Originally published July 5th, 2016.
On July 1st, I got on the road and drove 2 hours north to sunny St. Petersburg to check out this Summer’s Warped Tour. Tampa Bay area local and UNRB bassist, Nic Giordano joined me on the day’s adventure as we strolled from stage to stage to check out some of Warped 2016’s ska and non-ska acts as well as meet up with a few of the musicians for some interviews. After picking up our press credentials and making our way to the back of a very long line, we enjoyed some people watching and conversations with others waiting in line. Some of the bands walked alongside the line to get in to let attendees know when they were playing and to attempt to sell their music and merch. The word’s “pop punk” were so common we decided to make a water “drinking” game to help us stay hydrated in the sweltering heat where whenever we heard fans or a band describe their music as “pop punk” we’d take a swig.
Finally, it was time to cross through security and scope out the set times to find out who we were going to see and when. Early on the list was New Found Glory so we made our way to the left foot stage to catch the long beloved “pop punk” band we’ve been listening to since the late 90s. The band opened with their hit from the early 2000’s “Understatement” however nothing about the set was understated. Jordan and Ian both crisscrossed the stage as they played through some highlights of their discography. Jordan perched at the front of the stage while Ian’s trademark grimaces conjured images of gargoyles, it was clear that NFG has found the fountain of youth. As the set was coming to a close with “My Friend’s Over You,” you couldn’t help but be nostalgic and think about what you were doing when you heard that song almost 20 years ago. Of course, New Found Glory wasn’t the main reason we were there, they were just the warm up for Nic and Me.
We were there for the ska. For those of you who didn’t witness Warped in the 90s, there was a time when ska music was around every corner. Bands like Rancid, Save Ferris, Hepcat, The Specials, Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake were the pulse of the tour. With the new millennium, the 3rd wave subsided a little and Warped seemed to zero in more on the pop-punk and hardcore bands with a trickle of ska here and there. A few of the “bands of old” remained on the lineup each Summer until 2016. In what I’m hoping is the beginning of a resurgence, two of the more popular 3rd wave bands, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish both ended up on the lineup along with Warped newcomers, The Interrupters. Meanwhile, Michelle Beebs of ska fusion band Beebs and Her Money Makers took to this Summer as a solo act with a few of her Money Makers backing her as well as rapper B-Lay.
Less Than Jake was the next to take the “Left Foot Stage.” While waiting for the set to start LTJ drummer, Vinnie, sat at his drums with his 5 year old daughter, Lilly, as she tapped out some rhythms. Moments later “Hail to the Chief” cranks up with a “Presidential” prologue for the set. The band took to the stage with guitarist Chris Demakes at center suited up as “Uncle Sam.” Less Than Jake’s campaign to “Make Warped Great Again” didn’t fall short as the band played through some of their greatest hits from the last 25 years including Pezcore’s “Johnny Quest,” Losing Streak’s “Automatic,” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” from Anthem and See the Light’s “Overrated.” Meanwhile, their stage (and pit) antics didn’t disappoint. At one point the band brought out it’s TP blasters and painted the pit in toilet paper. Later, in an LTJ twist on crowd surfing, their mascot, “Evo Boy” went rafting across the crowd armed with a super soaker and fishing pole. Less than Jake was certainly a highlight for us nostalgic 30 somethings and teens alike.
Later, Nic and I caught up with LTJ saxophonist JR Wasilewski for an interview where we discussed the evolution of the LTJ fan demographic, Pez Collection, Children, …
Andy: Having grown up in Gainesville and followed you since high school, I’ve noticed that LTJ has always appealed to a younger audience. Back then all ages shows included tweens through college students. How has your audience changed in the last couple of decades?
JR: All of those teens and college students are now middle-aged with teens and college students as children (some of them). It’s only changed due to the fact that as we’ve gotten older, the fans have gotten older. So we have some young fans, some old fans. We don’t really discriminate. To still have younger fans, to me, is kind of mind-blowing but I don’t question it, I just go with it.
Andy: I can’t help but think of Pez when I think of LTJ. Pezcore, of course, was named because of the band’s Pez obsession. Is that Pez obsession still there?
JR: With Roger and Vinnie more so than the other three of us. We all have Pez collections by proxy but Roger and Vinnie definitely have the most complete and expensive collections. If you’re going to break into someone’s house from our band, break into their house not mine. But now they both have kids so they can’t really have them out and displayed. I think Roger still has his displayed but his son’s not allowed to touch them. “Those are daddy’s toys. Can’t touch’em.”
Andy: Speaking of kids there are lots of kids entering the picture and Chris is expecting…
JR: Yes. Well he’s actually done nothing in the situation except, you know, not wear a condom I guess. Sure, he’s pregnant I guess! If you wanna say that.
JR: I said it should be “Ruggerio” but I don’t think that’s gonna fly. I’ve heard some name’s going around but nothing that stuck. We’ll see.
JR: If you’re testing me I can tell you all this stuff… Buddy has a project called the Coffee Project he plays in. Chris is a real estate agent in the Punta Gorda area. He will sell you a house and it’s probably shitty! And then I started a podcast called “Everyone Has a Podcast.” It’s on Tumblr. Yeah – we just do stuff to keep us from getting bored.
Andy: I’d find it hard to get bored with all of that plus everything with Less Than Jake. How do you manage the time between all the side projects and touring and studio time?
JR: You just get used to it. When we were all offered the opportunity to let this be our career, we didn’t want to fuck it up. We worked really hard to make sure that continues to happen. Everything we do on the side fills in the gaps of the other things we do. It all feeds on itself so we try to support each other both in our band and our side projects too. It’s important. That’s what keeps us happy to see each other, is to be able to have those other outlets.
Andy: Many LTJ fans are also Reel Big Fish fans. You guys have toured together and both have had a big presence on the Warped Tour. Have you ever considered doing some sort of collaboration? Perhaps a split where you cover each other’s songs?
JR: We talked about that before we toured with each other. It’s just timing. You know what I’m saying? We’ve definitely talked about it, just nothing’s happened. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen just not in the distant future. I don’t see it happening but maybe, one day. That would be interesting.
Andy: What’s your strangest tour experience?
JR: Warped Tour.
Andy: Where’s the strangest place you’ve woken up?
JR: My own bed because I’m never there.
Andy: Who are your biggest ska and non-ska influences?
JR: My biggest ska influences are, in no particular order, the Skatalites, Fishbone, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Specials, Madness, Toots and the Maytals, Roland Alphonso but he’s part of the Skatalites. Non-ska would be Elvis Costello, The Beatles, Descendents, Iron Maiden, NOFX.
Andy: If you weren’t a musician, what other career would you want to have?
JR: I’d be a teacher. Or a rocket pilot. It doesn’t seem like much work – you just sit at the top of the rocket and someone else does the work. You may have to count down from 10 or something…
Andy: Any words of wisdom?
JR: If you start a band, stop! And sell me all your gear. I buy it cheap!
On another note, unrelated to Warped, Less Than Jake guitarist Chris Demakes recently lost his grandmother. Chris wrote a song in honor of his grandmother who lost her vision due to Temporal Arteritis and to help raise funds for Tidewell Hospice who cared for her at the end of her life. Please check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSwhur7T5Oc and check out the description to find out how you can donate to Tidewell Hospice.
After checking out Less Than Jake, Nic and I made our way towards the stage where The Interrupters were scheduled to play. Read Part 2 of SKAspot's 2016 Warped Report where we cover their set and talk with Kevin and Justin Bivona of The Interrupters.
Check out Less Than Jake's Website.
Check out the Warped Tour Website.
Check out more photos from the Warped Tour in St. Pete in the SKAspot Warped Gallery.
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