I was 14 years old, wandering around Charlotte’s PNC Amphitheater in 100 degree weather, desperately hoping that none of the older kids had noticed that I’d shown up with my parents. Proudly donning a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt that I’d purchased at Hot Topic (you know, to show my appreciation for the classics), I moved from stage to stage as my mom followed at least 50-yards away at all times, making sure I was staying hydrated and avoiding boys with questionable lip piercings.
For me, the 2012 Warped Tour was a culmination of the Tumblr pages I’d gazed at for hours in my room and the bands that got me through the awkward mundanities of middle school. I was in absolute heaven, front row and clinging to the gates at The Story So Far’s first ever Warped run, counting down the hours until Christofer Drew took the mainstage with the OG Never Shout Never lineup.
Six years later, the once-proclaimed “punk rock summer camp” is shutting down for good. The traveling circus that represented the safest of spaces for the outcasts, the ska-lovers, the lost parents whose kids blared Black Veil Brides at ear splitting volumes in their rooms, and the awkward music fans like me, is coming to a sad and nostalgic end.
But perhaps this ending is actually a good thing. According to Kevin Lyman, founder of the festival, “[he’s] just tired.” And considering the festival’s decline of good music and sexual harassment allegations against artists, he should be absolutely exhausted.
It’s no secret that over the years, eyes were wandering further and further from the classic bands that had once made the festival such an institution and closer to the louder, hardcore trends that were burning up capitalist phase-pushers like Hot Topic or Zumiez. I recall sadly watching an uninterested crowd barely pay attention to ska-legends Reel Big Fish; people were more willing to watch The Wonder Years as their singer hollered in angst about stale beer, basements and small towns to the masses, and then immediately beeline to their merch table for overprices t-shirts and bracelets. Although I was caught up in my own era of high school trends and passings, looking back, it’s clearer to me now that the Warped Tour I’d witnessed was nothing like the classic Warped Tour of the 90s. This was the festival that had once given leeway to bands like No Doubt, Sublime and even Katy Perry, for Christ’s sake.
But there’s a much darker side to the punk festival than meets the eye.
While many solely point to the dwindling number of good musicians on the lineups, perhaps the largest factor possibly going into the festival’s closing is the horrendous amount of underage sexual harassment. As acts started to take advantage of the number of young girls making the pilgrimage to the festival to witness their favorite musicians take the stage, the pop punk scene no longer seemed like a safe place. However terrible of an issue this was, it didn’t seem to bother Kevin Lyman. He was responsible for allowing the act Front Porch Step back on the tour after allegations of sexual harassment through texts, after having met underage fans at Warped Tour, was made public after one fan in particular had written a lengthy Tumblr post about her relationship with the artist. While at first he was taken off the bill and was dropped from Pure Noise Records, his name mysteriously appeared back on the lineup a few months ahead of the festival. Similar situations also kept occurring with other artists, such as Ronnie Radke and Dahvie Vanity, allowed to continue on the tour. The question was becoming clearer: if Lyman had advocated for the end of crowd surfing and moshing in such a vehement manner, why wasn’t he pushing just as hard for the end of underage assaults on young women?
In 2017, multiple women came out with allegations accusing Mike Fuentes, the drummer of Pierce the Veil, of sexual misconduct with a minor that had taken place at Warped Tour. One woman, the now-23-year-old Shannon Bray, detailed an account of meeting Fuentes at a band signing. When he asked her to hang out, she obliged and the two began a back and forth texting relationship that would eventually lead to Fuentes asking Bray for nude pictures. She was 14 years old. I was also 14 years old when I saw Pierce the Veil at Warped Tour. When I missed out on getting to meet the band members at a similar autograph signing, I left the venue feeling devastated; I’d wandered around the heat and dust for an hour, killing time, and when I finally made it to the signing table, so many fans had shown up that they’d already established a cut off point in the snaking line.
Reading those allegations, years later, was chilling. But it was the horrific side of the emo and pop-punk scene of the 2000’s, which was specifically marketed towards young and impressionable teenage girls — an article from Flavorwire describes the scene as one that is manufactured “by boys, for girls,” which is an incredibly accurate way to put it. Similar to the excesses of rock groupies in the 70’s, male performers began preying on the young females praising them in the crowd. Only this time, it was happening to girls that would grow into the strong women behind the Me Too movement.
Last March, I saw Mike Fuentes at a bar in New Orleans. I sat back quietly, sipping my Corona while he and his girlfriend talked amongst themselves. I wondered if she knew about the allegations, or if Pierce the Veil was even touring anymore, or if Mike could tell that I’d been staring directly at him for the entire duration that he’d been sitting on his barstool. When he eventually got up to leave, we made eye contact, and that was that. I watched him exit into the neon glow of Bourbon Street with an empty feeling in my stomach, because what I’d really wanted to do was to approach him and say something along the lines of, “Hey, at one point in my life you meant a lot to me. But now, you’re incredibly disappointing.”
Warped Tour wrapped up this past Sunday to mixed feelings from its former fans. Many who watched the livestreams and snapchats of the festival found themselves wondering, “What the hell did I ever see in this place to begin with?” Many of the former scenes are no longer existent; even Black Veil Brides don’t sound like they once did back in 2012. What began as a teenage rite of passage went down in the Internet era as a cesspool of capitalism, thanks to overpriced merch and sponsor tents at every twist and turn. The lineups weren’t good anymore. And worst of all, fans didn’t even feel safe anymore.
I watched the livestream of the first day of the final tour, just for the nostalgia, and barely made it through 15 minutes. The other reviews were telling the truth; the entire festival really had gone downhill. It was similar to the feeling of seeing Mike Fuentes in a dive bar; “Hey, at one point in my life this scene meant a lot to me. But now, it’s incredibly disappointing.”
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