It was 1999, a full-on, hot and sweaty Summer. We were getting ready to go on the infamous Vans Warped Tour that is ironically — or un-ironically — touring for the very last time this year. By “we,” I mean me and my BFF’s — three friends from Laguardia High School with a big sister from another mister who, in 1987, started an all-female band called the Lunachicks. We did it for shits and giggles, but it became an accidental career.
All of our favorite local bands had broken up, died from heroin overdoses, or other accidents, or literally just disappeared into the ether. (That happened, but that’s another story.) So we figured we’d just make our own thing. Each one of us — Squid, Gina, Sindi and me — all had good, diverse musical tastes. We liked everything from Funkadelic to The Runaways to The Stooges, to Black Sabbath to KISS…. Just for starters. And we just thought playing in a band would be a good time. By 1999 we had been doing it for over 10 years.
It was that year that we were invited to play the Vans Warped Tour. But let me give you some context:
The Vans Warped Tour was a summer pop/ punk/ hardcore music festival that started in 1995. It had an extreme-sports-circus caboose and was a total bro-fest. Bands like The Offspring, Rancid, NOFX were staples, and the whole thing was founded and run by super-dude, Kevin Lyman. Our California sisters, the band L7, played in the early years, but very few women played and — having just checked this year’s line up — that remains true to this day. We were grateful to be there. We wanted to represent, and we’d already toured with a good bunch of the bands on the tour (and shared a booking agent with many of them). Some of the other bands playing that summer were Weezer, Green Day, Eminem, Ice T. It wasn’t the biggest audience we had ever played to, but it was like getting decorated with medals and attaining a higher rank.
From American city to American city (and sometimes Canada), we’d drive all night in our rented Winnebago with a younger-than-us person at the wheel — someone we didn’t pay much who was in it to see the bands. They’d drive all night, and even though they were supposed to be sleeping during the day, we’d catch them watching Green Day. Our driver was often drowsy. We were constantly afraid of becoming a statistic in a flaming car wreck every single night as our Winnie flew down the highway rattling and blowing like a big cardboard box.
Every morning we’d wake up in a field, or a parking lot, or a dusty pile of dirt in a sea of buses with whirring generators. We’d have to get up hit that Port-O-John that you know at least 100 men had already taken their hung-over-morning-dump in. Then we’d stumble around to find shitty coffee and fear this would be the day we would go on stage at noon. The time slots changed every day, and you didn’t know when you were playing until that morning.
One day that fear became reality. We already felt like outcast-weirdo-glamour-clowns-who- happened- to-have-vaginas in a traveling circus, and this day we had to fast forward our routine. It was slap on the makeups, a few buckets of glitter, and get on stage tout-suite. The second time we played at noon we literally wore our PJ’s with full makeup and said glitter. We looked like four Fraggle Rock muppets waking up after a slumber party, crust still in our eyes.
The day we joined the tour we had to drive from New York to New Mexico, set up and go on stage around 3pm. We were not what one would call a daytime band. 100 degrees in the shade was something we hadn’t considered when planning our stage look. As per usual, we applied our clown makeup inspired by Barbie dolls and every character in early John Waters films, and buckets of glitter gifted to us by Manic Panic. My get-up included ginormous black platform knee-high, faux leather boots and a large extremely fake and boiling hot pile of hair pieces plopped on my head. Our piece de resistance: we all donned black and yellow vinyl outfits.
VINYL in 110 degrees. See what I am saying?
We were fucking excited. We were playing the Main Stage. It was our first day on the tour. We had so many friends and comrades and couldn’t wait to impress the shit out of ourselves and everyone else. We were proud to be here to represent women who are strong and tough and can play and sing better than many of the guys anywhere.
We were a bad-ass-gang of chicks, larger-than-life women ready to rock out to a sea of pop-radio- loving jocks, and a few jocks disguised as ’punks’.
We will win them over, I know we will.
I joyfully stomped on to the stage and scream into the mic, “HELLO WARPED TOUR!”
Having played with many of the headlining bands on this tour already, we had been to this rodeo before but I guess sort of assumed it might be a little welcoming. Just a little?
Were we WRONG.
Once we started playing, it didn’t take a genius to realize this crowd did not exactly appreciate us. We looked out at a sea of mostly white, aggro teenage males and a smattering of girls. Vans and band t-shirts, shorts and baseball caps.
We launched with our song F.D.S. that starts with the vocals belting out: “You’re aaaaaaaaa… mental case. How ‘bout I smash your face?” The tempo was fast, who knows if anyone could even understand what I was saying but about three songs later, full and half-full sized bottles of green, yellow, blue and red Gatorade are flying at me, hitting me in the back every time I turn around. That shit fucking hurt and I never saw who was doing the throwing. Sneaky fuckers. It was a slap in the face to all of us, via my back.
Immediately I thought, “THIS is what we have been waiting for all these years? THIS is what we have been working for and drove across the country for? Fuck this!”
This was war. I launched into the comebacks: “Do I come to your job at McDonald’s and throw things at you?” This kind of response usually got a good reaction from the crowd. Most of the time they’d do a 360-degree flip to loving us. However, more often than I would like to admit, I had to get physical. If someone yelled, ‘Show us your tits,’ which was a pretty regular occurrence, I would pinpoint the male screaming it and with a little sexiness to my voice like an evil siren calling to a sailor, I’d say, “Come on up honey, I wanna show you something.” The idiot would come up and I bashed them in the head with the microphone, which made a nice, solid sound:
BOOF! BOOF! BOOF!
And then the crowd would cheer and we could move on from the titties and fucking play.
As we learned that first day, playing was a battle. I had to break up fights from the stage more than once. Memorably in Florida, which was a highly populated skinhead territory, we would have to stop playing and call people out to quit hurting each other.
This was the beginning of a long-assed tour of only three weeks. It did get better. It was also super fun. We were one of the guys, we were respected loved by the other bands — ok maybe not Rivers — and we did gain new fans and hopefully empowered some girls and gays along the way.
Surprise! The next summer we were invited back to do the tour again. This time the costumes were lighter, made of much more breathable fabric and were all in camouflage. We were ready.