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One Van's Warped Tour

Every Time I Die frontman and hardcore Buffalonian Keith Buckley exposes all the grime of an unglamorous journey to get to Warped Tour

Our guitar player Andy, a drummer they call “Legs,” and a merch guy we call “Big K” left Buffalo on June 11 in a van that had a mouse living in it, who, over the course of four months of touring, only let itself be known through carelessly placed droppings and nests of cotton that indicated a complete lack of regard for feng shui.

Warped Tour with Every Time I Die and dozens of other bands comes to Darien Lake this Tuesday, July 17, when Keith’s backyard will be his own backyard.

The van was pulling a trailer that had thrown its bolts off in a fit of anger on the 80 West two years prior and was being temporarily soothed with criss-crossing strips of Velcro and pink duct tape which insured that the side door would not swing open during quick left turns. The plan was to haul all of our equipment to Orange County, where it would meet up with the bus and trailer we would be renting for the summer and sharing with another band and two crew members.

We knew that the van was on its last leg, but we were optimistic that it would serve us for one last cross-country journey, after which where we would set it on fire and dance around it while Pantera played on a boombox, or tie a brick to the gas pedal and roll it into the ocean. The gear would be swapped out, the rest of the band would meet in a designated parking lot at a predetermined time, and the whole ensemble would ride comfortably to Salt Lake, where the Warped Tour was to begin. Our bass player Steve and I would fly in that Friday night to meet everyone and get our credentials in order.

This all sounded great in the emails that circulated for months before June 11, but on June 13, 30 miles outside of Denver, according to our drummer, the van “started making a noise which sounded like marbles being shaken in a tin can under the hood.” Apparently it had blown a rod, and this was its death rattle. An SOS was sent out across the Twitterverse and the next morning, the guys were sitting in the car of a stranger, on their way to rent a U-Haul to pull the trailer the rest of the way. The van was considered a total loss, heartlessly stripped of its license plates, like an exiled gang member relieved of his patches, and abandoned in a parking lot.

The guys had, by now, lost any hope of getting it to California. Instead, they hoped only to reach the parking lot of the Salt Lake City Fair Grounds by 11:30 doors on Saturday morning. For seven hours their thighs and shoulders touched in the front of a truck. In the eighth hour, Andy noticed that a tire on the trailer was smoking. In the meantime, the rest of the band was barreling towards Salt Lake City from Orange County in a sprinter van owned by a mutual friend who had, as long as I had known him, been a perfect mixture of Dean Moriarty and Kurt Russell’s character from Big Trouble in Little China. I’m sure he jumped at the opportunity to pile in a van and take a last-minute, five-hour road trip just to drop some guys off and turn around to drive home alone. I have no doubt that all windows were open, the radio was turned to 11, and he was yelling stories at anyone who would listen, which is probably why Andy’s distress calls to our tour manager, sitting shotgun, went unheard.

Cut to me, Thursday afternoon, eating ice cream with my wife at the Hatch in the Erie Basin Marina, sharing a quiet and mutual appreciation of the view cross the lake. Now cut back to Andy and Legs and Big K screaming in fear because all of a sudden, the trailer they are pulling down the highway is catching fire.

Realizing that time was as limited as funds, Andy made the executive decision to pour water on the tire and get back behind the wheel. They drove another 45 miles with a tire that wouldn’t turn, spewing black smoke and groaning like a building preparing to collapse. They got to a hotel and dumped the trailer in a parking lot across the street, where it still sits, its future uncertain but undoubtedly getting the sinking feeling that it won’t be good.

The next day, as Steve and I landed in Dallas for a short layover, I got a call saying that our bus had a bad radiator and we could not stay on it that night, nor would it be available to us the next day, as it would require at least eight hours to fix. It would be ready to leave an hour after we were scheduled to arrive. Our friends in other bands offered to share their space and air-conditioning with us until it was fixed, but we had no access to any luggage or personal items we’d put on the bus. I hung up the phone, disappointed, but then Steve and I got upgraded to first class so I was stoked. But then they didn’t even serve alcohol on the flight, so I was disappointed again. We landed, got a cab to the site, unpacked, got dropped off at the hotel and fell asleep.

It is now 12:15pm on the first day of Warped Tour and I am sitting on the bus that belongs to Four Year Strong while they watch basketball. I hate basketball. It is 87 degrees out and my shorts and sneakers are in my luggage which is unavailable to me. There is no alcohol anywhere. The line for catering is already out the door, and it just opened 15 minutes ago.

Fifty yards away, thousands of teenagers are writhing over each other like catfish under a bridge and Instagramming with such a fury that phone service is overwhelmed and I cannot call or text anyone at home. None of those teens have probably ever heard my band. Obviously, there is no shortage of negative things to focus on and if I opted to I could easily get lost in the mire of grievances.

But why bother?

We’re here, and we are very much alive. The weather is beautiful, friends are everywhere, I already saw a dude with a live snake around his neck, not to mention an endless stream of hardcore kids, skaters, punks, tweakers, freakers, flappers, hippies, scamps, scallywags, posers, hosers, and red-haired people. This is a bloated, long-haired version of summer camp, where old friends come together after a year or two apart, and the production staff is our team of counselors whose job it is to keep us safe, happy, and free of venereal diseases. It is simultaneously a Never Never Land (one free of all the implicit pedophilia), the island from Lord of the Flies (without the murder…hopefully), and a circus (without the Juggalos…hopefully).

And, for the next two months, it’s my backyard. All I have to do is make sure the crummy neighborhood kids stay off my grass.

This is the first of Every Time I Die frontman Keith Buckley’s regular dispatches for Artvoice.

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