It's that time of year again, when dozens of top punk, metal and alt-rock bands descend upon South Florida for an exhilaratingly loud and decadent all-day festival. Since 1995, the Vans Warped Tour - a traveling circus featuring a skateboard ramp, great food and drink, extreme sports and all kinds of educational and environmental booths - has gathered modern-rock's cream of the crop, and introduced a surprisingly diverse array of new talent to the world before they broke big, including Eminem, No Doubt, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Sublime and My Chemical Romance.
This perennial mix of up-and-coming and established acts has won the tour the unofficial title of "punk rock summer camp" for its sense of community, camaraderie and the unfortunate sharing of overheated Port-A-Pottys. The lineup this year features top alt-rock bands including Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, New Found Glory, Breathe Carolina, Yellowcard and dozens more names you haven't heard of, but might be jamming to for the next decade. Oh, and don't be fashionably late, or you might miss your favorite act - bands aren't told their set times until the morning of each show.
Shaun Cooper, bass player for the New York post-hardcore band Taking Back Sunday, which rejoins Warped for the first time since 2004, talked about life on the tour and what fans can expect from their set.
How's the tour going so far?
It's been awesome - we've been having a lot of fun. It's a long one - we just had a run of 11 shows straight, then one day off, then an extra seven. So it's been a little bit grueling, but we've got a lot of friends on the tour and the crowds have been amazing, so it's a good time.
How long do you guys get to play, and what can fans expect?
Unfortunately, we've got a really quick 35 minutes, and we try to cram in as many songs as we can, usually about 10 songs. It's kinda rough, because some of our songs are over three minutes and then we have an intro that takes a couple minutes just to get us out there. So it's not a lot of talk, and a whole lot of just playing, trying to go out there and just kill it and play all the songs that people wanna hear in that amount of time.
So you just bang through the hits?
Yeah, that's what people came to see, especially on this tour when they know we only have a certain amount of time. We don't want to play songs people haven't heard before. This is technically the third time we've been on the tour - we did two or three shows in 2003, the entire tour in 2004, and now we're doing it again.
Why the long break? And what brought you back this time?
I don't know - I think the timing was just right for us. We've done a lot of headlining tours, and the fall will be kind of the end of our record cycle before we go in and write some more music, so it just kind of worked out well. We're excited about a lot of the bands on the tour this year, too, and were just excited to get out there and play for these giant audiences every day for the entire summer.
Describe the sense of community the bands develop over the months together.
You're all kind of in it together - there are so many hardships that are shared. I mean, you're all sharing the same awful Port-A-Pottys that are 115-120 degrees. A couple of bands have showers on their buses, but you see people with the bag showers and using cans to shower, and it's like, "Yeah, man, I know what you're going through, brother."
But there are barbecues every night and you run into new people and talk and share your experiences and stuff, which is nice, so there's a good sense of community. We're fortunate to have a lot of old friends on the tour, like New Found Glory - we've been friends with those guys for a million years. And we're making new friends, with the guys from We the Kings and All Time Low, so that's great, too.
Is it rough not knowing your set times from day to day?
No, you grow to learn that there's good and bad about each set time from day to day - like when you play later, that's cool because the sun will go down and you're not sweating as much out there. But then you have the whole band sitting around all day not doing much of anything, so it can be frustrating. And if you play early and get it out of the way, you're just sitting there in the parking lot for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, though, we've been around so long that I don't know that we'll ever have to play in that 11:30 a.m. time slot when the doors are opening - the younger bands have to do that. The best part of your day is when you're up there on that stage, with that release. When that's over, the best part of your day is over, so that's why it's better to play a little bit later.
How's the party scene on tour?
Well, we all drink - don't get me wrong. But it's more sedate - we're all married men, so we kind of just sit together or hang out with the friends we know. No one's hunting for girls or anything. No one's taking a crazy amount of shots - I like to just pace it out with a beer or two throughout the day, and then I'm tired at the end of the night, drinking water, brushing my teeth, putting on my pajamas and maybe reading a little on my Kindle before bed. Not very rock star-like, but it's what we've kind of evolved into after all this time.
Taking Back Sunday