As many of the people reading this know I’ve been photographing shows of all sizes for the past four years, and for three of those years I have been trying to tour, literally with anyone. I never cared the genre of the band, how big they were, or where we would be going I just wanted to get out on tour, see the country, and take some photos.
A little over three months ago I got a tip from my friend Aidan that Rise Records might be looking for a merch assistant for Warped Tour so I decided to give it a shot. After emailing back and forth for a couple weeks I was set to fly out of Boston to L.A. on June 17th to meet up with Matt Conger who I would be working with in the merch tent all summer. Once everything was confirmed I gave my two weeks notice at the grocery store I had worked at for the past seven years.
The two weeks leading up to my flight out to California were filled with prepping and packing for my two month trip around the country. The final days were filled with good byes from co workers, friends, and family. I had a party a few days before I left with all of my close friends since I wouldn’t be seeing them until at least the July 14th date of the tour in Massachusetts. The last day I was home was spent grabbing last minute things and my parents cooking a lobster dinner for my girlfriend and I, then the next day my father drove me to the airport shuttle and I was off to California to start the craziest two months of my life.
After getting to L.A.X. I met up with Matt and his friend Nick Major who does video work for AP Magazine. Nick and I talked about some photo and video things and he gave me some tips on touring since its my first time while Matt tried to find his hockey sticks that the airline never put on the plane. After that we grabbed an Uber to the hotel in Pomona with a driver named Noel, “like Christmas” he said and after a couple wrong turns through rush hour and road work we started joking about just driving to Vegas, but he insisted that his wife wouldn’t be happy with him. Once at the hotel we checked in and grabbed In N’ Out Burger and spent the night at the pool getting to know others on the tour.
June 18th was production day. We all showed up to the Pomona Fair Grounds to sort out our merch and set things up for the actual first day of Warped Tour which was the following day. It was hot and there were a lot of boxes to sort through, label, and put on a trailer that had essentially become a greenhouse in the California sun. Later on we got our bus assignments, I was on bus 15 with two names that I had recognized, Jesus Martinez, a photographer and merch guy who was often out on tour with letlive., and Jarrod Alonge, the youtuber known for his “Every Pop Punk Vocalist” and similar videos.
That night all eighteen of us sat down and introduced ourselves and what we were doing on the tour and set ground rules for the bus, mostly about keeping it clean and labeling your food. Oh, and you can’t crap on the bus, DO NOT crap on the bus. Its about two weeks into the tour and our bus has become pretty close with each other. I would introduce everyone here, but like I said there are eighteen of us including myself so I think saying that I’m on a bus with seventeen awesome people should be enough for now. I’m sure they’ll be popping up in my photos so you’ll meet them eventually.
The first few days were a bit rough since I was still figuring it all out but my day is pretty simple. I wake up at about 7:30am with everyone else and we squeeze around each other in a three foot hallway of bunks trying to get ready. Then I meet Matt at the trailer and wait for our stuff to be unloaded and then set everything up. Memphis May Fire does a signing at our tent every day, sometimes other Rise Records artists will too depending on their schedules. Matt usually runs to get us lunch and dinner while I watch the tent and continue to sell and I’ll step out throughout the day to photograph Rise Records artists. Once 6pm hits we count our merch and tear down the tent then I’m free for the evening. There is usually a few bands playing still so I’ll shoot whoever has a set, then I’ll shower and start editing everything. On nights with a late bus call there is usually a BBQ that Ill go to for an hour or so before finishing up editing photos or heading to bed.
On our first off day in Arizona we stayed at a resort called the Wigwam. Everyone headed out to the pools and waterslides to relax for the day while Sam who works the Sumerian Records tent and I worked on some stuff and headed to dinner before Jarrod and Alphonse who works for TEI came over to our room for some drinks.
A few days ago we had our second off day in Little Rock, AR where most of my bus made it a priority to get some laundry done. We took an Uber to the Miracle Coin Wash and got homemade ice cream at a small café across the street. After that was done Jesus, Josh who works with the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation, Sam, and I chucked our stuff back on the bus and went to a bar called The Flying Saucer which boasted over 100 beers on tap. After ordering the Cheese Fries Surprise which was essentially nachos with french fries instead of chips we had a few beers and headed over to Ernie Briggs, a piano bar next door which seemed to have most of the Warped Tour crew already there. After about an hour there Jesus and I headed back to the bus and talked music photography along the way.
The day after was another off day, this time in a resort called the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville which is essentially a small domed town. After the main lobby area there is a large atrium filled with waterscapes and trees with bars, restaurants, and shops scattered throughout. Sam, Jarrod, and I got dinner at a Mexican restaurant before heading back to our rooms for the night to finish up some work before a twelve day stretch of shows.
I’ve been going to Warped Tour every year since I was about sixteen so its still pretty crazy to me that Im working on it this year and as my first tour ever. I’ve been given more access to photograph artists than ever before and have been working with bands that i’ve listened to for years. The amount of work that goes in to making this happen every day is pretty insane too. As production says we show up, build a city, populate it with about 10,000-15,000 people then tear it down and do it again in the next city. Its also not just bands. There are so many non profits out on this tour with great causes from cancer awareness to animal rights. The Warped Tour also does it’s best to decrease it’s carbon footprint using bio fuel generators, recycling absolutely everything that it can, and doing it’s best to help the local venue with clean up after each day. Every person that i’ve met so far, attendees and tour people have been nothing but friendly, happy to help each other out, and excited to make new friends. While its a lot of work its way less stressful than working my old customer service job. Touring on Warped Tour is the greatest opportunity i’ve received in my life so far and is right on par with what I what I want to be doing, touring and photographing musicians on and off the stage. The first two weeks are over but there is still plenty of tour left to go and I’m excited for all of it.