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MIght as Well Jump

Every Time I Die frontman Keith Buckley on Warped Tour, how to elegantly jump into a crowd, and how not be “an old man”

When your set time is late in the day, and there have been upwards of 10 bands beating the same path onto the stage over the course of the seven hours that have passed since doors were opened, and two of them dress like vampires (not the sexy, Twilight kind), you never know if the drops of blood you see on the monitor are real or just colored syrup that burst out of a pill during a guitar solo.

No matter, I wasn’t going to touch it.

I was facing what in the course of my day would prove to be the biggest conundrum possible. How was I going to hoist myself off the stage and on top of the barricade if I couldn’t touch the monitor? A direct jump was questionable: If I undershot it, I would break a rib, and if I overshot it, I would be technically “stagediving,” which is punishable by a fine from the Warped Tour production staff. They don’t like their ticket-buyers to be subjected to heavy objects falling from great heights.

I understand that, as I still cringe whenever I see someone get their neck folded awkwardly by a crowd-surfer arriving unannounced from the back of the room. But I would think that as a show-goer, I would much prefer seeing what was coming at me so I could react accordingly instead of being oblivious to and therefore surprised by an approaching danger.

Like that law that says bike riders need to ride with traffic instead of against it. I have always wished there was some way I could telegraph a warning of imminent danger to someone in the front row when I see a crowd-surfer approaching like a shark. They’ll be singing along, having the time of their life, trying to make eye contact with a band member, when all of a sudden they have an Achilles tendon in their mouth and their glasses cracked in half and you can see the sheer panic in their eyes as they try to make sense of what has just turned the awareness of their surroundings completely upside-down.

Then, as quickly as it started, it is over and they are left standing there with a face which can only be described as “more horrible looking than Hillary Swank’s crying face” with absolutely no way to correct it or ever get restitution from their attacker. Now they have two options: Hope no one saw it and continue partying without eyesight, or abandon post and drink a Slurpee while sitting under the corner of a semi truck because it’s the only place they remember seeing shade. I can assure you, given the amount of shot, sweaty, defeated tweens I see under trucks, most of them opt for the latter.

I also didn’t want to seek assistance from a security guard standing in front of me because I thought that might make me appear scared or—as in the case of Ozzy Osborne on tour in 2004, who was assisted to and from stage by a handler with an oxygen tank every night—too old for this. The fear of becoming, or at least appearing, “too old for this” is something that has never been in the forefront of my daily routines until this summer.

And now to make me sound exactly like the person I don’t want to be mistaken for…

When I first began going to Warped Tours as a kid, there were headliners.

By that, I mean bands that everyone agreed was the band to play last. They were either famous, had been a fundamental part of your childhood, had somehow changed the temperature of the music scene, or (in Bad Religion’s case) all three. Green Day did it. Blink 182. Offspring. Sublime. Ice-T. Limp Bizkit did it, for fuck’s sake. Independent of what you think of their music, they were all massive forces within the scene. They were headliners.

Then I became a member of a band on Warped Tour and the paradigm shifted. It was like getting a job at Disney World: All the enchantment and wonderment I felt when I was young was disassembled behind the stage. There were costumes and people who wore them. There were weird habits and small talk over a lunch table with millionaires. Things I thought I knew about the things I thought I loved were wrong. Not bad, not unnecessary or unwanted, just wrong.

Andrew W.K. never partied. Not once. Katy Perry was not a sweet, Midwestern girl with a strong religious inclinations by any means. Haley from Paramore used to attend ETID shows when she was 13. Everything was backwards. How could there be a “headliner,” someone to be in awe of, if everyone around me was just a mutated version of myself or people I already knew? They had similar experiences that led them to where we both now stood. The same stories about the same clubs in the same cities and the same roadies dealing with the same promoters. The masks were off. To make a Tobias Funke analogy, I was in the locker room of the Justice League, and I would be there for the next six years of my life.

We were playing in Nashville, Tennessee last March on The Devil Wears Prada tour, and before doors opened, our tour manager Chris and I went across the street to a Mexican restaurant to have half-price margaritas, where we were met by Kate Truscott, who works almost directly under Kevin Lyman, the creator and big boss of Warped Tour. She had just moved to Nashville. We began talking about tour, as we are wont to do when drinking, and I brought up how there didn’t seem to be a real headliner this year. The Used and Taking Back Sunday and NFG and Yellowcard were by far the biggest bands, but without NOFX or Bad Religion or Pennywise, I asked, who was the old guard?

“You are,” she said.

Fuck it, I thought. I put my hand in the blood and jumped down into the crowd.

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