Something I absolutely love about my gig at the Observer is getting to cover shows that I would have paid to see. This past weekend, the Warped Tour came through town and I had a blast. After three Warped dates between 1998 and this year, I think I finally got to see how good the festival can be.

My first Warped was spent inside the Astroarena due to the threat of rain. According to the members of NOFX, the sound was horrible, so they threw their $5,000 payment for the day into the crowd. I didn't mind the sound and didn't think NOFX was throwing real money away. Turns out they were. Seeing the surge of folks running towards the stage made me realize that as much people debate what punk is or isn't on message boards and e-mail discussion lists, when there's free money, everyone wants it.

Last year's Warped was more or less a writing assignment. I was asked to cover the show and I didn't object. I wasn't planning on going to the show, but when an editor believes in your abilities to cover something you might enjoy, then by all means, step out of that routine/comfort zone.

I can't say that I had a bad time last year -- I just didn't get why whiny screamo bands like Chiodos and crappy novelty acts like 3OH!3 were considered worth paying money to see. As much as I hate to sound like the old man in a room full of kids, I had to ask if this was some well-calculated joke that I didn't get.

This year's Warped felt like the Warped Tour I always read about. There was a good mix of bands, including some of my all-time favorites. Yes, up there with Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and Ben Folds Five in my mind, seeing face to face and the Dillinger Escape Plan again was a pure joy.

I was quite aware during face to face's set that I was the only guy up in front going nuts. Sure, there were guys who started a circle pit and plenty of people sang along, but I had no reservations about showing my appreciation for a punk band that has never felt dated or adolescent to me. I didn't care that I stuck out like a sore thumb around people that (at most) bopped their heads. A full set of classics and one new song was perfect for me.

There was plenty of music throughout the day and a lot of it was bland and blah. From the bands that sound like Paramore to the bands that sound like Sick of it All, I preferred to focus on bands that have been good for a while and will continue to be good. Hell, I was even surprised by the Rocket Summer.

So, yes, it took almost twelve years and three Warped dates to finally get what all these people have blocked out of their calendars a year in advance for. I must say I look forward to next year's date.