Furlong, Darin Jenkins, Jon Comer, Mike Frazier, and Neal Hendrix do stale fish grabs, rock ‘n roll slides, and front- and back-side airs on the giant 13 ft. vert ramp. BMXers Paul Zitzer and Rick Thorne also wowed the crowd with their intense tricks.

So, you’ve heard about the anti-government stuff. Where’s the peace and love? There was the Take Action! Stage, a tour-within-the-tour organized to support the National Hopeline Network, a crisis counseling service. A Reverse Daycare tent allowed parents of rocking kids get away from the noise and the heat, and even get a relaxing massage! Bands all custom-decorated a set of white Vans slip-ons and cell-phones, to be auctioned off for charity. We saw no fights. Bands and roadies invited some of the younger kids backstage to cool off, have a free cold drink, and meet some of the guys. We even saw one guy who noticed a kid didn’t have enough money to buy a CD, and he picked up the tab. And best of all, everyone left with a smile on their face. How cool is that?


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