Photos: Behind the scenes with Tampa's Set It Off on the 2013 Vans Warped Tour
Rising at 7:30 a.m. each day to lug a stage’s worth of instruments and gear across a series of sprawling, sweltering fields doesn’t sound like anyone’s gig of a lifetime.
But for the better part of a decade, that has been Cody Carson’s dream.
“I was at my first Warped Tour in 2004,” said Carson, the singer of Tampa pop-punk band Set It Off. “Being a fan and going to it is a life-changing experience. You get to see all your favorite bands, you’re sweating your ass off with your best friend, having the time of your life. So ever since I experienced that day, I was like, Man, I would love to play this.”
Set It Off aren’t strangers to the Vans Warped Tour, having played a few sporadic dates here and there. But this year, they’re on the entire American run — 39 dates from coast to coast, including Friday’s hometown stop in St. Petersburg, the same city where Carson and guitarist Dan Clermont saw bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and All Time Low growing up.
“It’s the hardest two to three months you’ll ever do in your life,” Clermont said, “but it’s the most rewarding and the most memorable.”
Set It Off formed as teens in northern Pinellas County in 2008, and it didn’t take long for them to attract national attention, thanks in part to their tireless self-promotion on social media. In 2009, they won a band battle to play the local Warped date; in 2011, they signed to Equal Vision Records, home to national acts like Say Anything and We Came As Romans.
That summer, Warped brought them on board for a six-date run, though as Carson said: “Six days is a little tease. It doesn’t really give you the full effect. That stage we were on, we didn’t even have laminates. We had wristbands.”
Now the band has their own air-conditioned bus, a merch tent near their stage, daily cases of water and beer and access to Warped’s backstage catering spread and nightly barbecues.
That doesn’t mean they’re acting like big shots. Set It Off has no real crew, which means they must haul their own gear, set up their own merch tent and manage their own on-site P.R., donning costumes and handing out stickers to get fans to come to their set. At a recent stop in Holmdel, N.J., Carson and Clermont even volunteered to work the backstage catering line — not an uncommon practice for up-and-coming bands.
“Cody and I had a little game — I was serving salmon and Cody was serving chicken, and everyone that walked through, we were trying to pitch a sale to pick our plate,” Clermont said. “We served Black Veil Brides, Sleeping With Sirens, The Used, Memphis May Fire — anybody and everybody you could think of walked through that line.”
Every connection adds up. Set It Off just released an expanded version of their first Equal Vision album, Cinematics, an ambitious, bombastic fusion of theatrical glam-punk and over-the-top orchestration. And the harder they market themselves, the more fans stop by their tent to pick up a copy. “If we’re given any sort of opportunity, we do not let it slide,” Carson said.
The band has had Friday in St. Pete circled on their calendar all summer. Performance times and locations vary by city, but look for them sometime in the late morning to mid-afternoon on the Kevin Says stage.
“None of us can wait for that date,” Carson said. “My mom and my sister have no idea what Warped Tour’s like, but they’re coming to our Warped Tour home show. I’m excited for that.”
Added Clermont: “I live probably five minutes from Vinoy Park, so I’m going to go see my brother and my dog, and relax a little bit — just enjoy the home life for the day,” he said. “I cannot wait for that.”
Before the tour began, we asked Set It Off to document their experience in photos, and they happily obliged, posting dozens of photos on social media and Equal Vision’s Tumblr. Check out the photo gallery at the top of this post for a behind-the-scenes look at their summer on the road.
- Jay Cridlin, tbt*