Where We Gather: Warped Tour

My girl is somewhere in there during the Vans Warped Tour at Lakewood Amphitheater.

I ventured ITO (Inside the Perimeter) Thursday and attended the Vans Warped Tour at Lakewood Amphitheater to kick off my July 4th weekend. I took my d aughter and her best friend to hear some of their favorite bands. For my Rockdale and Newton friends, I strongly suggest you do this at least once. It can be either a horizon-expanding experience or confirm you worst fears about America’s youth.

You’re thinking this will be about a fish-out-of-water story: Me, a 52-year-old suburban father, and a few thousand screaming, crowd surfing teens and 20-somethings. That is partly true. I believe we tend to shelter ourselves as we get older because, well, we’ve seen all. Or, we think we’ve seen all we ever could see in the world and now enjoy the familiarities of home and community – commodities Rockdale and Newton counties have in abundance. Then, we have children.

If you’re like me, fatherhood offers wonderful rewards and minefields of reminders that you’re old. I took Katie and her friend, both 12, to the Warped Tour because Katie really, really wanted to go, she’s been a good kid and I wanted to see what interests her. Like I said, every parent should go to a child’s concert willingly, and that should be done in the spirit of spending time with them and looking for a moment at what makes them tick.

First off, the Warped Tour brand is all about nonconformity and life on the edge through music. In reality, it’s been around for over 20 years and is the largest and longest operating traveling music festival in North America.

This is me in all my parenthood. I looked like I was ready to say, “You kids calm down over there!”

The tour is well established and predates social media and camera phones by 10 years. Also, the Warped Tour is heavy on alternative, ska and punk rock acts. Earplugs are suggested and available for $3 at the gates. I brought my own and spares.


Second, you will be invisible. As I walked the crowded fairways between stages and merchandise tents, no one talked to me. Even people handing out cards or fliers offering discounts for Lyft.com or recipes from PETA2.com passed on me.

Being an older person at a Warped Tour stop means the irony is that despite this invisibility you are really very visible. There were a lot of parents at the Warped Tour with me Thursday. You could not miss them with their sensible shoes and khaki shorts. The Warped Tour folks actually encourage parents to attend. They get in free with a paid ticket and are given these neon-green wristbands with “PARENT” printed in black letters. This was probably the reason no one talked to me.

What you will definitely see is a sea of young people decked out in black clothing, body piercings, tattoos and hair color that spans the color spectrum and all literally following the beat of their own drummer. Bands like Chelsea Grin and From Ashes to New scared me. They play pretty hard stuff that passes for heavy metal music nowadays (thank you, ear plugs). They appeared to have a loyal fan base and enjoy what they are doing. However, they are no Megadeath or Alice In Chains.

My girls leaned toward We The Kings, Falling In Reverse, Waterparks and Sleeping With Sirens. Their songs were more teen angst than rage. To me, that was comforting. I listened to angst-riddled songs in my young days, though the bands no longer exist (Sonic Youth or Hüsker Dü) as I was more worried about what people thought of me and how I fitted into the world than anything else. And I think that is going through the minds of a lot of 12, soon to be 13, year olds.

In a lot of ways, I have a lot more in common with my girls than I thought. And I came to that realization just by spending a few hours in their world. Just don’t forget the earplugs and comfortable shoes.

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