This summer, the Vans Warped Tour -- music’s last major traveling festival -- is calling it quits, citing fatigue, disinterested teens, and a marketplace shift towards blowout weekends over season-long treks. But 13 years ago, Warped nearly collapsed beneath the weight of its own success.
The storm had been brewing for some time. Warped was 11 years old in 2005, and it’d played an integral role in bringing the likes of Green Day, Blink-182, No Doubt, Sublime, and even Eminem to suburban superstardom during the '90s and early '00s. An annual Warped trip had become a summertime staple for teens raised on bratty skate punk and ska, but by the middle of the aughts, it had morphed into something completely new. And bigger.
In 2005, a more sensitive, precocious, fashion-focused brand of punk exploded into popular culture. Its eventual poster kids spent the decade’s early years grinding it out in America’s VFW halls, the venerable ethos of Thursday, Saves the Day, and Jimmy Eat World their guiding light. Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance played Warped in ‘04 and after drawing fervent crowds, were signed on for the next year early; by the time June ‘05 rolled around, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and “Helena” were MTV staples, improbably climbing the Hot 100. 700,000 kids came out that summer, more than any Warped before or since (for context, last year pulled 300,000). Individual bands regularly sold over $30,000 of merch per day. Bodyguards were needed for the first time. At summer’s end, the tour’s profits hit seven figures. But Warped’s summer-long slog paid another price; across 48 shows in 59 days, musicians and personnel grappled with oversized egos, volatile -- if not occasionally hostile -- environments, and a sideshow’s worth of distractions far from home, with a massive mainstream audience suddenly watching.