The Same but Different: The 2012 Vans Warped Tour at Reliant Center

"I couldn't wait for the summer and the Warped Tour," sang Blink-182, echoing many of my own thoughts as the school year would come to a close. I'm not a hot-weather person, but for a few years at the end of the '90s and the start of the '00s I looked forward to the Warped Tour as much as I did Halloween and Christmas.

A bad case of "Cory spends too much time in the sun and gets sick" a few years back has had me away from the summer festival scene for a while, but after living through Summer Fest I felt like it was time to face my fear and visit Warped once again.

I woke up early on Sunday, grabbed a camera, and like so many others braved the rain for a few hours to see what's new at my favorite summer tradition and what hasn't changed.

If you're wondering if Sunday's lingering rain had any effect on the crowd, the simple answer is no. People might have spent a little more time looking for shelter and a little more time under blankets instead of sitting on top of them, but when it came time to watch the bands the crowd was in to it.

The line to get in and the line to buy tickets were both down the street by the time the first acts started hitting the stage, and from where I was standing outside the venue you could already hear the crowd screaming in approval for Sleeping With Sirens.

The crowd was the general mixture of types that you'd expect from these shows: some in all black, some mostly naked and covered in paint, people in costume (2 Spidermen, 1 Waldo, and what I believe was the same Pink Ranger from Summer Fest), people in neon, the bald, the Mohawked, the pierced, and the inked.

All of them, no matter the outfit, navigated the often confusing labyrinth of stages, vendors, and merch booths trying to catch everything. At the start of the day making your way through the fest wasn't a big deal, but as more people arrived and more bands started to do signings moving in the merch area became increasing difficult.

It's great that so many bands make time to meet their fans, but I've always wondered if there isn't a more efficient way of doing so.

On the music front, things can best be summed up by the old cliché of "the more things change, the more things stay the same." Warped has always had a pretty eccentric mix of artists. Punk and hardcore might make up the base, but there's always been room for other genres including hip-hop and metal. The lineup remains diverse, but the difference is in those other genres.

It would be hard to argue that Breathe Carolina aren't the biggest band on the tour this year. The crowd that drew for their 12:35 p.m. set was massive and completely on board with what the group had to offer. Mixing rock and EDM sounds together is really clever on their part, because by the time it gets to the breakdown you aren't sure what to expect: A heavy guitar riff, a new beat, or some wobble bass. It's a completely familiar yet uniquely modern sound and the crowd ate it up.

Breathe Carolina weren't the only dance group on the bill. I caught a bit of Stepdad's set later in the afternoon and it was a nice bit of electronic pop- happy music for happy people. It's infectious and they seemed to win over a few of the passing crowd, going to show that a good song will reach people no matter the style.

Of course, even with the diversity, the fest was also heavy on bands returning to a fest they once toured with a decade ago. Taking Back Sunday fans seemed to be everywhere, and there was lots of chatter for New Found Glory and Yellowcard.

For my money, the best of the old guard was Anti-Flag. They may have played to a crowd noticeably smaller than some of the other bands from the main stage, but they still brought the punk fury they've built their career on. Even now songs like "Fuck Police Brutality" just work; underneath all the aggression and the message there's still a core of great, catchy songwriting.

One of the great things about Warped is that there's always a chance you'll discover a new band to be blown away by.

Consider the guys in Belle Manoir. I can't say that I knew much about them other than that they were from Houston and had won a chance to play the Ernie Ball stage this year, but I like to support the locals so I made the trek out to catch their set.

Had I not known better I would have been completely fooled in to thinking they were Warped veterans. They put on a super-solid four-song set, anchored by some great guitar work and a good stage presence. The guys have a following and people showed up to see them, singing along and moshing, which is a rarity for obscure, early in the day small stage acts.

Rarely do you get a group of guys playing their first Warped set so fully formed and confident. I can easily see them playing the fest again in the future.

BM weren't the only Houston natives that I caught. Hyro Da Hero, born in Houston and now recording out in L.A., is a rapper unlike most from our fair city. When everything is on, he's like a fun Rage Against the Machine. When things are off it's something you're more likely to find at the Gathering of the Juggalos.

His set wasn't bad, just frustrating. Hyro has a lot of potential, but just has to find the right way to bring it all together.

It's easy to talk about what makes Warped great for those of us who get to catch it once a year, but I was curious about what it's like for those who get to experience it day in and day out for weeks. So I asked a simple question: What does the Warped Tour mean to you?

"It's a moving city, it's a moving family, and it means so much to us as a band. We get to see our best friends every day. We get to play amazing shows for amazing kids. It means the world to me"

-- David, Breathe Carolina

"A pleasant surprise"

-- ultramark, Stepdad

"Sweaty porta-potties"

-- Pat, Anti-Flag

"It means punk rock, it means grinding it out, it means making new fans, and it means coming out on top in the end"

-- Parry, The Silver Comet

"You meet a lot of people and you'll meet a lot of great friends and you'll have that for the rest of your life"

-- Sean, Dead Sara

"Honestly, it's just a great celebration of music. You have this awesome day that has tons of bands, all across the board of genres"

-- Tanner, Belle Manoir

"Growing up. Learning. It's about discovering new things. Literally going to see Taking Back Sunday or New Found Glory and finding everything else that comes with it"

-- Bethany, Warped Media Guru

I left Warped reflecting on the day and the things I knocked off my thimble list: running around in a circle pit; dancing in a silent disco; being old enough to go in to the Adult Daycare.

It was outside the show on the way back to my car I met the above gentlemen. Icarus the Owl are on their own tour and decided to spend their afternoon hanging out outside of Warped, playing their music off MP3 players and trying to make new fans.

It was weird, but admirable at the same time. Warped is full of weird moments like that. People going down a slip and slide even though it's raining. Someone in a Spiderman suit crowd surfing in an inflatable raft. People hanging out under semis because there's dry ground. Monks chanting while Dead Sara does an acoustic set 30 feet away.

Of course you'd try and sell your CDs at the Warped Tour, even if it meant hanging out outside the gates.

Where else would you rather be?

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