Documentary Exposes the Gritty Side of Rock Festival Life
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Documentary Exposes the Gritty Side of Rock Festival Life

A Warped Tour documentary pulls back the curtain on the storied traveling show.

The Vans Warped Tour is a rite of passage for those in their early teens, like acne or disillusion. They come out to the shows in droves, having just discovered a new, exhilarating rebellious streak and the sweet liberating sounds of punk-rock music. Parris Patton’s documentary, No Room For Rock Stars, which screens tonight as part of of the Canadian Music Week Film Festival, captures the tour in all its sweaty, dirty, and unhygienic glory.

Rather than provide a detailed history of the Warped Tour, the film smartly chooses instead to follow the lives of four acts and their key personalities during the course of the 2011 edition. The cameras reveal a festival that is undergoing fundamental changes, while still trying to remain relevant to today’s youth.

Suicide Silence and its severely tattooed lead singer Mitch represent the roots from which the festival blossomed. Mitch wails with cathartic intensity, but off the stage, he wrestles with social anxiety and he has a family that he works hard to support.

The waters get a little murkier when the doc introduces us to Never Shout Never, who preach positivity under the guidance of their leader, a high-school dropout named Christofer Drew Ingle. Intelligent and passionate, Ingle has an ear for writing emo songs that make young girls swoon. While their music may not be in the realm of punk, certainly Ingle’s anti-authority stance is, and he’s quick to acknowledge the inherent irony in a festival aggressively marketing an aesthetic to fifteen year olds, many of them rebelling against popular culture.

At the far end of the spectrum is Mike Posner, a pop singer who is on the cusp of blowing up and, in his words, “has already sold more than ninety-five percent of (what the other Warped Tour acts) ever will.” His inclusion on the bill is indicative of the compromise necessary to keep the Warped Tour alive. He has little in common with the bands that he reluctantly shares a bus with. He often gives extra performances on shows like America’s Got Talent and Regis and Kelly.

And then there is Forever Came Calling, the group that perhaps most exemplifies the DIY punk-rock spirit that spawned the festival. Not included on the schedules in any of the cities, they diligently follow the tour in a beat-up van and hustle to sell CDs for gas money in the pre-show line-ups, while amassing signatures in an attempt to get themselves included on next year’s bill. Hailing from a dead-end SoCal town, they have dedicated their young lives to the pursuit of a career in the music business and their journey provides the heart of the film.

Overseeing the whole operation is founder Kevin Lyman, a down-to-earth punk approaching fifty, who obviously considers the festival to be a labor of love. We also meet the roadies he has hired to assemble and tear down the shows in every town—many of them reformed criminals that Lyman recruited because he could tell they’d be willing to work hard.

The doc is lively and absorbing. It provides an illuminating window into a memorable summer for all involved. If that makes the film sound like a corny coming-of-age story, well, that might not be far off the mark. Certainly, by the end of the tour, everyone involved has grown up a little, and has gained some insight from their participation.