“Three days. 3,600 tickets. 10 minutes.” This was how Dan “Soupy” Campbell set the stage for fans as he started performing The Upsides on the first day The Wonder Years‘ 10th anniversary celebration.
This fact that the Philly favorites’ three-night stand at Union Transfer wound up being such a hot ticket may have stunned the band, but was no real surprise for thousands of fans from around the country. They knew that they would have to be sitting next to their computer clicking refresh when the clock struck 10:00 a.m. to even have a shot at coming to this event. Over the past decade, The Wonder Years went from being a less-than-serious band playing basement shows in Philadelphia andVFW halls in Lansdale to redefining the genre of pop punk and amassing a legion of diehard fans in their wake.
We went to all three days of The Wonder Years’ anniversary shows to talk to those fans about what the band has meant to them over the years.
On February 6th, when the band performed its breakout album The Upsides in its entirety, I arrived to an eager line of fans that stretched a block down Spring Garden Street. It was cold, but one has to imagine that each person in attendance was really stoked to be there; the show had sold out in less than 10 minutes.
When talking to fans about why they loved The Upsides one recurring theme was reliability. The large majority of people at the shows were in their late teens and early twenties. The Upsides, penned during Campbell’s last year in college, holds the kinds of messages about uncertainty, insecurity and perseverance that are easy to relate to and hold on to.
I talked to some fans who had spent five hours waiting in line to be front and center for the show. Tim, a 25 year old fan who has loved the band “since the beginning,” told me that “being born and raised in the suburbs of Philly myself, I feel like I listen to their music and it’s real dudes who talk like me and grew up in the same area as me. They go through shit just like me and if they can make something out of it, then I can make something out of it. It’s just inspiring”.
Hometown pride was a big factor during this weekend, but an even bigger trend was people traveling extreme distances to celebrate with The Wonder Years. I had the pleasure of hanging out with people from places like California to Nova Scotia just to see the shows.
Bri, a 19-year-old fan who flew in from Southern California for the weekend, says this of why she traveled across the country: “The Wonder Years have been the band that have got me through a lot. There have been things that happened in my life where I found comfort in their lyrics. They just mean so much to me. I said as a joke, ‘Hey, I want to go to those ten-year shows because that’d be the coolest thing ever, seeing my favorite band in their hometown.’ [But then] I was like ‘Hey, let’s go.'”
Her friend Casey, 18, added “It’s one thing to see them at home in SoCal. But being here in their hometown and being here for a week to experience everything is a lot different. You feel a lot more intimate.”
The band’s sophomore album Suburbia: I Have Given You All and Now I Am Nothing, performed on Saturday, February 7th, was the first of the three shows to sell out. The fans’ enthusiasm was obvious from the first note of “Came out Swinging.” The majority of the barricade crew were screaming the lyrics with tears in their eyes. I couldn’t blame them; The Wonder Years’ stellar live performance, coupled with the immense energy coming from the crowd, made it intensely memorable.
I talked to a 20-year-old fan named Mike who told me why Suburbia was his favorite album: “I feel like it just came around at the right point in my life when I was just absolutely depressed about everything. I started listening to it and absorbing it and listening to it more and more and more. It just fit.” Many fans echoed Mike’s sentiments about the album: Suburbia was the album that got people through rough times, and the crowd didn’t let up across the entire album.
Sunday, February 8th, featured The Wonder Years’ latest release, The Greatest Generation. Fans I talked to hailed it as the band’s tightest album musically and, as one fan told me, “It’s the last night, its gonna rule.”
He was right about that. The band really pulled out all the stops for this closing night. From start to finish, their performance was spot on. This final night also brought one of the most memorable concert moments of the weekend: during “I Just Wanna Sell Out my Funeral,” Campbell jumped offstage and crowd surfed to the first floor balcony where his family was waiting.
As the show wound down and the stage went dim after the band’s first encore of “Came out Swinging,” the 1,200 diehard fans seamlessly broke into chant, as if it was planned all along: “10 more years, 10 more years, 10 more years.” Visibly moved by the gesture, Campbell asked the crowd to move away from the barricade: “Ten years ago, we played shows on the floor,” he said. “And 10 years later, we’re still gonna play on the floor.” In a total full-circle, moment Campbell jumped into the crowd and preformed the bands final song “You’re Not Salinger. Get Over It.” surrounded by people who got the band to were they are today.
When talking about what makes The Wonder Years stand out over other pop punk bands, one thing fans echoed over the course of the weekend was the idea of hope. One fan told me “It’s a new view on lyrics. I don’t know of anyone else who has thought of something like that before. ‘I did this today, and it sucks, but there’s always going to be a tomorrow.'”
It’s this idea of hope that got these 3,600 people together rallying around ten years of music from their favorite band.
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