“All good things must come to an end.” It’s cliché and it’s sentimental, but it’s certainly true in the case of the Van’s Warped Tour.
In November of last year, creator Kevin Lyman announced the end to the traveling ensemble of the dreaming, screaming, up-and-coming bands. For over two decades, they have faced the wrath of the American summer to bring a unique, affordable experience to every major city in the country. Starting in late June and extending into early August, bands and fans travel cross-country to meet one another and share their love for music. The last stop on the tour will be at Coral Sky Amphitheater in Palm Beach, FL on Sunday, August 5th.
Reel Big Fish stepped onto the scene in the late ‘90s with a not-so-serious ska-punk style. Hits from the ’90s like “Sell Out” and their cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me” featured the fast and furious tempo of a blaring trumpet. Recently, I got the chance to listen to the pipes behind that iconic trumpet: Johnny Christmas.
Johnny is as affable as the notes he sends out of his trumpet. He is just as jolly as his last name conveys, and he had a perfect perspective on the life of a traveling Warped Tour band member.
“It’s wonderful and terrible all at the same time,” he said, recounting the unfathomable heat of the summer, the sun beating down on a parking lot filled with fans all grooving and cheering on up to five bands at a time. “Wonderful bands… all at the same time? Not so wonderful.”
The tour truly is unique. Johnny described the moments: the meet-and-greets and the connections with fans, the times when he’s tired, sweating, and sun-poisoned, but still can’t wait for the next day. He spoke of the flow of knowledge that moves through a community of bands all traveling together, some of them veterans, some of them teenagers with a dream, but all of them spending the summer fueling their passion for music. “It’s huge for these music fans to meet their heroes,” said Johnny. “And it doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg to do it… or a pancreas.”
Not long into our conversation, I asked Johnny what message he would send to the fans wandering the country and wondering what’s next. He paused for a moment, and I could almost hear him stroking his mustache in thought. “Don’t give up on your bands,” he responded. Maybe it was the poor reception or maybe it was my haste to write down everything he said, but the word I heard at the end of that phrase was different. Initially, I heard Johnny say, “Don’t give up on your dance.”
For some reason, the parallels between these two phrases struck me as wonderful. Johnny wants Van’s Warped Tour fans to follow the bands that they have been chasing since their tender teenage years. He reminded them to keep following their childhood heroes and to keep traveling in search of a new or nostalgic sound.
The message I received, however, was much broader. We travel to concerts, drive across the country, and stand in the sun for five hours of the day listening for that same sound that made our world light up at seventeen. We move and grow and work and play and age and forget—and sometimes, we give up on the things that make us really happy. As much as we think this might be inevitable, it doesn’t have to be. Nothing ever truly ends, and no one ever has to give up on something that makes them happy.
Later in the call, Johnny told me about Reel Big Fish’s new album coming out in the fall of this year. It’s titled “Life Sucks, Let’s Dance.” He described his goal to live sincerely and promised his listeners a message to inspire. “We’re going to make you laugh, we’re going to make you dance, we’re going to make you raise your middle finger,” he said. “We’re going to make you forget about your problems and live.”
Call it my terrible hearing, or call it a sign from the universe, but the message I received from my chat with Johnny Christmas was clear: Whatever it is, don’t give up on your dance.