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Cynics paint the 8-year-old festival as breeding an army of media-damaged kids about as imaginative and individual as the extras in a Mountain Dew Code Red commercial.

Granted, there were plenty of those kids at the Aug. 4 Tampa stop, thoughtfully erected on the sea of molten, heat-magnet asphalt that is USF's Sun Dome parking lot. Kids in the latest skate Ts, Vans shoes and visors; kids who are too young to get into an R-rated movie sport tattoos, unbelievably expensive Oakley shades and digital phones.

But they made up less than half of the event's 10,000-plus throng, an amazingly disparate crowd that included everyone from bikers, hippies and menacing old-school human canvasses to soccer moms and the pre-adolescent mall gangsters who depend on them.

The tour's ADD-friendly midway vibe offered plenty to do and gawk at. One could witness skateboard, BMX, mountain bike and motocross demos. One could throw down a beat at the "World's Fastest Drummer" competition. One could make a free phone call at the Motorola trailer. One could chill out in the "mist tent," or, if one couldn't make it, one could simply pass out from heat exhaustion and be carried to the infirmary.

While most attendees availed themselves of some diversion or other over the course of the day, nothing in the Warped Tour's cavalcade of youth-marketing spectacle stands to overshadow its consistently high-caliber roster of participating fringe bands anytime soon.

Favorites like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX and Alkaline Trio shared space with newer underground heroes Thursday, radio hit-makers Something Corporate, and eclectic acts such as Celt-punks Flogging Molly and feminist hip-hop conglomerate Cultifadaz. Innumerable lesser-known hopefuls whose talents or connections landed them slots on a portion of the tour populated at least three side stages, and even unsigned Bay area bands HCA, Sage and Pig Pen (among others) scored a set.

The high quality and integrity quotients of Warped Tour lineups — this year, politically-charged acts Bad Religion, Anti-Flag and the aforementioned NOFX were prominently featured — is a strong argument in favor of the tour's credibility. That such bands would participate indicates an ongoing commitment to the punk community, and to putting the music first. Booths promoting activist groups such as PETA reinforce that sense of responsibility.

"When we were younger, there were punk bands and rock bands, and there was a huge gap between them," says Joe Kiser, a punk-scene veteran and member of Tampa band Closure. "It's kind of cool that (younger kids) don't see the gap, but to us jaded old fucks ... I kind of miss seeing my favorite bands in a small club."

The overwhelming feeling one gets from the Warped Tour is that, basically, it's this generation's Lollapalooza.

For every overheard conversation carping about punk's mingling with the mainstream, there are dozens of excited exchanges about who's coming on next. It's how popular culture moves, from glam rock and fingerless gloves, to grunge and Doc Martens, to punk and star tattoos (sure, you've had yours for years). At the end of the day, is Bad Religion a less talented band because they played for 10,000 people you don't know while a guy on a motorcycle did no-footers 100 yards away?

—Scott Harrell

Another Smear

Whatever Valrico businessman Sam Rashid is doing, it has struck a nerve somewhere in the deep end of Hillsborough County's political cesspool.

For at least the second time since the Sept. 11 attacks, an anonymous smear attack has been launched against Rashid, a Pakistani-born Republican activist.

A flier landed in mailboxes around Tampa on Aug. 1 that compared "Samad Sultan Rashid" with Osama bin Laden. Whoever sent the document didn't feel a need to put a return address on it.

After noting with an air of disapproval that Rashid is a "professed staunch Republican conservative (but donates to Democrats as well)," the author asked "... what do you really know of this relative newcomer to our country"?

The flier's author then proceeded to empty onto the page the contents of a personal dossier that has been assembled on Rashid. The information included social security numbers, physical addresses as well as the names of family members and the automobiles they drive.

Rashid comes by his political philosophy from life experience. His family's business holdings were seized by a left-wing government during his youth in what is now Bangladesh. As an adult in this country, Rashid plays politics to win. His determined style has rubbed many in Tampa the wrong way.

Lately, Rashid has been dealing with a backlash from the local print media focus on his influence over certain politicians. Both Rashid and some of his charges in elected office have attempted unconvincingly in public to distance themselves from each other in this election year.

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