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All-American Rejects' Tyson Ritter nearly pisses his life away ...

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On the buses: Snoop jams, teased hair and SpongeBob sheets ...

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Backstage photos from Warped Tour 2005

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— by Gil Kaufman

June 19, Milwaukee

Today is the day Tyson Ritter almost died.

Wandering backstage before an early afternoon set at the second stop on this year's Vans Warped Tour, the All-American Rejects singer really has to take a leak. His road manager explains that Ritter is holding a soda can because he "likes to pee in bottles."

Not finding any privacy, Ritter — whose arm sports a tattoo of an electrical socket with a plug snaking out of it — ducks behind a big box on wheels and drops his fly as minder "Shabba" (they all have names like this) frantically yells, "Dude! Not there!" Ritter was about to pee on the transformer that powers the stage.

That would have been bad. Real bad.

He shrugs, laughs and crawls under the stage with his can.

Just another day on the 11-year-old Warped Tour, or what many (including myself) have often called "punk-rock summer camp." However, after spending a few days on tour in June, I realized Warped is more like a tattooed circus, complete with ringmaster (founder Kevin Lyman), sideshow freaks (just look around) and an extended-family vibe that unites its hundreds of misfit siblings on a grueling, unforgettable journey across the country.

And while the tour has grown to the point where sponsors and vendors outnumber bands, anyone questioning the punk ethics of those playing on Warped need only consider the life of Josh Applebach. Punk rock is rolling out of your cramped tour-bus bunk at eight in the morning after only a couple of hours' sleep to assemble a stage in exchange for a slot on the tour. That's what Appelbach, 22, will do just about every morning this summer so his band, Greeley Estates, can play on one of the smallest side stages at Warped.

Punk is volunteering to be the barbecue band for the whole tour, which means that after a day of roasting in the sun onstage, you fry some more at night as you grill up veggie burgers and hamburgers for the bands and crew. Just ask Left Alone, who asked to be the BBQ band again this year just so they could hit the road with their homies.

On this particular day, the second stop of the tour, it's 9 a.m. and chilly, but most everyone is too busy to care. Backstage, nearly every inch of a parking lot the size of two football fields is crammed with tour buses. A ragged city bus with an air conditioner poking out of a window stands out in the crowd, because atop it, a bleary-eyed dude with a matted mohawk is pouring gas into a portable generator.

Mainstage photos from Warped 2005

The primary means of backstage transportation for the hundreds of label reps, publicists, roadies and bandmembers this morning is mini motorcycles, longboard skateboards, lowrider bicycles or motorized scooters. But no one seems to be in much of a hurry, even though there's plenty to be done before doors open in a few hours. With the rivers of ink and piercings on display, it's impossible to tell the crew from the bands — that guy dragging an amp could be a guitarist, a singer, a label president or the dude in charge of keeping the cooler stocked.

Around 10 a.m., an anxious group assembles around the production offices, awaiting the day's band lineups. It's one of the things that really makes this feel like a circus. No headliners, no guaranteed slots, no prima donnas. My Chemical Romance will close the show tonight, but in St. Louis two days from now, they'll play midday. And everyone, from Billy Idol to Gym Class Hero, gets the same amount of stage time (30 minutes).

The tension mounts as it's one hour to doors and set assignments haven't been made. You wouldn't know it by looking at Lyman, who saunters past in flip-flops, shorts, a plaid T-shirt, shades and a big smile. With his tanned, lined face and beatific grin, Lyman is an image of cool amidst a hive of activity. Finally, at 11:15 the set times are posted and band reps busily jot down the information before barking into their phones or typing on their two-ways.

Just four hours after the hundreds of merch tents and stages began to take shape, crowds are spilling in and music is being played.

NEXT: On the buses: Snoop jams, teased hair and SpongeBob sheets ...
Photo Credit: John Squires

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My Chemical Romance
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Fall Out Boy
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The All-American Rejects
"My Paper Heart"
The All-American Rejects

Avenged Sevenfold
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(Warner Bros.)