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Festival Recap: When We Were Young Fest proves it was never a phase

Fans had the time of their lives at When We Were Young Festival in Las Vegas, proving emo was never just a phase. 

More than 80,000 self-described “elder emos” flocked to the Las Vegas Festival Grounds for two days of pop punk, hardcore, nu metal, and related iterations — but mostly to soak in the nostalgia and enjoy a Warped Tour-esque experience. And the festival delivered, down to the sweltering sun that baked the blacktop.  

With genre mainstay headliners Green Day and Blink-182 and newer acts like Beach Bunny and Ekkstacy, there was something for everyone at WWWY, giving it multigenerational appeal. Even the attendees who leaned unfamiliar with the music could appreciate the spectacle of it all: dozens of food vendors, brand activations, onsite arcade-style games, a skate ramp where legend Tony Hawk made an appearance, and fireworks to cap off each day.   

When We Were Young packed in 50+ artists across four stages all in one day, so it’s no surprise there was more than one could feasibly experience in a 12-hour span. That being said, these were some of our favorite things we saw and heard at WWWY 2023:

The thousands-strong chorus of “Ocean Avenue” 

Fresh off their tour celebrating 20 years of Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard had a midafternoon set at WWWY and a crowd of thousands. Frontman William Ryan Key was just as awestruck by the turnout as the fans were of getting to see Yellowcard — many of them for the first time. “We’ve been playing the biggest shows of our lives this year,” he said. Never in the band’s wildest dreams did they think they’d be a sensation two decades into their careers. The testament to their stardom was at the end of the set during “Ocean Avenue,” when the penultimate chorus was sung just by the crowd. Chills.

The festival outfits

Festivals are always hotbeds for great outfits, but the 92-degree heat precluded most elaborate costumes. Some pivoted to funny t-shirts — some favorites included the Run DMC style design that read, “Tom Was Right: Aliens f@$&ing exist” and another that featured, “What the fuck is up, Denny’s?” in your classic hardcore font. Others stuck with their plans, including a Waldo (who must have heard, “We found you!” from at least a dozen drunk people) and a couple who went as Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Unsurprisingly, there were also quite a few Enema of the State nurses.

The artist friendships, reunions, and guest appearances

One of the most fun aspects of a genre-specific event is the camaraderie amongst the artists. Plenty of the acts on this year’s WWWY lineup grew up together, toured together, and ruled the scene together in the early aughts, and they’re friends who got to reunite over the weekend. This made the festival special both because watching the artists’ interactions was touching but also because they appeared at each other’s sets and made the fans go feral. Even some artists who weren’t announced showed up, such as Avril Lavigne (or Melissa, if you subscribe to the conspiracy theory) on Saturday and Lil Wayne on Sunday.

Getting exactly one chorus of “Konstantine” 

“How many of you showed up to hear this song?” Something Corporate frontman Andrew McMahon asked about the group’s nine-minute epic. The sizable crowd cheered in response, and McMahon admitted “Konstantine” would take up a third of their allotted time on stage. But he had a solution: one chorus of the song, introduced with plenty of time to grab your phone and start recording, and the suggestion to tell your friends you saw the longest version of the song that’s ever been performed.

Simple Plan’s cover medley

Simple Plan was one of the most unserious acts on the entire lineup, evidenced by their general demeanor while on stage from the Star Wars theme that played as an introduction to the cover medley they threw in halfway through the set. The group began with the hits, “I’d Do Anything” into “Shut Up!” into “Jump” and later launched into a mashup of “All Star,” “Sk8er Boi,” and “Mr. Brightside” that was just plain fun. Maybe it was a missed opportunity to bring Avril out again, but we’d like to think she listened to Simple Plan’s rendition from side stage.  

The spot-on timing

When We Were Young organizers ran a tight ship on Saturday and had the scheduling down almost to the second. Every set (to our knowledge) started right on time, and nobody ran late. On the Stripe stage, this was largely thanks to the rotating stage piece that functioned as two halves and allowed artists to do their changeovers behind a wall so they’d be ready to go when the piece spun around. This let the fans plan their day ahead and have a smoother experience.

Blink-182 by Quinn Tucker for When We Were Young

The return of Blink-182

The trio technically reunited late last year, but 2023 saw a proper tour and festival appearance with the original lineup for the first time in more than a decade. Blink-182 was the reason many fans showed up for When We Were Young, and the group ripped through one of the best sets of the day. There was banter, there were raunchy jokes, and there was insane production that featured fireworks and a suspended platform for drummer Travis Barker (who played “Violence” blindfolded). All in all, they squeezed 23 songs into their set, closing with “ONE MORE TIME.”       

With the return of core artists from the genre and the release of books like Sellout and Where Are Your Boys Tonight?, emo is in its renaissance, and fans can’t get enough. The announcement of When We Were Young 2024 is imminent — we’ll see you there.

Story and photos by Taylor Knauf