It’s been over a week and I’m still scraping the red mud out of the old Chuck Taylors.

This year’s Vans Warped Tour made its way to the sprawling Exchange Park Fairgrounds on Mon. June 26 under some of the muggiest summer weather of the year. It was a muddy, rainy mess of a punk jamboree, but worth the trip out to Ladson — if not for catching some of the strong band performances, at least for seeing some of S.C.’s most enthusiastic punk and metal fans up close in their finest, sweatiest, shirtless glory.

It was also the only S.C. stop for the Vans Warped Tour 2006; with moderate turnout and medium enthusiasm from the crowds, it might just be the last time for a long time that the annual event hits the Palmetto state.

Over 50 bands performed on 10 stages of various sizes. The two large-scale main stages stood side-by-side at the back end of the park (the Jack-in-the-Box stage and the Teddy Bear stage) while the smaller, tarp-covered platforms stood scattered among the numerous venders’ tents and concessions along the walkways (the Hurley, Shira, Volcom, Ernie Ball, Hot Topic, Major League Baseball/Vagrant, East Coast Indie, and Smartpunk stages).

For $27 a pop, most revelers probably got their money’s worth of music, depending on their tastes.

Local bands Handgun Sonata, Red Handed, and Aslan were added to the early schedule at the Ernie Ball stage and played back-to-back from 12:30 – 2 p.m. Word had it that they were compensated in low form (no free beer either — and at $5 for a plastic bottle of Bud Light or Miller Lite, that’s a shame), but they get the bragging rights, I suppose.

Along the walkways, it was difficult to tell the band members apart from the fans. More than a few attendees sported Mohican haircuts, liberty spikes, denim and leather jackets, and skater gear. Some parents strolled along with their children, all of whom were decked out in full “punk” style for the event.

On the smaller stages, I couldn’t really tell most bands apart, save for the wimpier emo pop bands standing out from the heavily-distorted guitar bands. At some stages, they had crumpled paper flyers taped to the PA speakers with the band lineup listed in magic marker. At others, it was a mystery who the bands were.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (an extremely fit-looking Jett with three fairly new backing players) played their hits to a much bigger crowd, but with less energy. Luckily, just around the corner, the blue-jeaned, heavily-bearded Valient Thorr tore it up on a tiny stage with a blistering set of boogie rock. Even through a terrible PA system, they kicked ass and even startled a few passersby looking for more familiar Warped-clone bands.

The Bouncing Souls kicked late-afternoon ass, as did Rise Against.

The absolute highlight, however, was watching the Buzzcocks take the main stage (left side) at 4:45 p.m. in front of about 200 youngsters and hardcore fans. Founding members Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley (both on guitar) looked genuinely glad to be there, despite the heat and humidity. They opened with the title track from their new album, Flat-Pack Philosophy and blasted through about 15 tunes in 30 minutes. Barely pausing between songs, the band threw fast-tempo versions of such classics as “Ever Fallen in Love?,” and “Autonomy” at their audience. “Noise Annoys,” “Orgasm Addict,” and “Boredom” closed the set.

While bassist Tony Barber and newly-added drummer Danny Farrant kept up the pace and looked confident, Diggle was the fun one to watch, pointing, smiling, doing scissor kicks and Townshend-esque windmills. They were huffin’ and puffin’, but kicked it with more power and volume than many of the Warped bands half their age.

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