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Breathe Carolina, formed in Denver, rocks Seaside Park during the Warped Tour’s 2012 stop in Ventura, California. Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage via Getty Images

An Oral History of the Warped Tour

The hard-partying music festival holds its last Denver show this month.

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In August 1995, a traveling alt-rock music festival called the Warped Tour played at the University of Colorado’s Franklin Field in Boulder—the tour’s second show. Over the next 23 years, it helped launch the careers of big names like Eminem and Paramore, plus hundreds of less-famous talents. These days, the Warped Tour is best known as an epic musical carnival filled with nearly as much debauchery as music. Jon Shockness, of the Denver band Air Dubai, compares it to a never-ending summer block party set to ear-drum-damaging decibels. Unfortunately for the festival’s fans, the party is over: 2018 will be the Warped Tour’s final encore. In advance of its last Denver stop this month, we asked bands and promoters to recall the best, and worst, of Warped.

“Bill Bass was the promoter with [the late] Barry Fey. They were so busy with other shows they assigned an intern to run the Warped Tour. About an hour before, we realized they had no concessions. We bought two Weber barbecue grills and $1 sodas and hot dogs at the supermarket. Barry called and yelled at us because the show was a piece of crap and he lost money. All I could think was, We made $500 selling hot dogs.”
Kevin Lyman, Warped Tour founder

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“Warped Tour isn’t glamorous. Katy Perry’s going in a port-a-potty like everyone else. Toward the end of the tour, she had a number one song. She threw a crazy party in a hotel room in Portland. She was dragging us across the floor of a booze-stained hotel room. It was a rock ‘n’ roll moment.

When we did the whole tour for the first time [in 2008], we shared a bus with another band and two sponsors. This was in the emo era of music—off-center, straight, asymmetrical haircuts were in vogue. I could count the seconds until the bus was going to short out because the bands were flat-ironing their hair. The bus would just power down and go bzzzzsh. It was like clockwork.”
Nathaniel Motte of Boulder electronic duo 3OH!3, which played the entire tour three times

“Playing the show is 35 minutes of the day, and you’re there for 24 hours. My fun didn’t start till 5 or 6 at night. I got the word ‘f—’ tattooed on my back one year; I tattooed ‘f—’ on somebody else’s back.

We rode in inflatable rafts that went out into the crowd every day. Sometimes the rafts reached another stage. I’d have to grab a mic and run back to the [original] stage.”
David Schmitt of Breathe Carolina, a Denver-born EDM band that played the Warped Tour four times

“Some of [the Warped Tour’s stops] are isolated. One time, I did not want to use the port-a-potty, so I walked like five miles to find an office building in the middle of nowhere. Awesome tour. Horrible bathrooms.

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Once the doors would close, the barbecue grills would light up. The parties were awesome.”
Jon Shockness, whose band Air Dubai played Warped in 2009 and 2014

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