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The persistent rain at LaSalle Park couldn't dampen the spirits of the crowd at the third annual Vans Warped Tour last week.

The event showcased the talents of 29 punk rock and ska bands. This was a concert where the music spoke for itself, with no frills attached.

The show kicked off shortly after noon with the lighthearted punk band Blink 182, and finished off with the hardcore Sick of It All shortly after 9 p.m.

Good sets were crafted by the punk/ska band the Suicide Machines, as well as by the pure ska masters Hepcat.

Pennywise, who turned down an opportunity to play the main stage at Lollapalooza two years ago because of high ticket prices, stayed true to their punk roots by delivering controlled noise to fans well acquainted with the band's style.

Though consigned to the smaller club stage, Sugar Ray played one of the best sets of the day, incorporating numerous genres of music (hip-hop, reggae, punk) into an extremely powerful live show.

Lead singer Mark McGrath interacted with the fans, at one point diving into the crowd and getting his belt stolen.

"(The fan) literally pulled it off me as I was trying to get back on stage," he explained. "She managed to sneak backstage to talk to me, too. But she wouldn't give me back the belt."

The performance that drew the largest crowd (virtually all 9,500 people who were there) was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

With their unique ska sound and their mastery of performing live (some 300 shows a year), the band kept the crowd in a trance, with singer (and I use that term loosely) Dicky Barret as lead hypnotist.

"You may have seen us on TV. That's not what we're about," shouted Barret to the rain- and sweat-drenched fans. "We're about all of you people, and we will never, ever forget it."

You can understand why the Bosstones were so popular with the fans. During the set, the mosh pits became especially active.

Also appearing were Limp Bizcit, who were described by veteran mosher John Youra as having "the wildest mosh pit of the day."

Later in the afternoon, the up-and-coming ska band Reel Big Fish played a set of more radio-friendly ska, with the high point of the show being their cover of A-ha's "Take on Me."

Other notable performances were given by punk veterans Social Distortion and the Descendants, as well as by local group Snapcase.

Because of the persistent rain, the BMX biking and skateboarding elements of the festival could not go on. So many of the athletes, who had come from across the country, took advantage of the break to listen to the music.

Dedication to the fans and emphasis on music is what makes the Warped Tour a refreshing change from the norm. Here's hoping for a return next year, but with better weather.

Matthew Smith will be a senior at Orchard Park High School.

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