Every summer since 1995, the Vans Warped Tour has been rolling around the country, offering one of the funnest events of the year for music fans.
Its days as a punk, semi-counter-cultural event are long past -- it's not unusual for banks to have booths at the shows, offering to help you open a checking account -- but even the overtly corporate Vans Warped Tour still offers a way to hear some great established bands and discover some up-and-coming ones, all in a pleasant atmosphere.
Among the more venerable acts who are likely to play the two main stages at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park this year are Bowling for Soup, a Grammy-nominated pop-punk band that's been around since the '90s; Kevin Seconds, the frontman for the pioneering hardcore band Seven Seconds; pop hip-hop artists Outasight; punk-ska band Reel Big Fish; Christian punk outfit Relient K; Canadian pop-rockers Billy Talent; new wave/comedy act the Aquabats; and hard-rock band the Used.
One treat for local audiences will be rock singer Juliet Simms, the former Clearwater resident who took second place in the second season of "The Voice." Her cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," which she sang on the show, became a minor hit.
But there are about 70 acts in just about all genres, and the best way to enjoy Vans Warped is to wander around to the scattered smaller stages -- there are usually 10 stages in all -- and try to find some great, weird bands that you've never heard of. There will be lots of bands you hate, and it's weird seeing death metal bands in the afternoon in a beautiful waterfront park, but that makes it even cooler when you stumble across someone great.
One cool (literally) feature of Vans Warped is the "reverse day care tent," an air-conditioned place where parents can hang and watch TV while their kids are out listing to bands.
The music pretty much spans all kinds of rock, from power-pop to some pretty harsh metal, and most of the bands play half-hour sets, so there's enough going on that it's easy to find something you like, even when acts on the main stages are leaving you cold.
It's going to be either very hot or very rainy or both, and there's little in the way of shade or shelter, so if you go you'll just have to resign yourself to being uncomfortable. But people have been flocking to this tour for nearly 20 years, so they must think it's worth it.
Details: 11 a.m. July 26, Vinoy Park, 501 Fifth Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg. Tickets: $38.50-$47.50. Information: www.vanswarpedtour.com.