by Sarah Bregel
I'm riding shotgun in a blue '91 Hyundai hatchback that's covered in punk stickers. Operation Ivy. Against All Authority. Green Day. It's the middle of summer and the air conditioning is spitting a lukewarm breeze at us as we drape our sweaty armpits out the window. The AC never really worked since my best friend, Jess, acquired the heap of metal turned teenage sanctuary, but we still tried desperately to use it, as we plowed through the sweltering Baltimore summers, chain-smoking Camels, swigging Natty Light, and sticking to its seats.
On this day, we aren't riding aimlessly. We have somewhere to be, the same as we did every high school July when the Van's Warped Tour rolled around, though in the past we'd had to recruit one of our friend's dads to drop us off and pick us up later that night (God only knows why he agreed). We've already been to the concert once this year when it passed through D.C. But it wasn't enough, so we head up the turnpike from Baltimore to Camden, New Jersey where we'll spend the day tromping around in black tank tops and jeans, and our Manic Panic-dyed hair, clutching a lineup that would be saved for decades.
At Warped the bands we blared in our bedrooms and from the Hyundai's trusty speakers became real. Punks gathered, young and old, to throw their fists in the air and slam their angsty bodies into each other. Sometimes, it felt like we were lost in a sea of green mohawks and fat, sweaty men with chains and two-inch spacers in their ears. I don't think it occurred to us to feel out of place, but blending in didn't feel like a huge priority, either.
We loved the music and that's why we were there. We were just as authentic as anybody else, as far as we could tell. We were delightfully naive, unconcerned with the heat, our personal safety, or any other things that might worry me if my own daughter told me she was going to an all-day punk show hours away. But teenage girls are all a little fearless and delusional that way and we, unsurprisingly, were no exception.
As a mother in my 30s who still loves going to shows, I can think of 1,000 concerts I'd rather go to than Warped Tour. But those concerts still defined a pretty big part of my youth and taught me some life lessons, too.
Here's a few things I learned at Warped Tour:
Getting lost is epic, but maybe have a meeting place anyway. Often at Warped, I somehow ended up alone. But in the cell phone-less days of the '90s and the early 2000s, we weren't so overly-concerned with things like getting lost. My time spent by myself turned out to be some of the most fun I had. I'd wander around, listen to a new band I'd never heard of or meet new people.
Eventually, I'd cross paths with one of my girlfriends and we'd run up to each other and smash our sweaty bodies together like it had been years since we got separated. I secretly loved getting lost, but not getting left behind was pretty crucial, too, so having a meeting place came in handy. The advice is actually pretty sage — cell phones die and get smashed, so when it comes time for my kids to trek to see whatever screamo bands they're into (God forbid), I'll be sure to pass it on.
Mosh pits can actually kill you, but get in one before you die. The Green Day mosh pit of 2000 holds a very special place in my heart. Also, my nightmares. Jess and I were right in the middle of it. Bodies that were much bigger and heavier than ours were catapulting themselves into us, but we were hanging tough. I realize it actually sounds pretty awful, but it was Green Day! And it was fucking amazing. We had no choice but to stay. Soon, the crowd started shifting backwards all at once and fast. Jess was quickly getting sucked under. I had one foot on the ground as I dragged her out from under the piles of dudes that were falling on us both. "Get off her!" I screamed. For a few moments, we couldn't breathe. We got out, got water, and changed positions. We had kind of visualized our own death, but fear didn't hold us back for long. Later in the day, I laughed hysterically watching my two friends stumble out of the Rancid pit, one holding her eye after losing her contact, the other with her shirt torn and her shoe gone forever.
Sober fun means it's actually fun. My friends and I all started partying around 14. We drank and smoked weed and went to parties every single weekend without fail. But when we were at Warped Tour — maybe it was only because we didn't have fake IDs just yet — I don't ever remember trying to buy booze. I wasn't playing "Hey, Mister" or batting my eyelashes at the beer guy. I had 20 bands to see and it all just felt so much more life-altering and important. I'm sure we took a hit of a joint here and there. But for the most part we were sober and it didn't occur to us not to be. These days I'd never attend a concert without a few drinks (way too many opportunities to be social and pretend I'm still fun). But maybe that's one of the reasons I remember the concerts with such fondness. For one, I actually remember them.
I'd sooner run a marathon than go to Warped Tour ever again. It's just not my scene anymore. But I'd never, ever take it back. Lost shoes, near death and all, because you're only young once and you'll never be that punk rock again.