Looking back, peering ahead
Young people know a good thing when they've got it..
By JOHN BENSON
CLEVELAND -- A basic explanation of the Warped Tour would be it's nothing more than a traveling skate park with great punk music. However, there are so many more intangible qualities that explain why for over a decade it has remained the hottest ticket around.
Recently, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum took notice of the tour and decided to stage the "Warped: 12 Years of Music, Mayhem and More" exhibit, which will be open Jan. 27 through Sept. 3 at the downtown Cleveland institution.
"It's not just a concert that takes place every summer but a cultural phenomenon," said Jim Henke, chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "It has found its niche. I think it just goes beyond the music and all sorts of things. If you look back over the last 12 years, it would be hard to find something that is more influential or successful."
The "Warped: 12 Years of Music, Mayhem and More" exhibit will feature items from No Doubt, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX, New Found Glory, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and All-American Rejects. Once the exhibit closes, the band paraphernalia will be stored in a special Warped Tour time capsule, which will be opened in 25 years and again displayed at the Rock Hall.
There's also an exhibit opening party, which takes place Jan. 26 and will feature live performances by Bouncing Souls, Bad Religion, Paramore and Pennywise. The show is sold out.
If looking for the perfect embodiment of the Warped Tour, perhaps nothing is more germane than that of the "Kevin Says" stage. The Kevin in the "Kevin Says" stage is tour visionary Kevin Lyman, who apparently doesn't know how to say no.
"That stage started because there would always be a bunch of bands that would show up every day and say 'Kevin says we get to play,'" laughed Lyman, calling from his Los Angeles office. "No one would have any paperwork on it. It would be some kids I met and said show up and we'll figure out a way for you to play. So all of a sudden, the girls in the office said, 'Let's get a PA system, set it up over there and say there's the 'Kevin Says' stage, go play.'"
Found an audience
Among the many "Kevin Says" stage bands that have gone to bigger things are Story of the Year and New Found Glory.
If rock history has taught us anything, it's that lifestyle traveling festivals (the jam-band H.O.R.D.E. Tour and estrogen-based Lilith Tour come to mind) burnout under the weight of their success. Lyman witnessed this phenomenon firsthand as the tour manager for the first few Lollapalooza festivals of the early '90s. It was this learning experience that gave him the idea to merge the punk rock scene with the punk rock culture in the form of the Warped Tour, which began in earnest in 1995 with underground acts L7 and Quicksand, along with then newcomer Sublime.
Guitarist Fletcher Dragge, whose band Pennywise played on the second Warped Tour, said it was obvious from the start this was something special.
"It s definitely had a lifestyle feel and no one had ever done a tour like that before so at that point everyone was going, 'Wow, this is insane.'" said Dragge, during a phone call to his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif. "We're hanging out with all of our friends, we're getting to watch some of the best punk rock bands around, getting to watch skating and motocross and all of this stuff. It was kind of just more like a giant playground and a dream come true."
Said Lyman, "I envisioned it as a place to give kids a great value and for bands to build community. The interesting thing was how do you keep that going? That kind of grew the first couple of years, with 100,000 people to 200,000 people to now 600,000 people a year see the tour, but we still try to keep that essence and the independent spirit. But it has to be run as a business, because it can get out of control. It can almost collapse under its own success."
Lyman, who plans on attending the opening of the upcoming Rock Hall exhibit, said last summer's tour was trying with over 900 people -- from band members to stage hands and concert officials -- on the road. He said this year the plan is to scale back without affecting the product, which includes plenty of notable Warped Tour veteran acts (Coheed & amp; Cambria, Killswitch Engage, Bad Religion, Pennywise have signed on) and cheap ticket prices (anywhere between 25 and 30).
It's the latter component of the Warped Tour that continues to amaze promoters and fans. Lyman said he's taken plenty of heat employing the decidedly anti-punk rock position of tour sponsorship. The touring festival is commonly referred to the Vans Warped Tour. However, without the financial backing, the festival's ticket price would easily double or triple.
Dragge admits that financially a successful band may take a cut in pay to play the Warped Tour, but the experience is worth it. There's also a credibility factor being associated with the annual summer event, which exposes music fans to bands old, new and unknown.
"It's kind of the attitude and letting young bands come out there that have no following or even have a record yet and just being there for the underdog," Dragge said. "It's not a snobby thing. There is no main stage glamour. If you're on the main stage or side stage, you're treated equally."
So perhaps the real question is how long can the Warped Tour go on?
"I think the kids will let us know when it's not that important to them," Lyman said. "And as long as we can keep that ticket price fair, the Warped Tour remains a place to discover new bands."
Admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is 20 for adults, 14 for seniors (60+), 11 for children (9-12) and children under 8 and Museum members are free. The facility is open 10 am. to 5:30 p.m. daily.