In the cutthroat-fight-for-shade, four-dollar-Gatorade world of Warped Tour, I have long had two dreams: The musician in me has wanted to play a small Warped stage, gaining hundreds of new fans, while the fan in me has always wanted to undercut the beverage dealers. Well, friends, I achieved one of those goals last Sunday at Columbia Meadows (if someone handed you a beer during Super Geek League, those were smuggled from backstage and you're welcome). I caught up with local bands Brightwood and the Burning Room to see if being a sideshow at this huge 10-hour, 100-band festival is all it's cracked up to be.
It's Sunday morning and the members of Brightwood are carrying their equipment a few hundred yards across the field to their stage, as all second-tier Warped bands do. The unsigned pop-rock band, which sounds somewhat like a more mature Good Charlotte (though they are younger), earned its spot on the 3-foot stage by winning a battle of the bands. Their reward? A 1 pm slot after three other local bands. Some of Brightwood's songs are pretty bland, but 19-year-old guitarist Collin Schneider's leads are strikingly clear and the backing vocals provided by drummer Stephen Brittell are better than those AFI will deliver in a few hours (they had a rough set). The highlight, the second-to-last song of the set, in which a whisper of "to breathe" is followed by a dead stop and a louder repetition of that same phrase, is the stuff that gets you distribution in mall record stores.
Of the roughly 30 people who watch most of Brightwood's set, many are friends, but a few are new fans, like David Bates. The 19-year-old discovered the band online and specifically planned to see them for the first time at Warped.
Between locals I meet Lauren Rocket, vocalist of the Los Angeles band Rocket, who tells me none of the bands that play on the small stages get paid, although she stresses it's "a privilege" to get to play.
Dewey Halpaus, 24-year-old guitarist for the Burning Room, echoes that statement, saying, "No one has an ego on this tour—even the most famous bands eat the same food."
Halpaus also noted the importance of fliering the festival so that fans know where and when to find smaller bands. Sure enough, about three dozen people gather quickly as the Burning Room begins its set of Blood Brothers-style dance hardcore. The band is playing on the Hot Topic-sponsored stage, where it garnered a spot through what drummer Travis Wisner calls "pure nepotism." The sun is tilted right on the band, intensifying vocalist John Wood's animated performance.
Halpaus says it's definitely worth it to play Warped Tour, because people you might never reach otherwise come to the show. And Wood's crowd interaction, grabbing any head in reach from the stage, probably encouraged some of the passersby to stick around, although I would have liked to have seen him enter the audience and "sit on people's laps and stuff" as bassist Cookie Fulwyler says he's known to do.
To read Jason Simms' review of the rest of Warped Tour, visit www.localcut.com and search "Warped."