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16 May 2017

On the Road Again: A Chat With Kevin Lyman, the Founder of the Warped Tour—Now In Its 23rd Year

Written by 
Kevin Lyman. Kevin Lyman. Guillermo Prieto/Irockphotos.net

In 1995, the Warped Tour was born. There were a handful of touring festivals then—but within a decade or so, all but the Warped Tour were gone.

Now in its third decade, the punk-themed Warped Tour will visit more than 40 cities in 2017—with more traditional punk and hardcore bands on the lineup than in recent years. The Pomona date on Sunday, Aug. 6, is slated to include Adolescents, T.S.O.L., Hatebreed, Goldfinger, CKY, and Sick of It All—as well infamous metal band G.W.A.R.

Kevin Lyman, the tour’s founder, sounded excited as we talked during a recent phone interview about the tour’s history, present and future.

“We’ve built up a community,” Lyman said. “We haven’t changed the tour a whole lot, and it still feels like a backyard party for a lot of people. … We have so many three-day festivals, and we work on trying to make it economically available to people who might not be able to go to another festival. Our ticket prices are still economical. We hit the $50 mark with fees last year, and I freaked out a bit—until I saw what the average price is for festivals now: approaching $100 per day. … We’ve been able to adjust and adapt and keep it relatively true to what it was all about.”

Over the years, the Warped Tour shifted from hardcore bands such as NOFX and Pennywise to less-intense bands like Attila, Hawthorne Heights, and Silverstein. Lyman said the lineups change based on trends in music, but insisted the Warped Tour has always stayed true to its roots.

“I’m really happy to see Sick of It All coming back this year; they were there in 1995 with me,” Lyman said. “… The Adolescents are going to jump in a van and do this, this year. I’m glad to have the opportunity to showcase young bands, but (I also enjoy) that opportunity to bring some history to people. For people who have never seen an Adolescents show live, it sticks with them. I’m happy to bring that to kids. I think this lineup, for some people, it’s taken a moment for people to get their heads around it, but they are. You have to do something different and can’t keep bringing the same bands.”

Lyman discussed some of the more recent additions to the tour, such as the popular “parents’ camp,” where parents can relax while their kids go from stage to stage to watch the bands.

“The parents’ camp was added for the reasons of doing shows in Missoula, Mont., and places like that, where they don’t get a lot of shows, and seeing a lot of parents sitting along the fence lines who were nervous … back in the day,” he said. “For a while, parents gave (kids) debit cards, and then they were taken away during the recession. They came with limited money, and the teenage brain would say, ‘I’m buying a T-shirt instead of food or water.’ So we went to the promoters, dropped the price of water, added access to free water, and built meal programs that parents could buy their kids for the show. I’m looking out for the kids who come to Warped Tour, so they have fun and experience as much as possible.”

In 2015, the Warped Tour was criticized by some music publications for promoting a “rape culture”—because the tour included bands with accusations and histories of sexual assault. Lyman, however, insisted the Warped Tour has always been a safe environment.

“None of that happened … on Warped Tour. I’m taking on the problems of a whole scene,” Lyman said. “… Problems go out in the social-media realm very quickly. The way I supported it is by supporting advocacy groups such as A Voice for the Innocent and Hope for the Day.

“A lot of people get themselves into trouble because they don’t understand that certain actions cause a reaction. I was tackling things that never really happened at Warped Tour; they happened on other tours or in other environments. Warped Tour is probably the safest place to come to a show there possibly is. The whole tour is run by women, other than myself; there are more women working on Warped Tour than any other festival, and there are parents coming to the shows. There’s heavy security and a lot of nonprofits involved in keeping you safe. We know how to address it now, and we’re doing the best that we can.”

As for the advocacy groups with a presence at the Warped Tour … oftentimes, the messages being promoted are mixed, to say the least. I’ve seen anti-war groups, the U.S. Army, PETA, and groups promoting born-again Christianity—just for starters.

“We can’t just put one message out there,” Lyman said. “Last year, we had a group that challenged the pro-choice crowd, and when I start reading, ‘Kevin Lyman is a subversive for the pro-life movement,’ I’m like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ I did the first pro-choice shows in Los Angeles in 1991. I’m a donor to Planned Parenthood. But (that group’s presence) challenged Planned Parenthood to step up. I tried calling them, and they weren’t calling back, but after that, they started showing up to the shows. Turns out the original group in question was promoting adoption. I’m adopted, and I’m glad people were talking about adoption in 1961, or I might not be here. People now don’t want to listen to anyone except whom they support … and get rid of people with counter views. But I would never allow a far-right hate group to come to Warped Tour, or anyone who preaches violence.”

Lyman said he probably will not allow military recruiting at the tour anymore.

“I don’t think it’s a good time for it,” he said. “I understand the reasons people go into the military, but be truthful about your options. We have become a warrior nation again, and it was during that transitional time we went from a peaceful country to a warrior nation when I noticed they were using video games to show what war was. I believe they need to be honest: ‘If you sign up, you could die.’ I’ve never had a problem with our troops. … I have a problem with our leaders and what they do with our troops.”

If you’ve ever been to a Warped Tour stop, you’ve heard bands frequently thank and compliment Lyman.

“I’m glad I’ve been a small part of their careers and allowing them to do what they love,” he said about appreciative performers. “A band like Less Than Jake, who comes back every other year—(the tour) was a big part of their career. That’s been a big part of how they’ve been able to continue doing what they do. If you take The Interrupters, who played last year, they’re a punk band, and they were nervous about playing Warped Tour, and I convinced them that they’d win fans. They went out on a fall tour, and it was all kids they met on Warped Tour.”

Lyman is a constant presence at Warped Tour stops; he’s often seen at the gates, walking around and shaking hands with attendees, and introducing the occasional band.

“I’m always first up in the morning with my drivers, checking how their day went and making sure everyone gets there safe,” he said. “I love the silence in the morning, given it gets loud pretty quick. I check in with everyone; I write the schedule and have a few meetings. I’ll talk to the kids if they’re there early, but my big thing is being there when the doors open to get all the kids in. I know if we don’t get the kids in the way that we write the schedule, I’m going to hear about it on my social media that night.

“Nowadays, I’m burnt out by the end of the day. Your brain turns to mush in the heat, and it’s starting to catch up with me physically. There are a lot (fewer) barbecues for me now. I’ll pick and choose, but I try to go to bed at 10:30 every night.”

For more information, visit vanswarpedtour.com.

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