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“Always be yourself!” exuded vocalist A.J. Channer at Blossom Music Center yesterday.

“Don’t be who they tell you to be!  You don’t have to love someone else’s lifestyle, but you have to respect them as a fellow human being!”

Channer and his band—the heavy-hitting Fire From the Gods—are one of dozens of band’s on this year’s Vans Warped Tour, which pulled into the venerable Cuyahoga Falls venue Tuesday (July 18).

Founded in 1995, Warped remains one of the bargain tickets of the summertime.  Assembling diverse acts from every conceivable genre, the package tour gives music-lovers an opportunity to catch some of rock’s most happening artists…all while catching a few rays.

And it was another scorcher, to be sure.  Temps reached the upper 80s, and a “hydration station” was on-site for attendees to refill their water bottles.  One of the tour’s big sponsors—Monster Energy Drink—offered complimentary Mutant sodas to help folks chill out between sets.

Still, the day called for some tough decisions: Over 40 bands played staggered sets on six satellite stages throughout the afternoon and into the night, so fans sometimes had to pick between acts appearing in two different places at the same time.

But everyone got his (or her) ticket’s worth of entertainment.  If you juggled things just right you could catch between 15-20 electrifying acts.  Or—if you didn’t want to exert yourself in the sweltering heat—you could stay put at any one of the stages and witness ten or so bands as they came and conquered, one at a time.

Fortunately, some of the major logistics were worked out ahead of time.  For example, many of the stages had a “twin.”  As soon as one band finished up on, say, the Skullcandy Stage, the artists on the neighboring stage would plug in and fire away.  Meanwhile, crew members would prep for the next act. 

That’s what comes from 27 years of planning and execution: The hard-working folks behind the scenes figured out all the schedules and backlines well in advance, so what once seemed impossible feat becomes a daily routine.

Jule Vera, Hawthorne Heights, CKY, Beartooth, Neckdeep, Save Ferris, Atitila, Dance Gavin Dance, American Authors, and Andy Black were among the entertainers gracing the Journeys “Right Foot” and “Left Foot Stages” (starting at just past noon until about 9:00pm).  After the Burial, Sylar, Carnifex, Bless the Fall, Emmure, Hundredth, Acacia Strain, Hatebreed, Silverstein, and GWAR brought a heavier blend (hardcore, metal, etc.) to the Mutant North and South Stages.

Appearing on the Skullcandy, Hard Rock, and Full Sail University stages were such acts as Alestorm, William Control, Municipal Waste, The Ataris, The Adolescents, Anti-Flag, Movements, Set It Off, and Boston Manor.

Myrtle Beach’s Small Talk acquitted themselves marvelously on Skullcandy, having one their spot on the tour through fan votes.  Red-headed singer / guitarist Cayley Spivey leapt off the stage near the end of their set to hug fans down front and—true to the group’s name—invited people to chat or discuss their problems.

“We’re here for you!” Spivey said.

Various associates, record labels, volunteers, and agents from clothing and merchandise companies manned (and wo-manned) vendor tables and tents at the top of Blossom’s famous lawn-hill and dotted the sidewalks and auxiliary parking lot (between tractor-trailer trucks, which unfolded into makeshift stages or dumped their equipment-laden innards out their backsides.

Wanted to buy a Bob Marley banner for your dorm room or a Grateful Dead hookah?  Warped had you covered.  In the marked for a Deadpool belt buckle or a Freddy Krueger mask? This was the place.  Or were you simply hunting for the latest CDs by the bands you just watched?

Check, check, check.

Historically this tour has always been about good causes, too: To Write Love on Her Arms offered information about suicide prevention, Service Year promoted consciousness about work in one’s community, MusiCares distributed contact data for people and friends in crisis, and Love Hope Strength pitched cancer awareness and survivor support.

Some artists went out of their way to advertise their favorite causes and campaigns.  Charismatic, green-haired vocalist Shawna Potter bystander intervention, anti-harassment education, and sexual violence prevention.

“If you see something happening, do something!” she yelled.  “Tell someone!  Be active!  Be there for each other!”

Similar messages of unity resounded from all the groups throughout the course of the festival.  So it wasn’t surprising to see musclebound male athletes stopping to watch female-fronted groups, or to observe black teens pausing to take in a white rapper.  There were LGBT youths delighting in sets by angry metal bands, and tough-looking guys in leather and chains checking out softer-sounding pop acts.

Then again, there was a lot of skin, too: A large percentage of revelers stripped to within the limits of the law, baring flesh for maximum movement, comfort and cool.

And that meant looking at lots of body piercings and tattoos: Any given date on Warped comes with enough ink for a daily run of the New York Times.

For every gym-sculpted beach body or glamour model physique was a pear-shaped couch potato or spindly ectomorph who’d probably look better with his or shirt on.

But this wasn’t the time or place for judging others or complaining about how others dress (or undress).

On the contrary, Warped was the place to let your freak flag fly…and do so to a running soundtrack of today’s hottest, most-happening artists.