THE FORMULA OF LARGE-SCALE ROCK SHOWS ON ITS HEAD WITH FAN ACCESS TO
BANDS, REVERSE DAY CARE FOR KIDS WHO BRING THEIR PARENTS, AND A DOSE OF
SKATEBOARDING AMID THE CHAOS
The Warped Tour is freedom and chaos. It’s running around in dirt fields, listening to eighty bands in eight hours, and watching skateboarders, motocross riders and BMX athletes perform amazing tricks. It’s getting in the middle of a moshpit, dying your hair with Kool-Aid the night before, meeting your crush, and shaking the hands of your favorite band members. It’s learning about social and environmental causes, going against the norm or re-defining what normal is, being inspired to start your own band, and meeting other fans just like you. It’s a backstage pass, a taste of punk rock, and the freedom to just be yourself. The Warped Tour is Punk Rock Camp and it lasts all summer long.
Every summer for the past 14 years, the doors have opened and thousands of kids rush in, heading straight for a giant blow up set list to see when and where their favorite bands will play, furiously scribbling stage names and show times on hands, arms, and each other. Authentic punk bands provide the main course, with hip-hop, reggae, ska and more recently, even pop bands sprinkled liberally throughout the tour. There is always the new wonder band about to explode onto the scene. In the past, Sum 41, Blink 182, No Doubt and Good Charlotte who were all on tour on the cusp of fame. Up and coming bands on the bill with groups like the Circle Jerks, NOFX, Bad Religion, and Pennywise – bands with more roots and yearsin punk rock than average age of the audience – are just part of why the Warped Tour is the longest running music tour in US history.
The Warped Tour’s founder and mastermind is Kevin Lyman, a man with limitless ambition who began his promotional entrepreneurship by putting on huge parties for his friends. In college he would rent out frat houses and hire local bands to play the party. When the beer ran out and things got chaotic, he’d call the cops on his own events. Growing up in Southern California, he was also a fan of action sports. He put together events like Board Aid, the Swatch Impact Tour and the Vision Skate Escape – events that combined snowboarding and skateboarding with music. These events made him realize that having live music drew more fans to action sports events.
My idea with the Warped Tour was to make it feel like a big backyard party. Growing up in Southern California culture, you would go to parties where a band would play in the garage, and then you’d lean a piece of plywood up against the wall and guys would be skating off of it. Everyone would hang out and barbeque. It’s a little more complex now, but if you’re a kid and you wander in the Warped Tour, it’s kind of like a giant playground. It’s like being the county fair of this culture and it comes to your city once a year.
The first Warped Tour was in 1995. That first year, we had groups like NOFX and Pennywise who wanted to come on tour with me. People in the punk rock community embraced the tour, however it was a tough situation financially and we needed funding. My ex-partner convinced me Calvin Klein would be a good sponsor so he went to New York to meet with them. We even created these PowerPoint presentations with big CKs on the ramp. There’s always timing to life. My ex-partner got stuck in a blizzard in New York City and the same day I got a phone call from someone at Vans saying they wanted to meet with me about an amateur skate contest. I’ll never forget that day. I had every intention going to that meeting to talk to them about the Warped Tour.
Steve Van Doren, VP Of Promotions at Vans, gets along well with Kevin because both are kids trapped inside men’s bodies. Looking for a way to create new energy in skateboarding amid a sport and culture that had lost some steam in the early 90s, Van Doren found the Warped Tour a perfect fit for Vans.
STEVE VAN DOREN
I had the idea to have an amateur skate contest that went all over the US and across the globe, but needed someone to help me. We called Kevin since he had put on many other action sports events. It was in 1996. Kevin came into the office and told us his idea of having a concert that went around the country on many different levels. He thought we would draw a lot more people to our skate event by having live music as well. Within fifteen minutes we worked out a deal where we would have Kevin’s concert, but also my amateur skateboarding to go along. We merged together to create the Vans Warped Tour.
Kurt Soto, Vans’ Music Manager, has literally been to every stop of the Vans Warped since 1996. He got his start at Vans selling shoes and doing promotions when he was 15-years-old. Since then, he also managed to go to at least four live music shows a week. His insight on Vans and the music industry has made him a vital part of the Vans Warped Tour.
The Vans Warped Tour and Vans was a perfect match because we all came from the same culture. It’s almost a culture of outcasts. We were involved in skateboarding during a time when nobody wanted anything to do with skateboarding. We were involved with snowboarding at a time when nobody wanted anything to do with snowboarding. We were involved with all these things — including punk rock and hip-hop and music styles that nobody wanted anything to do with, and we championed them.
After that first year with Vans as the title sponsor, the tour was so successful and other companies tried to make a big deal and wanted to pay us more money to be a part of it. But it was one of those things where you can’t just chase the dollar. I was working with Vans because one, they stepped up first, but also because of Steve Van Doren. I grew up with Vans. Every summer, my mom took me to the LA County Fair and I would buy two pairs of shoes for ten dollars. And the Van Doren’s fit me for the shoes themselves.
The great thing about the tour is that the music is so eclectic. You can see punk, ska, reggae, hip-hop and even pop nowadays. There have been bands from Israel, Mexico, all over Europe and a ton of local acts you’d never know about. The tour has also helped a ton of bands get huge. Sublime, No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Ice-T, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and Good Charlotte were all on tour before they blew up. And the
cost is always about $30 a ticket.
For Tom Delonge, frontman for Angels and Airwaves and vocalist/guitarist for Blink 182, the Vans Warped Tour provided the perfect outlet for his generation.
“I think that the Warped Tour really put together the first cultural experiment of the post punker, alternative nation of kids. Because of that it showed a bunch of individuals there’s a world that exists only for them and it’s gotten bigger and bigger every year. I think this cultural circus is out here because Vans started it back in the day. I got my first pair of slip-ons when I was a skater listening to punk music. Having a company like Vans throw down and do the Warped Tour shows kids that there are a lot of people just like them and Vans are one of the originators of this lifestyle.”
Fletcher Dregee, the lead singer of Pennywise knows first hand what makes the Vans Warped Tour unique. His band has played at seven USA Vans Warped Tours, two in Australia, one in Europe and one in Japan.
“Besides being like summer camp for dysfunctional punk rockers, athletes and like-minded people, the Vans Warped Tour is one of the few festivals in town where you can interact with fans. It’s not some full-locked down tour like the Redding Festival in Europe or the OZ Fest where you can’t even get back stage. At the Warped Tour, kids are constantly finagling their way back stage, and it always feel like a big party with adults and kids hanging out together. Every day we’d wake up in a parking lot, but there was always a new experience to be had.”
The Vans Warped tour depends on big-name bands to draw in crowds, but it also serves as a launch pad for small acts that will do anything it takes to play one stop. Andy Williams, the guitarist from Every Time I Die, has experienced the tour on all fronts – as a fan, a band member just getting started, and as a tour headliner.
The very first Warped Tour in 1995 came to my tiny city outside of Buffalo, New York when I was 16 years old. I skated over to see Quicksand, who was one of my favorite bands play, and Steve Alba, one of my favorite skaters who was skateboarding the vert ramp. It was awesome, and at the time, I had just picked up the guitar and had no aspirations of ever playing the Warped Tour. Two years later, I went again as a fan, but knew someone who got me on stage and saw Ice-T, Suicidal Tendencies, and Sick of it All play, and I was just blown away and so excited to see those three bands play in one day.
Then, in 2002, Every Time I Die was more established we played ten stops on the tour. The first day, we played in Milwaukee, and the stage was a small little stage right in the middle of the concession area. Every night, we drove ourselves to the next show. We weren’t a big band so didn’t have a tour bus with our own bus driver, and we never had proper info or directions to where the next show was. It was like a wild goose chase just finding the next show. I also remember it being so funny because this was the time when Yoohoo was one of the main sponsors. I remember playing all day and being dehydrated as hell and there was nothing to drink so I just drank this chocolaty Yoohoo drink all day, and it tasted like the best thing ever because I was so thirsty. Even though we were just a small band on a small stage, that year on the tour
really opened doors for us. We met some many people on that
ten-day stretch that we still talk to today.
If you are a headliner and have paid your dues, you will at least have your own bus and driver to get you to shows. But being a startup band on the Vans Warped Tour requires a little extra effort that can reap immense rewards later on. Brandon Ball, the lead singer from a local Los Angeles Band called Eudora, won a contest that got his band on a tour stop. Going from a screaming fan to an actual participant of the tour is the epitome of the ultimate Vans Warped Tour experiences.
BRANDON BALL, EUDORA
I went to my first Warped Tour when I was 15 years old and going to this festival with all these different bands was a whirlwind. I remember vividly watching the reaction of the other kids around me being so stoked and screaming at the musicians, and I just knew I wanted to have the same effect on kids. In 2005, I was 21 and we won an online contest to play the Ernie Ball Stage. Just finding out we got to play one stop
at the tour was the most insane new. Then, this past year we were asked to play ten stops and we really got to see how the tour works and how much everyone works their asses off to make it happen. Being on the tour is such an amazing opportunity because there are thousands of kids who are there to hear music so you can reach out to so many people. We didn’t have a tour bus, or a driver so every day we’d have to drive an RV that gets 6 miles/gallon to the next stop. Some nights we would have a 12 hour-long drive and we’d have to stay up all night, then set up our booth, which was usually a quarter mile a way from where we parked, as soon as we arrived. But it was so worth it to hear thousands of kids screaming and a
few hundred fans watching your band. That feeling is such an adrenaline rush.
The hardest part was paying for gas, so every day before we would play, we would meet as many fans as possible at our merch booth and try to get kids to listen to us play and buy CDs and our merch, bartering with them and throwing in extra swag every now and then. It’s like being a used car salesmen, except you are selling your band and the kids are so stoked to talk to you. Then, we got Steve Van Doren to give us a box of Vans tees, purses, stickers and wallets and I just wrote on the box one day, “IF YOU WANT FREE STUFF, FOLLOW ME. IT’S IN THIS BOX.” The first day I did this right before we played, and I waited five minutes to see if it worked. There were fifteen kids behind me. Five more minutes passed and we had almost 100 kids and I walked straight to my stage and threw out the swag while we played. Kids went nuts for free Vans shit, and it totally worked. Then, every night we’d hustle and pack up and drive to the next city, maybe eat food, maybe not; maybe sleep, maybe not.. but fuck it,.. it’s like living the dream.
Skateboarder Mike Frazier has spent 12 summers skateboarding the vert ramp at the Vans Warped Tour. As an athlete, he experienced the tour
as a professional working, and as a fan getting to hang out with his friendsand watching his favorite bands play all day long.
Skating the Warped Tour is a lot different than skating at an event like X-Games. Doing demos at the Warped Tour allows us to skate in front of a lot of people who aren’t necessarily exposed to skateboarding. We did demos at a lot of po-dunk towns in states like Idaho—places where there are no skateparks or pro skaters, and we were able show a lot of kids what the sport is all about. For me, skating on tour has always been my way of giving back to the sport. That’s how I was exposed to it. I saw it on TV when I was 12 years-old, and thought it looked so fun, that I went out and bought a skateboard. Sometimes there would be 8,000 kids just watching us at a show, and I am sure there are some who decided to learn to skate after seeing us.
On a personal level, the Warped Tour is always fun for me because every summer you skate and hang out with all your friends who you wouldn’t see all year long. I always looked forward to seeing guys like Steve Caballero, Neal Hendrix, and the guys from Pennywise, NOFX and Rancid. There were a lot of really cool people on tour. Even our bus driver, Ted, who retired this year at about 70 years old, was amazing. He drove Jackson Five when they were big, Iced Cube, Rolling Stone, and all kinds of country bands. He’s done everything – worked at NASA, drove busses, flew planes, and he’s an insane mechanic. There’s been times when we broke down at 2 am and he grabs a wrench and goes out and fixes whatever is wrong. When anyone’s bus broke down, they’d call Ted.
Most of the times we skated, we were right in front of one of the main stages. So, you’d take a run, stop, check the pit from the top of the 12-foot vert ramp and see 20,000 kids moshing while watching your favorite bands play. One time, there were 8,000 kids just watching us skate. Another time, Kevin arranged it so that the motocross guys launched over us. And the sports (skating, BMX and motocross) went hand in hand with the music. I got into punk rock music is by skating backyard ramps and listening to music, so skating on tour always felt like one of our backyard sessions and the crowd was always stoked.”
I also got to see a lot funny things happen during shows. I remember when Eminem was on tour and no one knew he was. We were in Montreal and people were throwing water bottles at him. He got up to the microphone and said, “If anyone throws another water bottle, I’m out!” One person threw another bottle at him, and he just walked off the stage. The next year he was so big, there was no way anyone could get him to play Warped Tour. Another year, I remember watching Sublime play when no one knew who they were either. I also remember seeing No Doubt on tour when then were small and now they are untouchable. It was cool to see bands go from nothing to something that big.”
When the Tour comes to town, the circus unfolds. Instead of bearded woman and flying trapeze artists, there are musicians, athletes, roadies and lots of tattoos and hair gel. Everyday life on tour means 650 people travel on 63 busses, while their equipment and catering rolls in on 17 semi-trucks and dozens of RVs that follow them. It is called “controlled chaos” because every day tour organizers take down and set up 10 stages, a vert and miniramp, booths for sponsors and non-profits, and merchandise tents and equipment for all the bands. Every night, they sleep on bunk beds while bus drivers or weary band mates drive 500 miles to the next city. Like Groundhog’s Day, the cycle starts all over the next time the sun rises, beginning at 6:00am so they can be set up and ready to open the doors for fans to come in at noon.
STEVE VAN DOREN
It’s a freak show traveling at nighttime. We’re the circus and the circus packs up at night and goes 500 miles or so to the next stop. One of the best parts, though, is everybody in the pack hangs out until busses leave. The other night, Fletcher from Pennywise and all these bands hung out after the show under the new stadium lights in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We made so much money the year before on that show, that Kevin bought lights for the stadium area and they turned them on for us. Kevin bought 60 pounds of chicken and ribs, and everyone barbequed and hung out until we had to drive to the next stop.
The after-show barbeque is one of the more infamous Vans Warped Tour traditions. Every night, after the last band plays, before the busses go to the next city, a barbeque is set up for the entire crew. It’s a chance for anyone with a “Sticky” pass or VIP laminate to go hang out with all the athletes, musicians, sponsors and crew, and for those who missed catering, to get a decent meal. Fletcher from Pennywise started barbequing after shows. Soon Fletcher’s informal barbeque grew bigger, and then other bands followed suit. Lagwagon was the first official BBQ band and there has been a different band every year since. It’s a ton of work for the band to barbeque for the entire 650 people crew and their guests, but it is also huge chance for them to be in the spotlight every night in front of all the other bands and VIPs who are on tour. For those who get to go to the barbeque, it’s also the best backstage pass in music and action sports.
STEVE VAN DOREN
Normally a band will bug Kevin all year long to be able to get on the tour. If he likes them enough and they bug him enough, he’ll hire them as the barbeque band. It’s always a band that has never had a break. In order for them to play every day, they have to tow behind a giant barbeque and then fire it up at 7:30pm or 8:00 o’clock at night so it’s ready at 8:30pm until 11:00pm when the busses leave. They cook hamburgers, hotdogs, veggie burgers and chicken or whatever else they decide to buy. Kevin gives them a budget to buy food, but they also have a tip jar where people can pitch in so there’s even better food the next day. Every night during the barbeque, a different band plays and sometimes a bunch of bands will just jam together. There’s often some C-lo or card or gambling game going on between the athletes and musicians or something crazy like the other night when we had a Sumo wresting tournament. There’s been motocross riders who decide to ride their 50s and jump over the fire pit
and there’s always somebody with a sticky pass who makes a scene.
The Vans Warped Tour is different from all other tours because it is driven by youth culture. A ticket to Vans Warped Tour is like getting a backstage pass. Every year, there’s always a handful of kids with a lot of ambition behind a good cause whether it be their band, punk ‘zine or button making company that are always welcomed to jump on tour. Fans share notes via social networks online before actual tour dates. Athletes get on stage and sing sets with their favorite musicians. Bands invite fans from the audience to come backstage. Vice Presidents, lead singers and roadies all eat the same food. And everyone stands in line to use a shower at the end of the day.
“When there’s no personal connection, there’s no success. And that’s where Vans came from — the personal connection of a guy (Steve Van Doren) who ran out and barbequed at skate parks, put on skate demos at schools or just went out of the way when there were natural disasters to make sure people had shoes. For the bands, if they are not careful, they’ll lose that connection with their fans very quickly, especially when they don’t have that hit record. But if a band member signs something or shakes some kid’s hand, that kid is more likely to say, ‘Hey, I wanna’ go back and see Tom from Blink when they come back through town or whomever because I met him. I met him in 1996.”
There’s been so many crazy times on Warped Tour. It’s a wild ride and it never gets old. What’s cool is the founder, Kevin, is like the Uncle that will float you a beer every now and then. He is always there to control the chaos, but he’s one of the boys dancing on stage, barbecuing and having a good time. You’ll never see him crunching numbers. And with Steve, he’s the guy who’s never going to grow up. He and Kurt are so supportive. You’ll always see Steve flipping burgers for fans or doing something off the wall, like buying me a four foot long lobster in Maine and bringing it to me with a name tag that says my name on it. He and Kevin are the guys who bought food and beer when I wanted to reenact a scene from an old Sex Pistols movie by renting a boat on the Sydney Harbor and cramming it with 180 Warped Tour people, causing complete mayhem and having the cops show up. The Vans Warped Tour is unparalleled and more unmatched than any other festival out there. There is nothing as cool or as fun as it anywhere. End of story.