My first trip to Vans Warped Tour was its last year, and I'm not sad to see it go. Despite my dyed teal hair, extensive Fall Our Boy knowledge, and black band tee collection, I don't think I'm the target demographic. I was too socially critical. For lack of better terms, though I hate to use millennial-age hip-lingo, I was too woke for Warped Tour.
I went to the Ventura, CA show on June 24. While I hate the heat of SoCal, I absolutely love its rich diversity. Unfortunately, the fairgrounds only had one of those two things, and it left a sunburn on my shoulders. The fans were white, sure, so am I, I'm not blaming anybody for being white. But I could count on one hand the number of minorities I saw in the whole scene. And of the lineup? I'm going to say it was about the same. It felt like a cult, the sameness in the faces.
With that, I wondered why there weren't more people outside of the angsty middle-class white kids who relate to this music. But that's just the thing: those are the artists made famous enough to perform on those stages. Minority voices with the same alt-rock or punk sound are left in obscurity because of basic, implicit bias (or outright, overt bias). But I guarantee that there are bands just as talented as Simple Plan, and far more talented than 3OH!3, who no one knows about because they don't look like the crowd at Warped Tour.
As for women, there weren't nearly enough on stage. And the female fans (a good percentage of the crowd) needed to be treated with far more respect. In line for the bathroom, walking between Journey's Right and Left Foot stages, pre-ordering albums at booths, I heard so many derogatory things shouted at the women around me. "Show me them titties," was by far my least favorite thing to hear, both in content and grammatically. But wasted jerks slapping strangers' butts while walking, and grabbing breasts "accidentally" in mosh pits was more disgusting than the smell of the porta-potties.
I'm covering my bases here, because I know some readers are thinking, "Well, if the girls didn't want that kind of attention, they shouldn't have just worn high-waisted shorts and bralettes," to which I will immediately shut down to say it was a sweaty mess, and what they're wearing is not the issue. Have some self-control.
The lack of diverse voices to look up to on the stage and the neglect of sharing those narratives to fans shrinks their perspectives and limits their worldview. How many bands of four cis white guys can you think of off the top of your head? Plenty. Most of what I listen to, unfortunately (which, by the way REALLY needs to change; I'm honestly working on it).
I know this isn't the only festival like this. But it means a little more to me that Warped Tour, a place that consistently houses some of the most socially aware music, a place with multiple suicide prevention booths, a place that says that everybody's lives are worth something even if they're not feeling okay, a place I expected to feel at home and find "my scene," wasn't it. It was just another dusty lot filled with the same old stuff, stories, mentalities. It was privileged guys in skinny jeans whining about nothing.
Vans Warped Tour ran from 1995 to 2018, but we still have work to do. With a little bit of (very fun musical) research, the use of social media, good ol' word of mouth, and some empathy, I think we can finally move forward to include more voices in the alt-rock scene. Goths in Hot Topic don't have to be vampire-white, and Hayley Williams doesn't need to be our only spokeswoman. Maybe one day we'll have another festival that will actually feel inclusive and will leave us less weary than when we walked in.
(photo credit: @vanswarpedtour via Instagram)