Graham: Warped Tour headed to parking lot in the sky

It’s time to say farewell to the enduring traveling punk rock festival, which will bow out after next year’s tour

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

After 22 years, the Vans Warped Tour is ready to sing its skate punk swan song.

A summertime rite of passage for teenage punk rock fans, the Warped Tour bit the dust this week when producer and founder Kevin Lyman announced the 2018 tour will be the final full-scale go-round for the traveling punk rock fest.

A fan crowd surfs at the 2013 Warped Tour at the the Palace of Auburn Hills.

With it goes a little piece of rock history, along with a whole lot of memories of heat, pavement and flailing limbs in mosh pits.

Warped Tour launched in 1995, carving out a niche for itself alongside other traveling music festivals of the day, including the alt-rock leaning Lollapalooza, the jam band-heavy H.O.R.D.E. Festival and the heavy metal outing Ozzfest.

Warped outlived those fests and then some, because in a sense it never got old. To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused,” we got older, but Warped stayed the same age.

Warped catered primarily to 15-year-olds, both then and now, and for many kids it was their first concert experience away from their parents. Those parents would inevitably be lined up at the end of the day to pick up their little rockers, especially when the fest was held in downtown Detroit in Comerica Park’s parking lot in the mid-to-late ’00s.

Katy Perry played one of those Comerica Warped Tours, in her “I Kissed a Girl” days, before she started selling out arenas on her own. Warped was the first major tour for scores of marquee artists like Perry; alums include Eminem, Kid Rock, Green Day, No Doubt, Blink 182, My Chemical Romance, Weezer, Fall Out Boy and plenty of others.

Warped always seemed to fall on the hottest day of the summer, and throngs of teens would be sporting beet red sunburned faces by sundown. They didn’t care, they were at Warped, just like their older brothers and sisters before them, and their aunts and uncles before them.

Ticket prices for Warped were kept low, and the tour worked on a democratic scheduling system. Set times were posted first thing in the morning, so you had to show up early or risk missing your favorite band if they happened to go on when doors opened at 11 a.m.

Locally, the Warped Tour migrated between several sites, and it managed to outlive most of those, too. It started at the Phoenix Plaza Amphitheatre in Pontiac, moved to Comerica Park, did at least a year at the Silverdome and, in recent years, unfolded in the Palace of Auburn Hills parking lot.

The fest was not without its controversies. During this year’s run, the tour came under scrutiny when a video of Dickies frontman Leonard Graves Phillips calling a female audience member an aggressively foul term and leading the crowd in a chant against her went viral; in 2015, the tour allowed Jake McElfresh (aka Front Porch Step) to perform after he was caught allegedly using social media to solicit nude pictures from underage fans.

Sure, punk rock and controversy go hand in hand, but these instances cast a negative light on Warped. As the world shifts its perspectives on prominent social issues, Warped was beginning to look crusty, and perhaps Lyman’s getting out at the right time.

And times have changed. Rock music, punk or otherwise, is no longer the sound of the youth, as hip-hop and electronic dance music have taken that torch. America’s 15-year-olds will endure; they’ll still find that first big concert where they can branch out on their own, it just won’t be Warped.

And maybe this time they’ll wear sunscreen.

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