The Vans Warped Tour celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer -- a landmark event that makes it the granddaddy of annual traveling rock shows -- and a tour that year in, year out, continues to pack amphitheaters and similar-sized venues from coast to coast.
Brian Baker, guitarist for Bad Religion, has little problem understanding why the Warped Tour has not worn out its welcome.
"If you're in the crowd, think of the choices (in bands)," he said. "There are so many options and so many cool things to do that I see people really having a good time there. It always seems to be full right until the last moment.
"We also are talking bang for the buck," Baker added. "I don't know what it is, like 32 cents a band, something like that. You do the math, it works out. Yeah, it's just a great time."
Baker's computations are a little off, but he has a good point about the ability of the Warped Tour to deliver value.
When the tour stops Tuesday at Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, some 45 bands will take to the stages each day, all for a ticket price of $28.25. In a day and age when amphitheater-level acts routinely command $50 or more per ticket (Sting and Annie Lennox are fetching as much as $121 for a Sept. 26 concert at Coors Amphitheatre), the Warped Tour is easily the best bargain of the summer for sheer quantity of music at an affordable price.
The lineup this year offers a good mixture of critically acclaimed up-and-coming bands (such as Thursday, Coheed & Cambria, My Chemical Romance), pop-punk bands that have had a taste of chart success (New Found Glory and Yellowcard), lesser-known newcomers (Amber Pacific, the Bled and the Red West) and punk-rock veterans (Bad Religion, NOFX and the Vandals).
And while the Warped Tour has always been closely identified with punk rock and the skate and surf scene, the tour has expanded beyond its punk roots, while retaining a strong modern rock identity -- and apparently not losing credibility with a fan base that values musical authenticity. This year's lineup includes a healthy contingent of groups, such as the promising Canadian all-female quartet Lillix and Yellowcard, whose sound is as much power-pop as it is punk.
The impact of emo is also felt on this tour, with groups that are known for open-hearted lyrics, such as Alkaline Trio, Story of the Year and Taking Back Sunday, joining the lineup.
Other bands, such as the Flogging Molly (Irish-inflected punk), Coheed & Cambria (blend of progressive rock and melodic modern rock) and Thursday (tuneful, yet complex, epic hard-rocking songs), stand out from the pack with their distinctive, genre-stretching styles.
Such groups should more than justify the expense and time spent at the daylong festival. But it's not just fans who enjoy each year's Warped Tour.
For instance, one of punk rock's most enduring groups, Bad Religion -- which just released its 13th proper CD, "The Empire Strikes First" -- are playing this year mainly for the pure enjoyment.
"I do still enjoy touring (in general)," Baker said. "But the Warped Tour specifically, I really look forward to it. It's a great way to see music, and if you're performing, you spend 23 hours a day with all of these bands that we've been friends with for so many years. It's really a pleasure.
Beyond the camaraderie, Baker said he thinks bands appreciate the Warped Tour's ethic of equal opportunity.
"It's an entirely egalitarian system," he said. "No matter how big your band is, everybody still plays a half hour. And no matter how big your band is, nobody knows when they're going to play until it (the schedule) is posted on the big board in the morning. So people qualify bands as headliners by, I guess, their status when they see a print ad. People just assume the better-known bands are the headliners, but there is no headliner.
I think that has a lot to do with it (the appeal for bands). It's very put your ego in the back seat and just go play good music. "Also when you have over a hundred buses filled with these lunatics just roaming around the country, it's almost got this 'Mad Max' feel in that it makes you bond tighter," Baker said. "You just feel like pirates, just out there. It's really cool. It's maybe a little childlike, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'm old enough to appreciate what it was like to go to summer camp. And this is summer camp with instruments."