The Other Side Of The Gate: My Warped Tour Experience
A Editorial Reflection By Eric Navarro
I’ve been going to Warped Tour since 2002. A girl I liked said she was going so obviously I went… for the next 13 years. Seems reasonable.
I’ve always fantasized about playing Warped, but always came up short. In 2006 I was in talks with the Code of the Cutz stage booker to have my indie rock/hip hop group play the full tour. After an interview and watching out live recordings she told me, “We’re looking for solo acts this year due to the size of the stage.” While that probably meant she was asking if I’d just do the tour solo, I misunderstood that to mean, “Please convince me to have full bands”. After sending her a lengthy email about how much better the band would be for the Warped Tour crowds, she wished me luck and that was the end of our correspondence. So much for that.
I wasn’t in another “Warped Tour friendly” band until 2012 and we spent three straight years pushing our Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands page on anyone who may vote for us. Despite having high “Buzz Ratings” (whatever that is) each year, we were left on the sidelines watching our friends’ bands along with several local unknowns play the Ernie Ball stage year after year. As cool as it was to see our friends succeed, it felt personal every time we got rejected.
I eventually realized it was mostly random and we had no control over getting booked on this amazing tour. We spend the second half of 2014 releasing, promoting, and touring a new record- determined that if we were going to get on the tour, it was going to be because we were booked on a stage, not because we won an online contest.
We didn’t even make a Battle of the Bands page this year. Ernie Ball auto-renewed ours. We added one of our new songs to the player and posted a link on our Facebook page the day the contest opened. That was the last we thought about it. That is, until we received an email about a month ago that read, “Congratulations, you have been selected to play the Ernie Ball stage at the Warped Tour date in Columbia, Maryland!”
When our singer texted the band that we were playing Warped Tour I naturally replied, “Fuck you, no we’re not.” That was the mindset I was working with. Regardless, he wasn’t messing with us and we were set to play the show. It took a day or two to sink in. Not to get too personal, but at the time I was having a lot of trouble at work and I was still adjusting to raising a newborn child. While I’ve long since known that playing a single date of Warped Tour is not career changing, it was still a huge boost for my self-esteem. It was also validation for all the time spent making music and promoting my band. After three years of getting told to go fuck myself for passing out free music in line at Warped, I was going to be on the other side of those gates and on stage.
I arrived at the site early for the band meeting only to find that none of the bands and stages were on site yet. Apparently customs in Canada the night before caused a major delay. I stood by a security guard and got to overhear the head of the venue freak out for a good five minutes to his team. Once the stages finally showed up, that’s when it started to rain- soaking thousands of kids in line and flooding the areas where most of the stages had been set up in past years.
Fast forward two very confusing hours and we were finally in front of the Ernie Ball stage, fenced in along with about 7 other stages in a pretty small section of the venue grounds. It didn’t help that they let everyone in the venue, but still locked them out of the area with most of the stages (including the main stages). It seriously looked like something out of a zombie apocalypse. Thousands of nearly lifeless bodies were just pressed up against those gates and all you could hear were audible moans with the occasional “Pierce the Veil” chant. I stood outside of the main gate with our makeshift “Heavyweights @ Ernie Ball- 1:45” sign for about 20 minutes before the (literal) floodgates were opened and a horde of frustrated and excited tweens charged at me. For a few moments I sincerely thought, “What am I doing, I have a kid?!” but then they parted around me in a strangely polite and orderly fashion before reengaging in a full sprint towards the faint sounds of Metalcore in the distance.
After that it was just a blur of setting up merch, buying a targeted Facebook ad for the hour to promote our timeslot, and setting up our gear. Before I could even take it all in, my drummer Kurt was giving me a four count and I started playing the intro to our first song. I couldn’t let myself look at the crowd too much in fear of both making a mistake and seeing people walk away. After a few songs I got comfortable and took a look out at the largest crowd I’ve ever played for.
Then it was over. It was 17 minutes that I immediately blacked out and more of it comes back to me each day. I spent the rest of the day interviewing bands from the Ernie Ball stage (the rain and delay caused Warped to forego the press area for the day). After a few hours I let my video crew go and spent the rest of the day wandering around, giving out download cards, and hanging out with friends as I ran into them. And I must say, after being told to fuck off for years while promoting at this very event, saying that you played earlier felt like having super powers. Everyone was far more interested in talking to me and took a (probably fleeting) interest in my band. It was pretty nice.
I went home before the show ended when I got my yearly Warped Tour headache (hangover) around 7pm, narrowly missing The Wonder Years yell at Attila. That said, I did watch Senses Fail yell at Attila so I guess there’s that. I headed home and recorded a quick podcast to encapsulate how I felt in that moment and returned to real life.
I probably won’t ever get an opportunity like that again, but to get to see life on the other side of that gate was an amazing opportunity that I’ll be happy to look back on next year when I’m promoting in line once again.
Last modified: August 18, 2015