Vans Warped Tour 25th Anniversary

‘Warped Tour’ Founder Kevin Lyman Speaks Of The Band & Fan Elitism That Plagued The Latter Years Of The Tour


The third episode of Kerrang!‘s ‘Inside Track‘ podcast has newly been released and focuses on the rise and ultimate downfall of the ‘Vans Warped Tour‘, which ran for some 25 years. The podcast features interviews with the festival’s founder Kevin Lyman as well as various artists and staff who took part in the tour over the years.

After 24 years as a traveling festival, that annual summer tour came to an end in 2018. However, the trouble began to take hold after the struggles of the 2017 edition of the festival took their toll on Lyman.

In addition to a generally declining attendance of the festival, the bands on the tour themselves became more divided behind the scenes, while strident attitudes of elitism began to take hold in both the musicians and fans. Ultimately the tour came to an expected close earlier this year with a trio of destination festivals to cap off a 25-year run. It is unclear if similar destination festival events will occur in 2020.

During the podcast, Lyman explained how he came to start the tour, his intent to bolster a sense of community with it, the various things he learned along the way and where things started to go wrong. Speaking of the latter, Lyman offered:

“Ultimately when I started to think about winding this down after 25 years, it was [due to] we’ve lost the sense of community. It took a community to make the ‘Warped Tour‘ go. Some of that, maybe was self-inflicted, because during social media change—and I’ve learned a lot—I thought you addressed the fans that complained on Twitter. I was addressing everyone and trying to keep that conversation going. But you realize that you can’t negotiate, debate or educate through social media.”

He continued:

“And then the bands changed. But I realized I was getting older too, my peers weren’t touring with me anymore—the Bad Religion‘s and those bands who were my friends…

These younger bands looked at me like either a mentor or a disciplinarian. I didn’t have that relationship with maybe the artist. So all of a sudden I would wake up and they would voice their opinion on the tour that they’re being on without coming and talking to me first.

So in 2017, it was one of those years. You’re gonna have these kind of flows, but man, everything that could go wrong went wrong. There was some controversies for bands that weren’t necessarily on the tour at the time.

But, I guess, as the unwilling leader of the scene at that point—or looked to as the mentor that I would be, or the disciplinarian—a lot of people came to me with these problems. And I stepped up and tried to figure them out, sometimes in a community setting, because I thought the community would want to help figure this out instead of attacking their community. Probably now I would handle this thing a little differently. I would totally handle those kind of things at little differently.

And then I started seeing the bands—and this is what kind of pissed me off—because in 1997-98, Pennywise couldn’t judge a band until they met them in a parking lot. So you’d be in line with catering because of our community setting with no dressing rooms… You’d meet the people, they’re musicians too.

Then I started watching this community tear itself apart from within. That this band would—not even meeting these people, they just didn’t agree with their music or the way they looked—bashing that band online.

And then people would come up to me and say ‘Well I don’t wanna be on ‘Warped Tour‘ cause Attila‘s on ‘Warped Tour‘. And I’d say ‘have you met the guys on Attila‘ [and they’d say] ‘No, I just don’t like their music. ‘suck my fuck’, what the fuck is that?’ I’m going ‘look we’re not here to judge each others music. The fans will judge each others music. Attila brings people. Do I personally run around singing ‘suck my fuck?’ No. Do you? No.’

But you know what… They’re good musicians and they’re not bad people. I’ve never seen them do a bad thing to someone. Some of the stuff he [Attila‘s Chris Fronzak] says, maybe, is just more stupidity [laughs.]

But if you sit with him, he has a reason because he says some things and it may not agree with your reason, but that was the… You could have diverse opinions and we’re only a microcosm of society now, because we can’t accept diverse opinions in the same room.

The bands I thought would have been fantastic for this were bands like Balance And Composure, La Dispute, Touché Amoré, I love those bands. I think they’re great musical bands. But their little attitudes of their little community; they don’t want to break out of that little community.

I said one, [it] will eventually hurt your career because you’re going to be playing to the same people all the time. You need to come and sing right next to a band like Attila because their fans are going to grow out of whatever they’re saying and maybe starting to your lyrics and gravitate to you. And you have to build your community.

Modern Baseball, I think could have been one of the most massive bands out there. But they get caught up in their own bullshit. No one is too precious to break out of your own shell. And I felt they were. And I’d watch their careers and every year I’d send offers. And they’d be like ‘Oh we don’t want to tour with those bands. We don’t want to be a Warped-esque band.”

And I’d be like ‘dude, Warped-esque bands: Bad Religion, A Day To Remember, some of the biggest bands built Paramore.”

He later added:

“It got very frustrating around 2017. I was challenged by the fractured fan base, the fractured band base, the sense of community and what I got involved in this for, and what brought me into punk rock that I said ‘you know, if it’s changed this much, maybe it’s time for me to wind this thing down.’

2017, no matter who I put up, it was like ‘F that band, F that band, where’s this band?’ It was just like, what happened to the acceptance of music and that love of music? And I realized that we had pushed the audience down to a young level—’Warped got known as a young [tour.] But I did that because I wanted to young people to get exposed to this music, to maybe support independent music for a longer time.”

“…At 13 you’re gonna be passionate, you’re gonna still buy music, you’re gonna buy t-shirts, you’re gonna support that. Because I felt that we might have that audience from 13 to 19 at that point. And then at 19 you might go to college and you get into EDM because you want to go drop molly in the desert at EDC.

So if I could get ’em at a show younger; and then I made a really bad mistake. The world of YouTubers started coming up. And people were telling me about YouTube, ‘you need to get some YouTubers.’ And I brought YouTubers on the road with me, thinking that maybe we could bridge these people to be the next journalists, using their audience to promote music and things.

So I made a mistake with that and I could talk about that for days, that mistake. But by bringing YouTubers, going with a super young audience, that I thought was going to help the indie music scene… ‘Warped Tour‘ was not really… Times had changed, quite a bit.”

On ultimately calling it quits:

“Everyone looked at me like ‘He stopped ‘Warped Tour” and in our business we always look at it as money. First thing they go to: money. ‘He’s not making any money.’ And that was not it. That was not it. ‘Warped Tour‘ was not feeding my soul and my heart as much as you put in. Because ‘Warped Tour‘ was 90% about the community and 10% about the money, it really was.

And some people I’m sure will say bullshit, but it’s true. I built that because I wanted to keep people coming to see live music. I wanted to build a community… And I’d lost that, that spirit was taken out of me for multiple reasons.”

You can find the whole podcast in various formats here.

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