This past week was marked on my calendar for several months as the 18th and final iteration of Warped Tour, the popular pop punk music festival made its way to the midwest. Warped Tour is the largest traveling and longest-running music festival in the United States and I had wanted to go since I was 15 years old and as it was my last opportunity to go I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.
I planned on going to the festival by myself but luckily, my buddy Kevin who is the only person I know who likes the same music was able to go with me. The only problem was that meant I had to drive to Chicago if I wanted to go. Though I didn’t fully make my mind up to go until the last minute, I went ahead with the plan and made the six-hour drive north-west to Chicago through the driving rain, getting to Kevin and our good friend Joe’s apartment around 9. After catching up, we played some beer die while at Kevin’s apartment before unwisely going to their local bar until two in the morning, causing us to wake up hungover, a theme that would continue the next night.
The day of the festival we stumbled out the door where we were picked up by a friend we knew in college, Mike and his girlfriend Austin, who joined as for the festival and took us to the venue in Tinley Park which is an hour south of the city.
We saw a myriad of great bands at the festival, getting started off with a band called Reel Big Fish which played some groovy reggae pop on the main stage which was a great way to start our day.
Our next set consisted of The Maine, whose charismatic lead singer joked about all the, “vapists in the crowd” which prompted us to start a drinking game which consisted of a drink of our beer whenever we saw a vape cloud, a game we had to abandon early in the day because there were just so many super cool people vaping around us. For their last song, he invited a guy on stage to sing part of a song but after deciding he didn’t like his name, renamed him “Dragon.” Dragon became somewhat of a minor celebrity throughout the day as whispers of, “Look, there’s Dragon!” followed him throughout the day.
Next, we went to see State Champs which all four of us, along with the rest of the entire festival, was absolutely buzzing to see. They did not disappoint, putting on the performance of the night. There, I had my first experience with the perils of crowd-surfing which I definitely have mixed reviews about, but it did prompt one of the coolest things that happened to me while at Warped Tour:
During the set I got kicked in the back of the head by a crowd surfer, knocking my hat off in the process. I reached down to pick it up but as I did so, another surfer came up from behind and inadvertently snagged my hat from my hand with his shoe, taking it with him all the way to the front of the stage. A random guy next to me saw the whole thing, looked at me sadly, and assured me I was never going to see my hat again. I watched with sadness as it made its way to the front of the stage against all odds, still riding on this guy’s foot. Fortuitously, a man in front saw my hat and grabbed it, looking back to find its owner, somehow spying my waving hands through a sea of people rocking out to the music. The next thing I knew, I watched as my hat got crowd surfed all the way back to me! It was a really cool experience thanks to that guy in the front row and the rest of the helpful crowd.
It was also my first indication of just how nice the people in the middle of these intense concerts can truly be. Later, I had my first experience with circle moshes in which the most rabid and violent of fans run around in circles as fast as they can pushing each other. As violent as it was, anybody who fell was immediately picked back up, brushed off, and asked if they were okay before everybody continued on their way. The same thing was true for fallen crowd surfers, though after one heavy guy in particular was dropped three times throughout one set, the niceness became somewhat diminished.
Afterward, while leaving the stage to get food since none of us had eaten yet, I saw the massive line for the crowd waiting to see Knuckle Puck which was set to play on that stage next. The band was clearly a fan favorite along with being my favorite band at Warped Tour. Though I was desperately hungry too, I made the decision to stay behind and save my spot in the crowd. It was the best decision I had made all day as they were fantastic and the crowd was wild. They even surprised me by playing my favorite song as the usually extremely accurate setlist that I found online for them and based my entire Warped Tour experience on didn’t say they played it. It was a wonderful surprise. Later, though exhausted, I found out that the rest of the group were only able to catch the last song of the set so I definitely made the right decision by staying.
After, I left my group where they were in the crowd, getting out from under the roofed amphitheater and getting drenched by the rain. Though not usually a very fun experience, after a full hour of intense moshing left me sweaty and gross, it was a refreshing and well-needed “bath.” In dire need of food, I dried out while waiting in the food line for the next hour, finally getting some crappy chicken tenders and a couple well-earned Busch Lights, the bargain beer of the day. I found a seat with a view of Bowling for Soup and scarfed down my food while they played the timeless classic, “Stacy’s Mom.”
After I finished, I had only a few minutes to make it over to the stage in which Senses Fail were to play. The band is one of my all-time favorites and was ironically introduced to me by Lauren who can no longer stomach more than a few seconds of pop-punk nowadays. Seeing them was kind of a dream come true as I had long since given up hope of seeing them play live one day. Luckily for me, they were as amazing as I had always dreamt that they would be and I snagged my best picture of the day there.
After their set, I met back up with my group to catch a few Mayday Parade songs before we hit the home stretch of our experience which included three bands back to back to back. As time between sets was nearly nonexistent, I pulled an Ash Ketchum as I practically ran between stages to catch them all, starting with the extremely popular Simple Plan which played classics such as “I’d Do Anything” and “Addicted,” moving toward the relatively unknown band Grayscale of which I sadly did not see their first two songs, before finally heading over to see our final band of the day, Four Year Strong.
Four Year Strong was a bit of a wild card as we all knew a little bit of their music but none of us were by any means avid fans. After they killed their first song, Kevin made the jump and pushed through to the moshpit, Mike and I trailing along at his heels. The rest of the set was a complete blur as the band’s massive energy fed into the crowd. As the last band of the night for many of us concertgoers and likely the last set for all of us at Warped Tour, we gave it everything we had to make it memorable. After, as we realized we had survived the experience, we shared some tired smiles and sweaty hugs with some complete strangers around us who just seconds before we were shoving in the mosh pit. Kevin, Mike, and I agreed afterward that for a band that none of us loved that much before we went, they were easily one of the two best bands we had seen, falling just behind State Champs. There could not have been any better way to end our Warped Tour experience.
We got back to the city, our post-concert euphoria in high gear as we discussed our favorite bands of the day over beers at the same local bar we had drunk at the night before. What turned into “a beer” morphed into us closing down the bar at 2 before heading home to tell Joe all about our time at the festival. Kevin and I were both so exhausted that we both slept in the gross clothes we had worn at the concert all day and I left early the next day after showering. The six-hour drive back with a raging hangover and a hurt neck from headbanging was far from fun, but I relived our day at Warped Tour with a Spotify playlist of all the music we had heard, making the drive fly by.
My visit to Chicago resulted in one hell of a weekend and an overall incredible experience. I am so happy to have been able to finally make it to Warped Tour on their final cross-country tour and see all my Chicago buddies. I would have gladly driven twice as long as I did to be able to enjoy the experience and I look forward to hopefully meeting up with Kevin and going to a few more concerts together soon.