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At Warped, punk fun in the mud

NORTHAMPTON -- As the final show of the 11th annual Vans Warped Tour neared its conclusion on Monday -- with crew members and musicians from other bands joining My Chemical Romance for its single ''Helena" -- there was a sense of elation onstage.

For some of the 20,000 in attendance, however, the overriding emotion may have been relief. The eight-plus hour event was a practice in patience for many, especially those who traveled to the Three Counties Fairground only to find that an accident on the Mass. Pike had snowballed into a traffic nightmare. The trip from Boston averaged between four and six hours for many punk pilgrims.

Those who did make it were greeted with a rain-soaked racetrack infield that had turned into a muddy mess. In a scene reminiscent of Woodstock '94, fans covered in mud from head to toe frolicked in large puddles and threw handfuls of mud at anyone within striking distance. Abandoned sandals, shoes, and shirts littered the ground.

Yet the inconveniences did little to dampen the enthusiasm for a punk-rock cavalcade that spanned nine stages and offered nonstop music. The crowd embraced the Offspring like influential uncles, and the band's career-spanning set offered up such radio-friendly hits as ''Come Out and Play" and ''Self Esteem."

My Chemical Romance followed in the final main-stage set of the day, and though the introductory segue from ''The Star-Spangled Banner" to ''I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" drew a large cheer, many in attendance took this as an opportunity to head for the exits.

It may not have been Boston, but the Dropkick Murphys were still greeted like hometown heroes, and a guest appearance by Rancid's Lars Frederiksen on ''The Burning" inspired the gathering. Waving large banners and flags, the crowd could have been attending a European festival.

Other highlights of the day included: a solo acoustic performance of ''Stare at the Sun" by Thrice singer Dustin Kensrue; a more thrashing version of the Transplants' ''Diamonds and Guns" than the one featured in a Garnier Fructis commercial; and an enthusiastic audience sing-along on Fall Out Boy's ''Sugar, We're Goin' Down."

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