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HARTFORD — The Vans Warped Tour ’16 made its local stop at the XFINITY Theatre in Hartford on Sunday, July 10. The outdoor summer music festival hosted over 70 bands, ranging from punk to rock to pop.
Seven different stages were scattered across the venue grounds, most of which were assembled that same day.
The two main stages, titled Journeys Left Foot and Journeys Right Foot, had scene favorites like Real Friends, New Found Glory, We The Kings, Yellowcard, Sum 41, and The Maine.
In addition to live music, nearly 100 tents were set up representing bands, including one for Arizona natives the Maine.
Under a bright blue tent, concert attendees had the opportunity of purchasing the band’s clever joke hat “Make America Emo Again,” their photograph book Roads by Dirk Mai and the Maine, and their new EP Covers.
The Maine also offered the unique opportunity of 100% free meet and greets. The sign on their tent reads, “Why would you pay money to meet a human being? Meet human beings called the Maine for free.”
In an interview with lead vocalist John O’Callaghan he said in choosing to not make fans pay, like some musicians do, it is a reminder that they are just normal people.
“We would never in a million years make people pay or pay to meet someone,” O’Callaghan said Sunday afternoon. “The idea of idolizing or putting people higher than yourself is just absurdity. It’s one thing for people to dig our music, but it’s another thing for them to realize we are just like them.”
O’Callaghan, who cited this year’s Connecticut and Long Island Warped Tour dates as two of his favorite days on tour, said he hopes the Maine are known for their humility and for fighting for what they believe in, “which is just humanity and being a kind person.”
The tents set up around the venue also showcased record labels, sponsors, and nonprofit organizations, allowing concert goers to shop and learn more about different groups.
The nonprofit movement To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) originated in 2006 and has been traveling with Warped Tour ever since. In doing so, it has gathered a strong following in the tour’s community.
According to TWLOHA’s website, their mission is about “presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”
To date, TWLOHA has given over $1,600,000 to treatment and recovery efforts.
TWLOHA’s Warped Tour Staff Member Casey O’Neill has seen the positive impact the organization has made in people’s lives. He explained that when people share their milestones in recovery with him “each story is just so beautiful.”
In Hartford, Mr O’Neill and other compassionate TWLOHA members passed out pamphlets with local hotline numbers and resources to help if someone is struggling with mental illness. They also encouraged Warped Tour attendees to fill out pieces of paper that had the open-ended phrase “10 years from now, I hope to:”
Among the responses that were written down anonymously were “start my own non-profit organization,” “overcome depression,” and “know that I have the confidence to be who I really am.”
Real Friends, a band out of Tinley Park, Ill., decided to use the beginning of their set as a platform for a similar group. As rain began to fall, a representative for the organization Hope For The Day came out and spoke to the audience about how “It’s okay to not be okay.”
When the band took the stage and soared into songs like “Late Nights in My Car,” off their 2013 Put Yourself Back Together EP, the sun started to break through the clouds and came out brighter than before.
Between songs, lead singer Dan Lambton took the opportunity to send a positive message to the crowd saying, “I want you to know you are important. You matter.”
Real Friends bassist and lyricist Kyle Fasel got fans energized to enjoy the day by saying, “This is your Warped Tour! This is your day.”
They rounded out their set with fan favorites “Summer” and “Loose Ends,” both off their 2014 album Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing, as well as new singles like “Colder Quicker” and “Mess,” off their album The Home Inside My Head, released in May.
In an interview with Mr Fasel after they performed, he explained that right now his favorite song to play is “Mess.”
“It is really rewarding to see people singing back words from a newer song, because they didn’t have as much time with the songs compared the older ones,” he said.
Mr Fasel also revealed that the band’s popular slogan — “Wow, what a great day!” — originally came from their guitar player Dave Knox’s monotone principal beginning each school day saying the phrase over the loudspeaker. It became a joke throughout the band and eventually turned into a positive phrase that many fans latched onto.
“It is something more positive than the term we used to have attached to us, which was ‘Illinois Sad Boys,’” Mr Fasel added.
As soon as Real Friends finished their set on the Journeys Right Foot Stage, Warped Tour veterans New Found Glory appeared on the Journeys Left Foot Stage.
Band members Jordan Pundik, Chad Gilbert, Ian Grushka, and Cyrus Bolooki unleashed their high octane energy from the moment they took the stage. Never once resting, the band did jumps and runs back and forth across the stage that would have tired musicians half their age.
The enthusiasm of fans was palpable as nonstop crowd surfers soared through the air heading towards the stage.
New Found Glory played newer songs like “Selfless” off their 2014 release, Resurrection, as well as classics like “All Downhill From Here” off their 2004 album Catalyst and “Head of Collision” from the iconic, scene favorite album Sticks and Stones from 2002.
“It is so good to be on Warped Tour this year,” said guitarist/backing vocalist Chad Gilbert. “The first time we played was in 1999, and we played at our local stage.”
After all that time, he said, the current tour is just as much fun as the first one they played.
Later in the afternoon, We The Kings took the same stage at 3:50. They opened their set with “Say You Like Me,” off their 2011 album Sunshine State of Mind.
Having played the Vans Warped Tour for six years, the band knew just how to get the crowd moving.
During their song “I Feel Alive,” lead singer Travis Clark offered a change of pace from the typical Warped Tour set. He orchestrated the sea of We The Kings fans to all participate in a choreographed dance.
Mr Clark called the first move similar to the “sorority squat,” where he asked everyone to get as low as possible, only to then jump up and do the “wacky inflatable balloon arms.”
We The Kings finished the set with the hit songs “Skyway Avenue,” off their 2007 self-titled debut album, and “She Takes Me High” off their 2009 release Smile Kid.
Both songs just so happen to also appear on We The King’s new compilation album So Far, released just last month.
In a separate interview, guitarist Hunter Thomsen said, “We’re really fortunate to have gotten the chance to put [out] so many albums, and we just thought it would be fun to throw all of our favorite tracks — plus a couple new ones — together onto one record and release it just before Warped Tour.”
Another band that played a lot of their classic hit songs was Warped Tour alumni Yellowcard, who performed “Lights and Sounds” and “Five Becomes Four” at the beginning of their set.
Lead singer Ryan Key made the announcement that after this tour Yellowcard would be releasing their final album and doing a farewell tour.
He also told the crowd, “Let’s not be bummed. You have supported us for almost 20 years … This is our seventh time on Warped Tour in 14 years.”
Still, the news came as a surprise to numerous fans who were clearly very devastated. Many fans turned to one another and expressed how upset they were and that they could not believe this would possibly be the last time they saw them play live.
Yellowcard said they would pay tribute to Warped Tour 2004 and play a few songs off their popular Ocean Avenue record to finish out the day.
Mr Key added, “We love you so much and these songs are for you, my friends.”
Knowing this could be the last time seeing them live, the fans in the crowd sang at the top of their lungs in euphoria when they performed “Way Away,” “Breathing,” “Only One,” and “Ocean Avenue.”
Newtown resident Briana Cologna, who was at Sunday’s show, was among those upset to hear about Yellowcard breaking up.
“The energy was phenomenal,” she said. “It was great to see Yellowcard before their final tour. They seemed to leave things on a nostalgic note by saying [during their performance] that we didn’t have to worry, they won’t be playing any new songs, because we came for the old ones everyone loved.”
Another band that had fans enjoying themselves to songs from the early 2000s was Sum 41. They played “We’re All to Blame” off their 2004 album Chuck, as well as “Over my Head” and “Still Waiting” off the 2002 release Does This Look Infected?
Not only did the audience enjoy Sum 41’s set, but so did the security guards. A rare sight, the security guards in front of the barricade were seen smiling as they grabbed the crowd surfers that were getting hurled towards them.
The crowd itself was entertaining, as someone threw an inflatable pool shark up in the air and it proceeded to bounce along the sea of hands. Also, when Sum 41 played their iconic track “Fat Lip,” off their 2001 All Killer, No Filler album, a girl with a zebra mask sat on the shoulders of another concert attendee and head-banged throughout the song.
What stood out the most was the sheer amount of fans who flooded in to see Sum 41. There was no end to the group, as it filled up all the pathways between tents.
No matter what bands Vans Warped Tour attendees saw or where they stood in the crowd, it can be guaranteed people left that day thinking “Wow, what a great day.”