By Darryl Smyers, Special Contributor
A funny thing happened to the Vans Warped Tour. It grew up.
Seeing that the annual punk/metal/what-have-you music fest has been around for two decades, it's not a surprise that many in attendance (including entertainers) are starting that descent into middle age.
That being said, there was certainly no shortage of teens and twenty-somethings at Gexa Energy Pavilion on Saturday. And what a motley hoard it was. Dressed to impress, the crowd featured (as always) women using bras as tops, Emo kids wearing knit caps (after all, for June, it was a frigid 91 degrees) and enough gauges and tattoos to scare every grandmother in the state.
As much as the grandiose and slightly grotesque fashion show was a blast to witness, it's the music that matters and this year's line-up was impressive.
Featuring nearly 100 acts spread over nine stages, the sheer sonic din of the proceedings was a marvel to behold. Occasionally, one stage's noise blended into the aural assault of another stage and the result was a cacophonous melee - kind of like hearing a train crash into a helicopter. Walking between stages was like strolling through an enormous and deafening haunted house. Exciting and annoying at the same time.
Ironically, some of the bigger names on the bill actually played in the afternoon. Hollywood's Black Veil Brides hit the Shark Stage at 2:35. Las Vegas' post-hardcore rockers Escape the Fate took the Monster Stage at 3:45. Yet neither band bemoaned an early set time.
Instead, Black Veil Brides inspired one of the afternoon's largest audiences to mosh robustly, playing an intense set of gloomy rock. Escape the Fate performed its more intricate, angry fare with a youthful glee. Perhaps this is all a part of the maturing of the Warped Tour.
In the past, Warped has gone out of its way to diversify the genres of music, but this year, the lineup stayed closer to the tour's metallic roots of the 1990s. Highlights included striking sets by Senses Fail, Never Shout Never, August Burns Red, Pierce the Veil, Miss May I and Memphis May Fire.
Dallas' own Fit for a King drew a loud and large contingent of disaffected youth for its powerful, early afternoon set of Christian metalcore (whatever that is). Indeed, as the crowd swelled outside the barriers of the Monster Stage area, the band surged into "Slave to Nothing" like seasoned Warped pros. The crowd responded with a kind of pogoing mosh pit that had to be witnessed to be believed.
Diversity could be found in abundance on the Beatport Stage and inside a tent called the Acoustic Basement. Early in the day, La Castle Vania and Tat blended hip-hop and dubstep in intriguing and original ways. American Opera, Koji and Grey Gordon performed softer, but no less intense sets that enthralled smaller collections of sweaty concertgoers.
A bit less fruitful was the Warped Comedy Tent. About a dozen "comedians" plied their craft rather unsuccessfully as an ever-changing crowd didn't give any of them very much time or attention.
Throughout the day, many acts made mention of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Although many were not very tactful with their comments, all were supportive and the crowd responded in kind. Of course, anything is better than the generic "How you doing Dallas?" or "Man, it's hot out here." At least Mallory Knox, a metal act hailing from England, got it right when their frontman yelled out, "Man, it's humid out here."
As fantastic as much of the music was, even more fascinating was the mad rush to each band's merchandise booth as soon as its set was over. Many fans left before the final song in order to stake out a place in line for autographs and photo ops. Lines grew into the hundreds for some acts. Many bands limited the time for autographs and some fans left disgruntled and empty handed. Other acts, like Man Overboard, a great, nerdy pop/punk act out of New Jersey, stayed until every CD was signed and every picture was snapped.
When it was over, youngsters left Fair Park looking like Berlin after the war. Some departed with parents in tow, parents who spent the day in something called Reverse Daycare, a semi-air conditioned tent with a television and an EMT.
Darryl Smyers is a Dallas freelance writer.