The Van’s Warped Tour is the largest and longest running touring music festival in the US. I was a bit young for the first Warped Tour in 1995, however a day before our 10th grade school year in the Summer of 1998, my best friend Cameron and I went to our first.
I remember it vividly. I had been to a few big shows before but never a day-long adventure filled with different stages, tons of bands from metal to ska to punk and everything in between as well as free swag and booths and just everything. It was a lot to take in as a teen. We wanted all the free stickers, we wanted to see all the bands; it was an experience unlike anything we had been apart of before. I believe we saw Deftones, Snapcase, Rancid, et al. It was inside in the AstroArena here in Houston. I bought a Warped Tour shirt that I would proudly wear on my first day of school the next day. Since Cameron went to a neighboring high school, we were both able to proudly wear our shirts without looking copycats. I still have the shirt today.
In the years following we would attend a couple more. 1999 I definitely remember going to here in Houston. I also remember attending a few in Cleveland during summers visiting family up that way. Each venue, city or configuration was unique, and while some years would have you more excited about the music lineup than others, the experience itself never changed and was always a welcomed yearly adventure.
There were some incredible moments in those early years attending as a young fan including being there for NOFX throwing $500 in ones out into the crowd (I grabbed a few myself) and getting the guys from Blink 182 to sign my Pennywise hat (I still have the hat).
I took a few years off during the early 00’s and returned in 2006 during my early days with the camera. I was just about to graduate from the University of Houston and was just starting to take photography seriously. Since I was a musician and music fan first, concerts/shows were something I started out shooting around 2005/06. I was shooting and reviewing shows for a small music publication and 2006 was my first year at Warped Tour as a photographer.
It had changed significantly since I went years earlier, but I was excited to dive in and make my first real Warped Tour pictures. In 2006 I photographed Moneen, Motion City Soundtrack, NOFX, Saves the Day, Thursday, Spitalfield, Underoath and a band largely unknown at the time, Paramore, who actually played one of the smaller stages. Their latest release over a decade later (in 2017) After Laughter is amazing. So glad I’ve been able to be a witness to their career. I remember photographing the 2007 date which was originally rained out and moved indoors for the next day however I have no idea where those files are. In 2008 I was back and did stills and a several shorts video clips on my old Canon G9 point and shoot. Highlights of 2008 included Less than Jake who are tied with Anti-Flag as playing the most Warped Tours, Anberlin, Cobra Starship, Angels & Airwaves, Gym Class Heroes, and Katy Perry, who was also very early in her career.
In addition to the Katy Perry moment, et al, 2008 proved to be a break-through year in other ways. 2008, exactly a decade after my first Warped Tour, was the year I started to look for details and really started “seeing”. The black and white, intentionally blurry, photo (seen below) of hands in the crowd that I captured at Warped Tour 2008 in Houston, proved to be very fruitful as I licensed a large print of it to a fine art dealer to be displayed in a Hard Rock hotel somewhere in Europe, to a French political campaign as a “get out the vote” effort and luck would have it that years later in 2011 the main Warped Tour booking agent came to me to license it for usage on an official Warped Tour flyer for 2011. It also was a winner in the 2010 Billboard Music Moment photo contest.
By 2009 I had started to take myself seriously. I had switched to shooting entirely in RAW (as one should) and more of a voice started to emerge from my images thankfully due to the experience of two amazing internships in 07 and 08. Bayside and rapper, P.O.S. were standouts in 2009. I blogged about the 2009 Warped Tour date on this very blog. Check that out HERE.
In 2010 I was actually tied up with a band that I had started in the fall of that year and as luck would have it, we got the opportunity to play Warped Tour 2011. I left my cameras at home and committed to experiencing the show as a performer. We had played a late show in San Antonio the night before and had other obligations later in the day so playing in the mid-day summer heat after playing just a few hours before and driving 4+ hours was rough, but it was uniquely special to be able to experience the same tour as a fan, as a photographer/journalist and now as a performer.
In 2014 I was commissioned to go behind the scenes of the official Warped Tour Live experience where they broadcast the entire Houston date live online. It was an incredible experience to be welcomed as official crew and to see the inner workings of the event.
A search of “2014 Warped Tour Live Houston” on YouTube brings you lots of moments from the day, but this one of Saves the Day (and me rocking out on stage like a nerd) is one of my favorites, and if you’re paying attention, one of my very first, if not first, live music photos was of Saves the Day at Warped Tour 1999 (see above). Here we both are 15 years later having a great time:
A bonus video feature of me shooting ska band Reel Big Fish in at the 2008 Warped Tour in Houston (don’t make fun of my cargo shorts, it was a decade ago!):
Another bonus clip of Katy Perry live from the 2008 Warped Tour here in Houston:
Another bonus clip from the depths of YouTube. A Deftones compilation video featuring footage from Warped Tour 1998, my first one (this is not my video):
If you ever attended a Warped Tour, the schedule board was a huge deal. Fans would flock straight to the big inflatable sign that would be customized and updated daily to let fans know who was playing and where. Below are the Houston lineup boards from 2008 and 2009. Spot your favs!
Another very low res photo of me (in green) shooting Tom Delonge with Angels & Airwaves taken by my homie Chris Lue who was with me for 2008:
Thank you Warped Tour for being there for me as a fan, providing work for me as a photographer and creator and a outlet for my art as a musician. I didn’t always like all of the bands, but I was able to see some of my favorites over the years and discover a whole bunch more. You’ve fought the good fight alongside me for two entire decades and for that I am eternally grateful. Thanks for all the sweaty, warped memories!
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PS: I created (and am constantly updating) an accompanying Spotify playlist with lots of favorites from my Warped Tour favorites. Artists and bands I remember seeing on the tour or discovered via one of the Warped Tour compilations and samplers. Check it out and follow it and me via Spotify if you’re into it! I have lots of playlists!