- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

For the cost of a baby-sitting job and a bottle of sunscreen, the young fans of the annual Warped Tour sampled about 100 bands over the course of an all-day festival Wednesday.

Compare that $30 price tag to the boomer bands beloved by their parents, who lined various “pick-up points” on the Nissan Pavilion’s parking lot. Do the math on a $300 premium ticket for 2 hours of Madonna or the Eagles, and you’ll see the young’uns have a real bargain on their hands.

It’s no wonder they swarmed to Nissan last week. In its 10th year, the Warped Tour, sponsored by the still-hip shoe company Vans, plus a bevy of other companies, knows how to deliver the goods.

Starting at around noon, a battalion of pop-punk bands — think early Beatles, but faster and louder, occasionally angry — hurried through half-hour sets on eight separate stages, which fanned out from the amphitheater’s main stage deep into the venue’s parking grounds.

As soon as one band was down, another was up. It didn’t matter if you were a popular outfit such as Yellowcard or Taking Back Sunday or New Found Glory — groups that traded slots on the tour’s two anchoring bandstands — or a Winnebago-traveling band that no one’s heard of, such as the Groovie Ghoulies.

You got your half-hour, and you were gone.

Interspersed among the stages, which had names like “Brian,” “Space Station” and “Uproar,” was a carnival of merchandising tents, technology dens, social-conscience booths and a half-pipe skateboarding ramp.

The Warped Tour primarily sells live music, but that left plenty of room for products and causes. The atmosphere Wednesday was meticulously cultivated to make patrons feel set apart from — edgier, younger and cooler than — the world outside.

Here’s my scorecard.

Cleverest marketing ploy: Faced with stiff competition, the merchants and consciousness-raisers at the Warped Tour had to think outside the box — how to achieve maximum exposure?

Truth.com, the left-wing organization, offered to take your picture free of charge to attract you into its orbit. The Ernie Ball music company set up a kiosk where aspiring rock stars played guitars. A band called the Phenomenauts sold CDs for a mere dollar, telling you, as a bonus, where to find the “Maurice” stage.

These pitches seemed to work. But the Winterfresh chewing gum company had the canniest idea. A rep handed out free sticks to passers-by, most of whom littered the wrappers.

The net effect was a veritable carpet of advertisements for hundreds of square yards.

Less successful was the Trojan condom company, which offered free samples. Presumably, the children were forced to wait before using those.

Most egregious Bush-basher:Tough call, not least because everyone was doing it. Even those pub-rocking, fun-loving lads from Ireland, Flogging Molly. The boys of Anti-Flag, a quartet from Pittsburgh, barely stopped talking about the upcoming election and treated fans to “Die for the Government,” a song which pooh-poohs the idea of dying for your country.

Over in the hip-hop tent, dubbed “Code of the Cutz,” rapper Immortal Technique said Condoleeza Rice was “just another Sally Hemmings.” Hey, now.

No one, however, could match the “Don’t Call Me White” hit makers of NoFx. Admittedly drunk, singer Fat Mike flogged fans for being “rich kids from the suburbs.” Later, a sample lyric: “I wanna see Dick Cheney have a heart attack/I wanna see our president get gang-raped.”

Just the thing to inspire an apathetic 19-year-old to register to vote, no?

Coolest T-shirt: In addition to the tattoos, the body-piercings and the towering orange mohawks, a characteristic fashion statement of the Urban Outfitted is the iconic T-shirt, typically emblazoned with left-wing heroes. Guys aged 18 to 24 may have little understanding of the history of these figures, but they like their revolutionary panache.

So you had lots of Che Guevara T-shirts, lots of Bob Marley T-shirts. I saw one with the face of Mao Zedong. (Can the “Don’t just complain, start a Cultural Revolution” bumper sticker be far behind?)

My favorite: the Bruce Lee shirt. What could be more punk-rock in this era of “Kill Bill” than the kung fu legend himself?

Geezer factor: Every tribal rock tour must have an old hanger-on or two. For the Warped Tour, it’s Bad Religion, the seminal L.A.-based pop-punk band. Bad Religion’s debut album, “How Could Hell be Any Worse?,” came out in the dark ages of 1982. There’s a new one on the way, according to half-bald lead singer Greg Graffin, who looked like he could’ve been one of the parents waiting at the pick-up points.

Awkward moment: How would you feel, reader, if you were a music critic, dressed in a summery shirt from the Gap and carrying a pen and pad, and you walked backstage into a waft of incense and a large gathering of musicians dressed in Goth black?

You’d feel like I did and promptly walk in the opposite direction.

Most sorely-missed band: Good Charlotte. The pop-punk heroes of Waldorf, Md., are on the Warped bill in other cities, but not their home region. What gives? Their good cheer and sobriety would’ve been a nice tonic to all the vitriol.

Freak injury: The sun was out with a vengeance all day, until the early evening, which brought a cold front and an apocalyptic gust of wind. It unmoored a huge inflatable corporate logo that struck a nearby fan, who had to be airlifted to a hospital.

As the weather turned menacing, someone remarked that God must hate the Warped Tour.

No way.

It had to have been that Bush guy.

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