In 2018 I was lucky enough to attend the Orlando Florida date of the final full-length Vans Warped Tour. Running annually each summer since 1995, The Vans Warped Tour was a travelling rock festival that toured the US and Canada – mainly featuring alternative rock, punk rock and pop-punk music. Most comparable to the UK festival Slam Dunk that also features many of the same acts on the Warped Tour line-up, there are still lots of differences between how the American festival is run and the experience I had there versus my experience at UK festivals.
One of the most notable features of Warped Tour that made it stand out from any other festival – both in the UK but also worldwide was how many dates it stretched across. In 2018 the tour ran from June 21st to August 5th where almost every day in that period, the bands played half an hour sets on their designated stage. Most UK festivals take place over a weekend (Friday to Sunday) or may even be standalone one-off dates. Festivals like Reading and Leeds and Slam Dunk have shared line-ups across two locations but this is nothing compared to the number of shows The Vans Warped Tour out on.
The layout of the festival was also different from any other festival I have attended. Situated around the park were themed tents for each of the artists where they would sell their own merchandise and host meet and greets/signings throughout the day. This more personal set up made this tour less about getting drunk and trying your hardest to get right by the front of the stage for the whole day, but more about enjoying the overall experience. The authentic dirty festival vibe you get in the UK was missing but that is certainly not a bad thing.
Whilst at the tour in Florida, I was lucky enough to see fantastic sets from the Bedford band Don Broco, the Philadelphia rockers Grayscale and Waterparks who hail from Austin, Texas. Each set was short but sweet. This means you are guaranteed to watch the band perform their biggest hits – which can be seen as a positive and a negative. On the one hand, these tracks are probably going to be the most known and provoke a lot of crowd engagement but at the same time, one of the best things about seeing a band live is that they might play a few deeper cuts that you love from their discography and that never really happens at Warped Tour. UK festivals tend to give longer slots for each act’s set, especially headliners which aren’t a thing at Warped Tour, and this usually means that there will be a lot more variety in the songs they select for their setlist.
In my opinion, smaller UK festivals like Slam Dunk and larger-scale events like Reading Festival are quite a bit better than The Vans Warped Tour in terms of feeling like an actual festival. Warped Tour was a lot more lowkey and personal but just didn’t have the same hyped-up energy about it. It was still a fantastic experience that I am glad that I was able to have. That particular style of event just doesn’t compare to how amazing UK festivals are that also showcase similar styles of music – the moshing in the pit along with the booze is what makes the British festival so elite.