Deathly screams came from cars sitting in the line of traffic, kids in tight cut off jeans and cut off tee’s to match would walk by with backpacks and imitation Ray Bans, and I watched as spot by spot the parking lot of the Monmouth Park Raceway began to fill and look like that game Unblock Me. It was a sight to see while walking up to get my press tickets. Personally, I have been to about four other Warped Tours back when they were held at Raceway Park and I think I’ve seen it all. But when I say, “a sight to see,” I mean that kids didn’t look the same as when I went. Hot Topic’s extra vibrant look must have been replaced by trendier clothes. Girls were wearing symbols of sparrows and owls, not skulls and demons. The boys rocked shirts about mustaches and plain colored v-necks rather than black shirts that say, “The voices in my head told me to do it.” This was just the first thing I noticed of course.
Walking in, I did an initial walk around to get myself familiar with the new set up. I observed a few changes in the atmosphere that weren’t traditional to previous Warped Tours.
A booth to charge your sell phone ($5)
A “Reverse Day Care” for parents
Set lists for SALE, not for free ($2)
A mini Kia dealership smack dab in the middle of the entire concert
An copious amount of organization dedicated to making a positive change for society
Besides the fact that there was a strange shift of corporate hands placing little landmarks of themselves here, my chest expanded for what occupies number 5 on my list. It was beautiful. Maybe it’s in the water, but these kids were mature and aware of the speed bumps that exits down our broad roads of life. I saw a tent for (and this is to just name a few) “Boarding for Breast Cancer,” Klean Kanteen, Action For Animals, Music Saves Lives, Keep A Breast, and the non-profit veterans To Write Love On Her Arms. It’s truly an amazing thing to see kids really getting excited and involved with all of these organizations with such humility.
Kim Vigilotti, 23, stated,”I think non-profit organizations are great, and this shows that people have more ambition and thrive to stand up for what they believe in!”
I was fortunate enough to sit down with current member, Jason Blades, from To Write Love On Her Arms and talk to him a little bit about the organization:
Q: This non-profit is really such a great and amazing organization that I believe has blossomed into something so much more than we all could have imagined. Tell me about the start up, the back-story behind it all and how you guys got it off the ground.
J: TWLOHA started in February 2006 by just trying to help a friend and sell some t-shirts to try and pay for her treatment. From there we took the story of her struggles and redemption and put it on our MySpace, and from there we just got a bunch of people responding that were able to connect to her and her story and relate to it as their own or as family members. From there, John Forman was the first person to ever wear our t-shirt at one of our college shows at Boca Raton, and from there people just kept messaging our MySpace asking how they can get involved and what they can do.
Q: How is it when you see the hundreds of kids at your shows wearing your gear, when you get that “thank you for saving my life” in an anonymous email, or when you realize how many people you’ve touched with your hope?
J: I think sometimes I have the best job because I get to come out here and connect with everybody that comes to the tent that either has a story of redemption or a story of struggle that they’ve overcome or even just curiosity. So everyday I have kids come up and I just feel so blessed to be here and be in the frontlines where I get to see everyone. I’d say that’s the reason we do what we’re doing, to be able to connect with people. None of us are councilors or trainers, but I think we’re all trained in ways to address depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide and in a way that is encouraging for them to seek help and points them in the right direction and really just makes that first step the easiest step, which is usually the hardest.
Q: Working so close with these issues, do you feel as if things have gotten better? I understand issues don’t just dissolve, but I was wondering if you’ve seen a change of pace with these issues? Anything new/different?
J: I think with these issues there’s still a really strong stigma that’s associated with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide and that’s what keeps people in the dark from seeking help. I think we’ve seen that we can definitely reduce that stigma and help people get help and let them know that their less alone or less afraid to seek help. We’ve definitely seen that change, having people reach out and seek help.
Q: Did you ever think that To Write Love On Her Arms would be as big as it is now? That your story would be heard around the world through the biggest megaphone ever?
J: I’ve heard our founder talk about this a lot and I know we never intended to be like that. We just wanted to help someone. We realized what ended up being one young girl’s story turned out to be a lot of peoples’ stories and a lot of people were just able to connect with her struggles and her pain and also her hope and redemption. We never intended to be this big and I think that once we saw the need and there is a spot where this needs to be fulfilled we just kept working towards this. And instead of selling this t-shirt to pay for this one girl’s treatment, all the money that we make we invest directly into treatment centers, recovery centers. And our main goal is really to connect people with this and really to let them know that they’re not alone, and to be honest and open so people can communicate with these issues.
Q: Is there any story in particular that has really proved to you that you were meant to start this organization? Was there ever a situation that made an impact on you or is each one of its own?
J: I think every situation is unique and even every person that comes up to he tent. At this tent we have this project called “Fear Vs. Dream,” basically we invite people to share their greatest fear and biggest dream and even those tell a story. You can look through all of these and seeing that this one says, “to be alone.” You want to know the story of where this person is coming from and why they wrote that. I think it’s just powerful writing this, “to be alone and forgotten.” And each person that comes up has their own story so when they share this, this is being vulnerable and every time somebody comes up to share anything, it’s so powerful and that’s why we’re here and why we continue to do what we’re doing. We believe that each person’s story is very important and it’s crucial to them continuing, living, surviving, and that their story is just as important as your story and the next person’s. It’s hard to pinpoint one, but I’d say that say that everybody that comes up its just everyday, every kid, every person is powerful.
Q: Do you feel going through music is a good outlet?
J: There are probably about 10-15 thousand people here today and out of all these people I can get 8,ooo people come to the tent, and 8,000 today, and 8,000 tomorrow, and that adds up during the summer. And anytime you can reach out to a diverse crowd of people in one day, I think it’s so powerful. Especially in a festival like this kids are curious, kids want to know what we’re about so it kinda is hopeful because you kinda get this sense that these kids are activists, these kids want to change their generation, they want to make things better and so being at these festivals is so good because we can reach so many people and music has that way of bringing a diverse crowd of people together, it’s a common denominator. And that’s why we come here because with music you can reach so many more people and there’s really no other place you can do that except for the internet. And 90% of what we do is over the internet because we get different people all over the world, all over the country and when we’re not physically where they are encouraging them to seek and find help then we have all these resources on our website for the to reach out to. We’ve answered something like over 250,000 emails and been able to donate like close to a million dollars to treatment centers or recovery centers. So if sometimes we’re not in a given location where we’re not able to reach out physically, we can always just reach out online and I think especially nowadays when the internet is so easy more many people. It provides a sense of facelessness. People are even less afraid to reach out to someone who’s online because here there’s no face, there’s no shame, and it’s way easier. That’s why the internet is so powerful to us.
Aside from the amazing non-profits that flooded the concert, the music surrounded you from every side possible, pouring in and out of your ears like swimmer’s ear. You were submerged and sugar coated in it all! As I walked around, I caught a part of California’s finest-Set Your Goals. I was so impressed with the crowd, it was so big and alive with every word the singer and audience shared. I heard, “Everybody fist pump” from the singer and realized that everybody knew exactly where they were.
But these guys weren’t the only one’s giving Jersey credit. The old-school hardcore sounding band, The Arcacia Strain, literally tore up the entire set. As soon as they gave a shout out to New Jersey hardcore, the pit opened and it was a giant blur of windmills, donkey kicks, and two stepping filled the area. It was great to see some good hardcore who tributes the scene and respects it from back in the day. I also caught the lead singer saying, “Everyone in New Jersey is always angry all the time and I fucking love it!” I loved it as well and so did the crowd judging from their pit opening response.
Warped Tour this year also brought out a bunch of brutal performances and energy driven music. A Day to Remember is definitely one of these bands, hands down. They had a giant blow up arch above the stage of their faces in a cartoonish portrayal. When they gathered their necessary equipment on stage and that initial snare came in to “I’m Made of Wax Larry, What are You Made of?” the crowd went absolutely crazy. As if the audience wasn’t moving enough, the lead singer shouted on the verge of a breakdown, “In New Jersey nobody stands still, Alex bring that fucking beat back!” It was an instant initiation for everyone to throw any kind of self-awareness out the window.
ADTR wasn’t the only one that was able to get this type of crowd response though. The Warped Tour experts, Less Than Jake, owned the stage and their audience for their performance…literally. They actually called out a bunch of specific people they wanted to come up the stage with them. One boy in particular, was told he had a “sissy hairdo,” and needed a mohawk immediately. So what did they do? They shaved this poor ginger kid’s hair into a mohawk on stage during a song. But that wasn’t the end of it. Less Than Jake was so proud of their creation that they had a girl from the audience come up on stage and kiss him. Who knew they we the next matchmakers for teens? In addition to this, Less Than Jake busted out with covers of a series of theme songs such as the Animaniacs, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and even ICarley. It was a phenomenal exhibit that truly proved ska is definitely not dead, especially if Less Than Jake is still around.
When I saw The Devil Wears Prada perform, I don’t think I needed to go anywhere else to experience the type of deep intensity that I had been looking for because it came out of these guys, viciously. The lead singer wore a Joy Division patch across his back, which painted an image for me. The same way that Ian Cutis ran around stage with his passionate poise for his music was the same way the lead singer from TDWP presented himself. The whole band just emerged themselves in their music and it excretes from their bodies through movement and instruments. You really could just see it in their faces as well, they damn well wanted you to feel each and every word and note they played.
Aside from the more well-known bands, there were some bands that are climbing up the rungs and should be recognized for a reason. Middle Class Rut is a band that is in the process of crossing that barrier. Their duo of guitar and drums offers a raw type of sound and energy comparable to Against Me! While the drummer played shirtless revealing his red “For Sale” tattoo that flowed across his chest, the lead singer was shouting and strumming loud enough to suffice for a band made of five members. The Narrative also is another performance that I enjoyed. Their band, which formed through a strange coincidence on Craig’s List, was so pleasant to watch. The girl vocalist has a very gentle voice that is easy to listen to and fall in love with. Their music is like a nurturing lullaby filled with soul, kind of like Stars or Straylight Run. Sick of Sarah was an admirable dedication to female, bare-boned rock and roll. The talented all-girl band strutted on stage like they owned it. The lead singer represented in a sexy bikini and jeans while she flew around on stage.
In addition to these bands, I hung around the Jersey Shows stage to catch some awesome local music. It was really cool to see kids at this stage totally rocking out to all these local bands.
Frank Coppola, a 23 year-old local musician, expressed, “I think that it is refreshing to see that a dying scene is being revived by kids. It looked like for a long time that support for local music was in trouble, and kids like that are keeping the dream alive for up and coming artists.”
I was also able to talk to one of the bands that won a spot to play Warped Tour from one of the Jersey Show’s battle of the bands. Spot, lead singer from the band A Lot Like You, confessed, ”I was expecting about 20 people in the audience, but there was about 150 people in front of us watching us play. Out of three years of playing this was definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” Chris, the band’s drummer, added, “After playing here, I think I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
While trudging around, you cant help to witness the thousands of kids roaming around in the staggering hot sun with the highest energy levels ever. It’s like their adrenaline and love for the music surpasses everything else. I pulled over a few people that were walking around to see how they were enjoying their experience here at the 2011 Van’s Warped Tour. I ended up meeting a group of girls that traveled all the way from Montreal to see Simple Plan and actually see New Jersey’s version of the tour rather than their own. Mellissa, Marianne, Marie Claire, and Corinne told me that they’ve seen Simple Plan more than 20 times, and could “literally write a book” about how much they love the band.
When I asked them about how New Jersey compared to their hometown of Montreal they said, “It’s great here, the food is better and people are way nicer than they would be in Montreal. We drove seven hours to experience New Jersey’s version of it and see Simple Plan!”
This year’s Warped Tour definitely brought out some heart and soul, not only on the stages, but in the audience.