Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.”

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The Warped Tour returned for its annual appearance at the Fairplex in Pomona on Sunday, Aug. 7.

The 2016 stop represented a huge improvement over last year, thanks to a far-less-stale lineup, welcome layout modifications and stage changes.

Here are some of the musical highlights.

Sum 41

The Canadian pop-punk band, which reached peak popularity in the early 2000s, has seen soaring highs and cratering lows. Those lows included the drama surrounding frontman Deryck Whibley’s four-year marriage to Avril Lavigne, the departure of guitarist Dave Baksh, the exit of drummer/vocalist Steve Jocz, and a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo—where the band and other civilians needed to be rescued by armored United Nations carriers after being holed up in a war-zone hotel.

On Sunday, Sum 42 played a noon-time set to a large crowd at the Journeys Left Foot Stage. While Dave Baksh has returned to the band, Steve Jocz has not and was replaced by Frank Zummo. Sum 41’s set was epic, to say the least. The band still has a lot of power and energy—as well as quite a large fan base, including teenagers who were toddlers or not even born yet when the group debuted with All Killer, No Filler in 2001.

In case you were wondering, Whibley stated many times during the set that there’s a new album, 13 Voices, coming in October.

Reel Big Fish

When I was in high school in the late ’90s, third-wave ska band Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out” was all over the radio waves—played to the point where people were sick of it. Well, Reel Big Fish is still around, even though frontman Aaron Barrett is the only remaining original member. The band was a surprise late addition to the lineup, and I wondered what the mostly younger-than-18 Warped Tour crowd would think.

Playing a mid-afternoon set on the Journeys Left Foot Stage, Reel Big Fish started the set with “Everyone Else is an Asshole,” which was … well, appropriate for this particular music festival. Barrett poked fun at the band’s history, stating, “We were very famous in the ’90s” and announcing the band was going to play its hit song … before playing the first 30 seconds of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Team Spirit.” Barrett then said: “Just kidding. That was a Pearl Jam song.” The band did play “Sell Out” early in the set, and included a cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” along with “Beer” and a cover of A-Ha’s “Take on Me.” Those latter two songs were featured in the movie BASEketball.

Mother Feather

Independent photographer Guillermo Prieto has an eye for female-fronted bands, so we had to take a peek at this psychedelic-looking indie band that played on the Full Sail University stage. The group offers a sound that includes dance music, psychedelic rock and indie-rock—all rolled up together. This is a band that is on the rise, as evidenced by numerous write-ups and acclaim. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the group at even bigger festivals like Coachella next year.

Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman and the Ernie Ball Stage

Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman appeared on the smaller Ernie Ball Stage late in the afternoon to introduce Justine and the Highs, a band he said he saw in a battle-of-the-bands competition that he believes is in store for bigger and better things. He reminded the crowd that the Warped Tour is where the band Paramore cut its teeth before becoming a huge national act. The point of the Ernie Ball Stage is to offer unsigned local and regional bands a chance to perform for the festival crowd. Lyman was right: Justine and the Highs rocked.

The Miracle Dolls

The Miracle Dolls, hailing from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians reservation in Cabazon, also played on the Ernie Ball Stage later in the day. The band has a stripped-down sound without guitar effects or fancy gimmicks. Influences of Fugazi, The Pixies and Gordon Gano could be heard in the band, fronted by twin sisters Dani and Dezy Doll. 

Some non-music-related things we found interesting:

The Waterslide and Alec Corral of the local band Tribesmen

There’s not a lot of shade at most of the Warped Tour venues—but there is a water slide. Little kids, big kids and adults alike get hosed down before taking a ride down the inflatable slip-and-slide.

Alec Corral, guitarist of the Coachella Valley band Tribesmen, has been with the tour throughout the summer.

“It’s been a lot fun,” Corral said. “I’ve gotten to see a lot of cities, and I never really traveled before. I got to see New York City, Detroit, Chicago and Denver.”

How important is the water slide, considering all of the summer heat?

“It’s very important. We have to keep these kids cool and hydrated, and we don’t want them passing out,” Corral said. “It’s the adults, too. I get to hose down the parents as well.”

Voter Registration, a nonpartisan based organization that works with musicians to promote the appeal of voting and participation in democracy, was onsite to register voters. Given the … um, state of the upcoming presidential election, it’s not a surprise that a voter-registration effort had a presence—albeit not as much a presence as during the 2004 Warped Tour, when Fat Mike of NOFX was promoting PunkVoter as a means of voting then-President George W. Bush out of office. (That effort, as you may recall, was not all that successful.)

During the late afternoon, a worker with told me they’d managed to register about 40 voters so far.

“They’re saying, ‘I don’t like either of these people running, so I’m not even going to vote,’” said the volunteer. Eek.

Cheap or Free Water

Unlike other festivals that charge from $4 to $6 for a bottle of water, the Warped Tour has vendors that sell cold bottled water at just $2 to $3. There was also a station where attendees could refill water bottles at no cost. Considering all of the moshing, crowd-surfing and walking that was going on in the heat, hydration was a must.

Attention-Grabbing Social Campaigns

Nothing is more annoying than when a guy comes out from under a canopy and asks if I want to “take” a copy of his CD after putting it in my hand—and then tells me I need to give him $5 for it.

Ugh. No thank you.

On a more entertaining note, some of the social campaigns were fascinating. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had a tent that simply said “SKIN” on the top, with good-looking male and female models on advertisements outside the tent … promoting the wearing of human skin as jackets and boots. Of course, the products weren’t real, but the effort certainly grabbed one’s attention. You didn’t even know PETA was involved until you asked.

Meanwhile, Truth, the anti-smoking campaign, was encouraging tug-of-wars or and other ridiculous things near its big orange van, where workers/volunteers gave away prizes to spread awareness.

The Warped Tour itself

The only major complaint I have about this year’s edition of the festival involves the weird set times at the Journeys Left Foot Stage. Less Than Jake, a popular ’90s third-wave ska band that headlined the very same stage in 2014, was the first band to play as the gates opened. I previously mentioned how Sum 41 played to a noon crowd.

Still, it was good to see some more impressive names on the schedules. While the days of Bad Religion, Pennywise and NOFX playing the festival are long gone, it was nice to see recognizable names on the bill this year. Last year’s tour offered no such thing.

Kevin Lyman has stated many times before that he’s made adjustments to the Warped Tour so he can attract the teenage demographic while retaining some of the tour’s classic elements. Considering that the Warped Tour is the only one of the national traveling festivals that started in the ’90s—along with OzzFest, Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair—that is still going and is profitable, Lyman is definitely on to something.

Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow for people my age who don’t get to see the bands we loved back in the day at the current Vans Warped Tour. Well, I had my day at the Warped Tour as a teenager in the ’90s … so it’s now this generation’s turn.

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It’s hard for me to believe that the Vans Warped Tour is celebrating 20 years. It has outlasted Ozzy Osbourne’s OzzFest, the Lilith Fair tour, and the touring version of Lollapalooza.

On Friday, June 20, the 2014 Warped Tour came to Pomona, at the Fairplex, 80 miles or so from the Coachella Valley.

In its first decade, the Warped Tour focused on punk—but today, it has a completely different vibe. While some punk-rock veterans occasionally pop up, the tour now includes Christian metalcore bands, “emo” groups, and pop-punk acts. However, not everything is different: Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman is still involved, and the tour still offers low ticket prices and a DIY ethic.

One big complaint: It was nearly impossible to find a simple schedule of the bands spread out over 11 stages inside the Fairplex. When I saw a merchandise booth selling schedules for $2, I broke down and bought one, simply so I could navigate through the 100 bands playing throughout the day.

Close to 1 p.m., Beartooth took the Monster Energy Stage. The hardcore punk band from Columbus, Ohio, led by frontman Caleb Shomo, unleashed a brutal assault of heavy riffs and screaming vocals on the small crowd that had gathered. One of the first things I noticed was a sign hung on the top of the stage: “You mosh or you crowd surf, you get hurt, we get sued, no more Warped Tour.” This sign was displayed on all the stages; did it stop crowd surfing and mosh pits? Hell no. Beartooth, for example, encouraged the crowd to get closer and break out into mosh pits; Shomo himself even went crowd-surfing. During the last song, the crowd was amped up, and empty Powerade bottles and various objects went flying in the air.

Around 1:30 p.m., The Story So Far took the Electric Soul Stage. The pop-punk band drew a large crowd that was fairly typical of the Warped Tour in its current iteration; in fact, this particular stage seemed to have the largest crowds throughout the day. Fun fact: During the set, the band encouraged a man wearing a banana costume to go crowd-surfing.

On the Kia Soul Stage, the reunited Temecula band Finch (right) played around 2 p.m. About three songs in, rhythm guitarist Randy Strohmeyer attempted to talk to the crowd, asking how many people attended a 2013 show in Pomona. Drummer Alex Pappas sighed in frustration and cut him off by counting off the next song. The post-hardcore sound of Finch got the crowd going, but one has to wonder how long this third reunion of the band is going to last.

On the Warheads stage at 2:45 p.m., a band called Bad Rabbits treated the crowd to soul and funk, played with some heavy rock-guitar riffs, similar to the sound of Fishbone. No specific genre can be applied to Bad Rabbits; the band put on a fascinating show that was unlike anything else at the Warped Tour.

The Beatport stage, meanwhile, featured EDM artists. Photographer Guillermo Prieto and I caught a DJ who called himself NiT GriT. He opened his set by saying, “I’m NiT GrIT, and I make electronic music,” before dropping heavy bass and dubstep sounds. Unfortunately, he didn’t make much of an impression, as largely uninterested people walked by. While EDM has exploded in popularity, the Warped Tour crowd generally couldn’t have cared less.

At the Shiragirl stage, a small crowd gathered around 3:30 p.m. to catch a glimpse of Shiragirl herself (below). Shiragirl has been a Warped Tour personality since the mid-2000s and now runs the stage, named after her, that features female artists. Her performance offered some punk-rock appeal with a bit of Madonna style pop and backing female dancers.

“It’s been really awesome to see the Warped Tour reach 20 years,” Shiragirl told the Independent during a brief interview before her performance. “I’m honored to still be part of the family. I think this festival is amazing, and it’s the longest-running rock festival in America, and it’s for a reason: Kevin (Lyman) knows what he’s doing. I’m honored to provide a platform for female artists and bring more women to the Warped Tour as well.”

On the Hard Rock Kevin Says stage, Shot in the Dark—a band from Corona consisting of four teenagers plus 12-year-old lead singer Jacob Chabot—was quite a sight to see. Jacob had a stage presence that Pennywise would be proud of—and he even went crowd-surfing toward the end of the set. I was floored by how such a small kid could have such a huge stage presence.

Orange County band Well Hung Heart, which has played gigs at The Hood Bar and Pizza and Pappy and Harriet’s, followed Shot in the Dark. The hard-rocking blues band, led by Greta Valenti, put on a fantastic show. The trio knows how to turn it up and rock a crowd; Valenti also slowed things down to sing the chorus of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” Guitarist Robin Davey had some incredible blues riffs as well as some fantastic heavy rock riffs.

After the band’s performance, Valenti spoke to the Independent.

“It’s kind of a hometown crowd, but we don’t play the L.A. area that much,” Valenti said. “It was cool, but a weird experience, too, because even though a lot of these other bands are from all over, they have huge followings; we’re starting from scratch. … It was kind of a challenge to sort of tempt people over, but it was a lot of fun.”

Valenti also talked about how the band’s sound fits into the modern-day the Warped Tour.

“Some people just go, ‘It’s not that sound that I’m used to hearing on every other stage,’ so they don’t know what it is, and it’s not familiar to some people. There are also other people who say, ‘Wow, something different!’ and they’re really attracted to it,” she said. “So, I think it’s good to be different, because we’ll get truer fans that way, who have really gravitated toward us, because they like our sound, not just because they like a particular sound.”

I found myself back at the Kevin Says stage for a band called Plague Vendor around 5:20 p.m.—and I thoroughly enjoyed the bizarre yet entertaining performance. The band recently signed with Epitaph Records and has had write-ups in various punk publications. Frontman Brandon Blaine announced to the crowd he would throw out a CD—and warned that the person who caught it had better be moving and going crazy, or else he’d send his “parents” out to get the CD back. The band’s sound mixed heavy psychedelic rock with surf-rock; Blaine’s humorous stage antics included taking people’s iPhones and photographing himself; taking people’s sunglasses and putting them on; and demands of intense crowd participation.

While I don’t want to apply the term “emo” to any band, it was hard not to apply it to some of the bands playing on the Journeys, Warhead and Electric Soul stages. In the early evening, the reunited Cute Is What We Aim For took the Warhead stage. Frontman Shaant Hacikyan commented: “You’re probably thinking, ‘What the fuck? They’re still a band?’” The band’s songs were all overly sentimental and annoyingly poppy, and they left me wondering: How could this band be part of the Warped Tour?

There was at least one promising sign that the Warped Tour is embracing its history: The performance by tour veterans Less Than Jake. The punk/ska band has a sound that reminds of the late-’90s Warped Tour atmosphere. While the band didn’t draw a large crowd, there were some punk-rock faithful there to catch the show. The incorporation of humor into the stage show and the banter between songs is genuinely hilarious. They pointed out a man in the crowd holding up a sign that said he’d been waiting for seven years to see Less Than Jake; the band seemed genuinely flattered.

As the longest-running touring rock festival in America, the Vans Warped Tour has obviously succeeded in keeping itself relevant—despite the fact that people like me yearn for the Warped Tours of old with bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise.

Photos by Guillermo Prieto/

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