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Vans Warped Tour founder talks legacy, tour highlights | The Triangle
Arts & Entertainment

Vans Warped Tour founder talks legacy, tour highlights

Since 1995, Vans Warped Tour, a traveling touring festival, has brought the combination of action sports, music and education across North America. It is the longest running touring festival in North America and 2018 will mark its final full run. Whether or not you like this year’s lineup, I think everyone can agree Warped Tour has had a great history.

Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour, spoke with The Triangle two weeks before the lineup was released for the final tour. In the interview, which was edited for concision and clarity, Lyman discussed Warped Tour’s legacy, what will happen next and what his long-term goals are.

The Triangle: Now that Warped is coming to an end, how would you describe its legacy to the following generation that wasn’t able to experience it?

Kevin Lyman: It will remind people of when there was a great community of music, when artists pulled together and I think that’s honestly what we’re lacking right now. But when we started this thing basically everyone got under one roof to support each other. It’s funny, I just watched a video shot by a bunch of the early bands and they kept bringing up the word community and Warped was very strong when it was a community.

I always felt that basically kids are the same; maybe they listen to different things but if you could bring them together, they may have opposing views on things but at least they’re discussing things. So it was really a way to bring the independent music community together. And highlighting action sports which was something that I grew up with in California and I knew was starting to become popular across the country and I thought maybe we merge them together and we work because so many of us were like-minded. The punks hung out with the skaters and the metal kids could hang out in LA together and the reggae kids could hang out together. And usually everyone would be at the same skateboard park. I thought, “Hey, maybe we put some bands together and go out on the road and do something.”

My philosophy has always been education, philanthropy and music. Music was the driving force for it all. The Warped Tour spirit will go on for the people that got it and a lot of the people that got it formed nonprofits. A lot of those great youth nonprofits started in those parking lots just like a bunch of bands did.

TT: Since it was announced that Warped was going on its final run this year, many creators and companies have been scrambling to find ways to get their foot in the door as a “replacement” for Warped Tour.

KL: I think it’s time for that. I’ve done everything I possibly can in the format that Warped Tour is in. And it is time maybe and I hope people can figure it out and they will. Maybe taking Warped Tour away, maybe reminded some people how important it actually was.

TT: It seems like you did everything you could to keep Warped Tour relevant, constantly adapting it to fit the changing music scene, bringing in EDM and hip-hop artists that might appeal more to the changing crowd.

KL: It’s been that but for me it’s all the same, music’s music. Once musicians get in a parking lot and spend some time with each other they usually start realizing they have a lot more in common. The internet has allowed us to develop opinions on people and things without experiencing them. Now, as well as people, bands can pre-judge each other. I see it in bands, and I see it in society. Warped Tour is just symptomatic of society as a whole. Before you pass judgement on someone you used to have to meet them — in a parking lot a lot of the times.

Warped Tour would pull together all these people and let me tell you, the Black Eyed Peas didn’t know Pennywise, and Good Charlotte didn’t know the guys in NOFX or Rancid. But the only preconceived notion you could ever have was — well, you couldn’t really have much. So you gave people a chance and you meet them in the parking lot. And the next thing you know is there’s Good Charlotte who is maybe only being judged by their album cover which was kind of stupid. But once people met them face to face they were like, “Wow, these kids are cool.”

I’ll always remember the moment when I brought Good Charlotte over to the poker table (because all the bands used to play poker and hang out on Warped Tour), and there was Fat Mike and Rancid and everyone. And someone said, “Aren’t you the guys with that stupid album cover? Come over here and sit down, have a beer and tell us about yourselves.” And the next thing you know, everyone’s friends on the tour.

TT: What do you think it would take for a new company or creator to establish a touring music festival like Warped Tour — or do you think it’s finished?

KL: I think the concept of the touring festival is done, to be honest. Now you might find some people who take something like Self Help to a few more shows but they’re always going to be Saturday or Sunday shows. No one is going to tour like we did.

TT: It’s sad to hear that because the smaller states don’t get things like this. Warped Tour was a big deal for a lot of kids because it was one of the only things that actually came to their town.

KL: It’s sad. But for me as an individual I want to continue to grow. I’ve still got a lot of things I want to do in my life. And one of the big things will be launching this opioid initiative next week. That’s going to go hand in hand with Warped Tour. But all goals of that are to be able to take that for the future and I can concentrate my energy on that, cause my energy can be better used at this point. I don’t want to just sit here and deal with agents and bands and people that don’t see the bigger picture anymore.

I would rather work on saving some kid’s life through this opioid program. And now people are really excited about the opioid initiative. We’ll use Warped Tour to start it, ’cause the kids that get Warped Tour, get it. The ones that don’t, don’t. So this summer’s Warped Tour is going to be very much for the kids that get it.

TT: That’s a great initiative you’re taking. Being in Philly, I hear a lot of opinions from DIY bands and a lot of them feel that Warped Tour ending is a good thing and is giving them more space to grow the local scene. How do you think Warped ending will, if at all, impact the DIY/underground/local scene?

KL: To be honest, I don’t know. But we’re the only large national tour that gives local bands a chance. So if they have a master plan, one thing they should do is make sure that their local communities are strong. All I do is tour the country, I just got back from a speaking tour this week, and all I hear from local scene kids who really believe in it are how the bands tear each other apart.

So my question to them would be: with Warped Tour going away, is that going to change how you guys all view each other and how you’re going to make the scene stronger?

TT: My next question was going to be how do you think artists and creators can best support themselves and grow without Warped as a platform but you already answered that, they have to support each other.

KL: They have to support each other; they gotta just support each other. You know, you may not like each other but keep your mouth shut if you don’t like them, focus on the positive. Right now, these bands are limiting themselves so early in their career by forming these unresearched opinions I would say. Tell these guys, look I spoke to Kevin Lyman and if you’re going to make your scene, if the scene is going to be stronger now that Warped is going away he’s stoked for you. But what is the plan you guys? What is the plan? And you know what, that’s great if all of a sudden the indie world becomes and thrives and gets huge and everyone starts getting bigger because the Warped Tour is gone. Then you know what, it was a good time to take it away. If it doesn’t that’s not my problem anymore, I tried and I’ve given more bands a chance and more kids a chance to work in this business than anyone else and more women a chance to work in this business.

TT: On the topic of women in this industry, Warped Tour and yourself have been under fire so much for issues of sexual harassment recently. However, these issues have been going on for a long time in the history of the music industry and happens just as often in other subcultures like EDM and hip-hop. So why do people choose Warped Tour to pin the blame on all these issues?

KL: You see, that’s the fault — pin all the blame on Warped Tour, pin the problems on the indie music scene. Because we gave everyone a voice and that’s what Warped Tour has been, it’s been an inclusive society. Everyone has a voice.

TT: But I think that’s what made it so appealing.

KL: I’ve said maybe there’s a couple mistakes here but I wasn’t a trained person in the field and none of these incidents happened on Warped Tour. It was on their own tours, but it became my problem because I’ve been the reluctant leader of the whole scene, in a way. I’ve now taken an organization called A Voice For The Innocent to the Warped Tour. So we learn, there have been a few mistakes but these things don’t happen on my tour — Warped Tour is the safest environment for a female to tour in that there is.

I believe with my values and my values are I took funding and gave it to organizations that are much better trained at this and helped me learn about it too and I’m really proud that A Voice For The Innocent has became known as a national organization to help people.

TT: It appears that you’ve definitely given more women jobs in this industry than any other organization or company.

KL: So people know. That’s the other thing: we’re a lightning rod, I guess because we’ve been around we’re the establishment I guess. Last year, I gave those kids safer scenes. A Voice For The Innocent wouldn’t have been on Warped Tour had I not given them the money to be there.

So I don’t know what more to do, we used to weed things out a lot differently. If we saw someone misbehaving on Warped Tour there were no meetings, those people were pretty much taught a lesson on how to behave around women. And we do have some real bad people in every society, as we’re seeing. Teachers, ministers, movie stars, directors — and I think we’ve worked hard to get rid of the worst.

TT: Well for the most part, it seems like people feel you’ve made a very large impact on this industry, a very positive impact.

KL: I realized I’ve wanted to tackle every problem in the world but I can’t. And you know what? We’re going to go out and have a great summer! For those who come out there’s a lot of cool bands, mostly the bands have all been on Warped Tour together. We’re going to go have a good time, I look forward to saying goodbye to people, I look forward to moving ahead with this program. I really hope the local bands are right, and that when Warped Tour goes away the scene gets better.