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Vans Warped Tour turns 20, still rocks Jones Beach

Fans crowd surf at the Vans Warped Tour

Fans crowd surf at the Vans Warped Tour 2013, an all-day rock concert on several stages at the Nassau Coliseum, July 13, 2013. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

For those of a certain age, it may be hard to believe that the Vans Warped Tour -- which reaches the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater Saturday, July 12, 2014 -- is celebrating its 20th consecutive summer in business. This year's mega-gathering of rock bands promises to be much like the 19 previous ones in its stylistic orientation toward youth (in other words, expect the music to be loud, hard and fast). But two decades on, a whole generation of performers and fans has grown up with the Warped Tour and can see it from a wider perspective.

Take, for example, Princeton's Saves the Day, which first played Warped in 2000. Back then, the young band was hailed as one of the leading forces in the burgeoning "emo" movement. Now it's returned to the tour for a third time, in support of its self-titled eighth album. Band members are not kids anymore. But the passage of years has done nothing to erode their enthusiasm for the Warped experience.

"It still feels the same to me as it did 14 years ago," Saves the Day singer-guitarist Chris Conley says. " Kevin Lyman always puts something great together. You can walk from one end of this huge space to the other and hear 10 different styles of music. You don't think it could work, but it does."

As always, Warped is a full-day event with dozens of bands on multiple stages. Thirty "featured artists" are listed in alphabetical order on the official website, but there are many more performers than that, offering a range of genres far beyond the tour's early roots in skate-punk and ska. You'll hear hard-core punk, metal, electronic music, hip-hop, R&B, and the quirky pop-rock of Sleeper Agent from Bowling Green, Kentucky, whose singer Alex Kandel was 9 when Saves the Day played Warped for the first time.

"Nobody in our band has seen the Warped Tour before," she confesses. "When I was underage, I begged my parents to let me go, but they didn't. So I bought the Warped compilation CDs every year instead. That's how I first heard Paramore."

Sleeper Agent joined the tour this week in Camden, New Jersey, which means that the Jones Beach date will only be its second. "I'm trying not to be incredibly intimidated," Kandel says with a nervous laugh, "but there's nothing else out there that's like this."

Other notable Warped performers this year include metal stalwarts Of Mice and Men, ambitious alt-rockers We the Kings, skacore survivors Less Than Jake and two raging pop-punk bands, The Story So Far and Four Year Strong, that Conley singles out as personal favorites.

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Several of these acts, like Saves the Day, raised funds to make their latest albums through online pledge drives. On one level, this may seem like a simple case of musicians struggling to survive in a shrinking industry. On another, the success of such campaigns -- along with that of the Warped Tour itself -- testifies to the continued vitality of the rock underground as a self-sustaining scene.

You could argue, of course, that no artist performing on a tour sponsored by a popular shoe manufacturer should be called "underground." Then again, how many of these bands have you heard on the radio recently? "In the end," Conley says, "music is about community. We're trying to build that here, and find a way that we can all be part of something we love."


Vans Warped Tour

WHEN | WHERE Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater

TICKETS $39.50

Nearly 100 acts are scheduled to perform at the Jones Beach Warped Tour show, more than even the most dedicated stage-hopper could hope to catch. We've already mentioned a few you can't go wrong with, but here are five more to keep an ear open for.

Bayside/Anthony Raneri. It's a welcome double shot for Bayside fans, who can look forward to a full-band set by the venerable Queens punk rockers plus a solo acoustic slot from lead singer-guitarist Raneri.

K.Flay. A female indie rapper with good taste in beats, a captivating delivery and lyrics that deftly mix angst and humor.

Bad Rabbits. The members of this eclectic Boston quintet have collaborated in the past with R&B and hip-hop legends like Slick Rick and Teddy Riley, but they like to cut their own funk with a big chunk of hard rock.

The Protomen. When your live act involves masks, helmets, silver face paint and a large ray gun, it's possible that your actual music could get overlooked. Still, the crazed theatrics of this Tennessee troupe wouldn't work half as well without tight playing and catchy tunes that occasionally bring Queen to mind.

Unlocking the Truth. Three seventh-grade African-American metalheads from Brooklyn. Check out the YouTube footage of their recent performances in Times Square. These kids rock, and they deserve your cheers.

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