Returning to Nashville for the third year in a row, following an extended Music City absence, the long-running Vans Warped Tour, now in its 22nd consecutive year (making it the longest running traveling summer fest by a huge margin), is back in town today, June 29 at The Fairgrounds Nashville (formerly known as the Tennessee State Fairgrounds). Gates for the all ages affair open at 11 a.m., with music slated to start shortly after, and conclude this evening around 7 p.m. Tickets are still available online or at the gate, and, while early bird rates have passed, at $49, you’re still averaging less than $1 a band.
While Warped’s lineup is, and has long been, largely aimed at the teenage demographic, the fest has always maintained a fairly eclectic lineup, balancing a healthy crop of legacy acts with a new batch of artists ranging from punk to ska to hardcore to metal to hip hop to EDM to indie and everything in between. This year’s bill is the best we’ve seen in a awhile, especially if you’re a nostalgic 20-something, and Nashville’s stop especially is teeming with talent. To help you navigate the nearly 70-act bill, spread out across seven stages, we’ve rounded up our top performers, and ranked the 15 you don’t want to miss. Check out our picks below!
Texas trio Waterparks are being pegged a “next gen” pop punk band (whatever that means). What we love about the young up and comers is that they balance the broader radio-geared pop-heavy punk appeal of genre-bending crossover artists like 5 Seconds of Summer, but still maintain the credibility and fun of their influence. Winning over the love of the scene, and already brushing shoulders with the likes of Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance, Waterparks seem poised to follow a path similar to Fall Out Boy, or, at least, All Time Low, likely to become one of the the biggest breakout pop punk bands of the next few years. Keep an eye on ’em.
LISTEN | “I’m a Natural Blue”
WATCH | “Crave” (Official Music Video)
#14: MOTHER FEATHER
Full Sail Stage
Though the most common image of Warped Tour is likely either Hot Topic clad emo and hardcore bands, or spiked belt and dickies outfitted punks, depending on your age, those more familiar with the fest know that, while the “scene bands” make up the bulk of performers, nearly every genre is represented, and many artists might surprise you (notably, Eminem, Katy Perry, and even Beck have appeared at the fest). Brooklyn’s Mother Feather are one such wild card this year, taking cues from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, T. Rex, and New York Dolls to inform their glammed out, glitzy, proto-punk meets alternative flavor of “pop cock rock.”
LISTEN | “Mother Feather”
WATCH | “Living, Breathing” (Official Music Video)
#13: TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET
In an age of increasingly bloated, over-produced, and overly radio-geared pop punk, its refreshing to still see bands like Wyoming’s Teenage Bottlerocket, now 15 years in, playing straightforward, no-BS pop punk without forgetting about the punk half of the equation. Taking inspiration from acts like Bouncing Souls, The Ramones, and Screeching Weasel, the band have released six full-lengths, and have shared the stage with the likes of NoFX, The Ataris, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Something of a quintessential Warped act from an era of Warped past, these guys remind us of high school in the best way possible.
LISTEN | “They Call Me Steve”
WATCH | “Skate or die” (Official Music Video)
London trio SYKES are another act likely to defy your preconceived notions of what Warped Tour performers should sound like, harboring an electro-pop sound not dissimilar to CHVRCHES or Little Boots. They’ve apparently managed to release a string of phenomenal tracks and EPs right under our noses over the past few years, and, though they’ve found some love from the press across the pond, they’re only just starting to make a splash stateside. Veterans of the UK version of Warped, SYKES have already shared the stage with the likes of Charli XCX, Bleachers, and Kodaline, and if you dig soaring melodies, layered and electro-infused songs with a strong guitar backbone, and hypnotic vocals, you’ll want to get familiar stat.
LISTEN | “Anybody Out There”
WATCH | “Gold Dust” (Official Music Video)
#11: THE INTERRUPTERS
Fronted by Aimee Allen, The Interrupters are fast becoming heroes of modern ska punk, closely associated with one of the biggest figures in the scene, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong. Seriously, between their self-titled debut LP, and recent Armstrong-produced sophomore effort Say It Out Loud, Allen, and bandmates Kevin, Justin, and Jesse Bivona (they’re brothers) have basically nailed their best early ’90s Rancid impression, breathing life into a style of music that’s largely under-represented nowadays without it sounding overly nostalgic or dated. Tim’s production touches, especially, make this band sound, dare we say, more interesting than Rancid in 2016.
LISTEN | “By My Side”
WATCH | “Take Back the Power” (Official Music Video)
#10: MASKED INTRUDER
Operating under the names Intruder Yellow, Intruder Green, Intruder Red and Intruder Blue, Wisconsin pop punks Masked Intruder are definitely a gimmick, but what really matters is their music, and it’s solid. Formerly signed to Fat Wreck Chords and now tastemaking label Pure Noise, the band are less intense than their tough portrayal might suggest, landing somewhere in the territory of pretty pleasant, fast, hook-laden pop punk, teetering between ’90s and early ’00s pop punk influences and more polished, contemporary flair (leading us to believe that they’re young-ish). Keep an eye out for upcoming EP Love and Other Crimes.
LISTEN | “Take What I Want”
WATCH | “Crime Spree” (Official Music Video)
#9: REEL BIG FISH
Journeys Left Foot Stage
Though the popularity of ska at the mass-cultural and commercial radio level has all but faded away, a few lingering bastions of the third wave, ’90s ska punk movement still remain, and Reel Big Fish are inarguably one of the most influential and enduring. With hits like “Sell Out” and “Beer” considered something of modern classics, the legendary band, and long-running regular Warped performers, are still doing their part to give you a reason to strap on those checkered Vans, plaid pants, and suspenders, and get to skanking. They’ve been semi-regularly releasing new stuff, sure, but don’t worry, they’ll play the hits.
LISTEN | “Everyone Else Is An Asshole”
WATCH | “Sell Out” (Official Music Video)
#8: THE MAINE
Journeys Right Foot Stage
We’ve written about The Maine on a handful of occasions, and have always remarked at their ability to mature, transform, and evolve, finding a way to stay anchored to their roots, without feeling beholden to the scene’s confines and sonic cues. Slowly shedding their sugary pop punk beginnings, the band took an alternative turn before embracing their inner Third Eye Blind with anthemic, unabashedly nostalgic fifth album American Candy last year. Not only one of the pop punk world’s most talented bands, The Maine are also one of its nicest, maintaining a humble, respectable, and accessible relationship with their fans amidst an increasingly exploitative scene.
LISTEN | “Love & Drugs”
WATCH | “English Girls” (Official Music Video)
#7: REAL FRIENDS
Journeys Right Foot Stage
For the last several years, pop punk has seen something of a sonic and philosophical course correction, moving away from the reactionary scene that sprung up after the style became all the commercial rage in the ’00s, and moving back towards the rawer, faster, more punk rooted approach that ruled the ’90s and early ’00s. Knuckle Puck, The Story So Far, Like Pacific, and a host of other bands this year are part of pop punk’s refreshing new wave (which co-exists, and sometimes intersects with the emo revival), but of the bunch, we think Real Friends have best nailed the sound, earnestness, energy, and feel of favorites like The Starting Line, Taking Back Sunday, and New Found Glory.
LISTEN | “I’ve Given Up On You”
WATCH | “Mess” (Official Music Video)
#6: STATE CHAMPS
Journeys Right Foot Stage
Like Real Friends, State Champs are among the new crop of revivalist pop punks. Despite their young age, they sound like they grew up on a strict diet of New Found Glory, Blink-182, Yellowcard, and The Ataris, much more than the radio-pandering, “neon” pop punk wave that would have been all the rage in their teenage years. That’s not to say they don’t adopt a modern flair; in fact, they’ve so well perfected a hook-laden pop polish without comprising their energetic, angsty backbone, that they’ve landed on the road with big names like All Time Low and 5 Seconds of Summer, and seem to be well on their way in following a similar path to massive crossover success.
LISTEN | “Elevated”
WATCH | “Secrets” (Official Music Video)
#5: EVERY TIME I DIE
Monster Energy North Stage
Heavy music is a huge an integral part of Warped’s makeup and popularity, but you’ll notice that our list doesn’t include much in the way of metalcore; we dig metal and hardcore, and certainly cover heavier bands from time to time, but the modern, track-laden, gimmicky metalcore movement that has become so popular with the Warped crowd just doesn’t do it for us. Sorry not sorry. That said, one of Warped’s OG metalcore bands, returning this summer ahead of a new LP, Every Time I Die will forever be our go-to to show the kids how it’s done, and with timeless modern classics like Gutter Phenomenon and New Junk Aesthetic, they remain our preeminent southern-tinged, math-y, metalcore heroes. If you’re looking for maximum live intensity, here it is.
LISTEN | “The Coin Has a Say”
WATCH | “The New Black” (Official Music Video)
#4: LESS THAN JAKE
Journeys Left Foot Stage
Like Reel Big Fish, Florida’s Less Than Jake are one of the last remaining holdouts of an era when ska briefly ruled the world, and, for decades, have remained one of the most frequent and beloved staples of Warped Tour. If you’re simply seeking out a single ska fix this time around, we’ve ranked LTJ the highest just for their sheer abundance of memorable hits, which have aged gracefully, and remain linked with so many huge pop culture moments of the ’90s and ’00s. The group have slowed down a little on their output in recent years, but remain a party-starting, unbelievable live powerhouse, with all of their core members intact. Ska fan or not, Less Than Jake should be on your Warped must-see list; they’re undoubtedly this year’s biggest, longest-running legacy act.
LISTEN | “My Money Is on the Long Shot”
WATCH | “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” (Official Music Video)
#3: NEW FOUND GLORY
Journeys Left Foot Stage
If you know what Warped Tour is, then you definitely know New Found Glory. Along with artists like Blink-182, Sum 41, and Jimmy Eat World, the pop punk pioneers ushered in an explosion of interest in the scene in the early ’00s, finishing what Green Day had started, and helping signal the beginning of the end of carry-over alt rock, which would pave the way for the rise of acts like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore. Though breakthrough efforts Sticks and Stones and Catalyst might ring the most memorable, the band have never slowed down in their terrific output, and have settled into something of permeant, legendary, fan-geared, and uncompromising figures in the pop punk scene, actively involved with and inspiring rising acts, and expanding their hardcore influences to side projects and more. At least partially based in Nashville nowadays, the band bring their A-game to every show, and are basically the standard bearers for what Warped Tour is all about.
LISTEN | “Vicious Love” ft. Hayley Williams
WATCH | “My Friends Over You” (Official Music Video)
#2: SUM 41
Journeys Left Foot Stage
There was a time when Sum 41, like New Found Glory, and even to a greater degree, were chart-topping, TRL beloved, pop cultural icons, exploding to fame with platinum-certified, uncompromising 2001 debut All Killer, No Filler, a reflection of their young, unchained, no-fucks-given skater punk attitude and love of the burgeoning pop punk renaissance. Unlike most of their peers, however, Sum 41 always harbored a taste for metal, and veered more into that territory with subsequent releases, eventually cutting back on the riffage after the departure of guitarist and founding member Dave Baksh. After nearly a decade, and following a near-death health scare for singer Deryck Whibley, Baksh reunited with the group last year, re-energinzing the Canadian rockers ahead of comeback album 13 Voices. It’s this story of perseverance and the fact that they’re still committed to making music that makes Sum 41 such a hot ticket this summer; so, if you’ve been dragging your feet for 15 years, there literally hasn’t been a better time to see them in ages.
LISTEN | “In Too Deep”
WATCH | “Fake My Own Death” (Official Music Video)
Journeys Left Foot Stage
There’s no doubt that Yellowcard would have earned a high spot on this list no matter what, but the recent, sad news they’ve decided to disbanded, following one final, eponymous album and farewell tour, suddenly makes seeing the group at Warped much more urgent and essential, if you’re in any way a fan. Formed almost two decades ago in Florida, and most closely associated with Los Angeles, though they’re at least partially based in Nashville nowadays (seriously, who isn’t?), after an early warm reception within the pop punk scene, Yellowcard found massive, worldwide commercial breakthrough success with their nearly double-platinum certified 2003 fourth album, Ocean Avenue. Staying prominent in the pop punk world, they’ve normalized back to more modest in reach, returning to the indie label circuit, and even managing to craft some remarkably inspired later career efforts like 2012 eighth album Southern Air. Undoubtedly the most famous pop punk band ever to feature a permanent violin player, Yellowcard have unfairly taken some flack for being more pop than punk, and are, perhaps, remembered as a one-hit wonder to some degree by the general public. The Warped crowd knows better though; Yellowcard are an influential, eclectic, and important fixture of pop punk’s golden era, and their legacy will live on even after they call it a day. Outside of Warped, Nashville’s never been a place they’ve frequented, and, as it stands, no Music City date is announced for their final tour. If you ever want to see Yellowcard play again, outside of driving to an out of town date, this is very likely your last chance. Don’t miss it.
LISTEN | “Ocean Avenue”
WATCH | “Rest in Peace” (Official Music Video)