Requiem for Warped Tour
Emo kids (and retired emo kids) definitely have something to be emotional about this summer. After 25 years, Warped Tour is officially coming to an end. Summer 2018 marked the final cross-country tour as we knew it, and this summer’s 25th anniversary celebration consists of only three weekend-long festivals. The third and final event will be taking place in Mountainview, California, this coming weekend, July 20 & 21. After that, it’s all over.
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman is too busy to even process the emotions that go along with the festival ending. “The final weekend is more of a punk rock farewell,” he says. “It’s going to be a truly old school Warped Tour vibe in many ways. Less Than Jake, Goldfinger, Bad Religion, the Offspring…it goes back to the old roots, and San Francisco was one of the first cities that really embraced Warped Tour.”
Since becoming a famous “punk rock summer camp,” in Lyman’s words, Warped Tour has been a highlight for punk rock, ska, emo and pop punk lovers — as well as a solace for misfits. Not to mention, it was arguably the sweatiest, highest-energy festival out there. At Warped, you might faceplant while moshing, fall on your ass in a circle pit, get kicked in the face by a crowd surfer, and/or pass out from dehydration — but, at the end of the day, it was all worth it, because you got to see your favorite bands play live and be a part of something bigger than yourself.
The energy felt at Warped was undeniable and inescapable. It had the power to inspire people to be themselves and follow their dreams. “My first Warped Tour experience was summer of ‘96 where I spent the day watching my favorite bands like NOFX, Pennywise and Rancid, who rarely ever toured through Canada at that time, play outside in the blistering sun next to some of my best friends,” Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley recalls. “I knew from that moment on that starting up my own band to one day be a part of the Warped Tour was something that I wanted and needed to do. I went home that night and started writing songs.” Four years later, in 2000, Sum 41 played at Warped for the first time.
The tour has fostered community, built friendships and cultivated artists’ careers since the inaugural Warped Tour in 1995. The first run consisted of an eclectic punk rock-heavy lineup featuring No Doubt and Sublime. Warped was always an opportunity to be among fellow weirdos, learn about new bands you might not have heard of otherwise, meet favorite musicians and get involved with charities – even if the charity involvement was something as small as bringing in canned goods to donate in order to skip the line, a tradition that started in 2007.
For the first Warped Tour run in 1995, Lyman had a challenge: to differentiate it from Lollapalooza, which many alternative music fans saw as their go-to fest. Even from the very start, the tour was about more than just the music. It was about an immersive experience, community and giving back. “We were trying to do something different than anyone had ever done at that point,” he remembers. “No one had ever hauled around motorcycle jumps and skateboard ramps. We were blending [music with] this lifestyle we were living in Southern California and taking it around the country.”
Another main difference between Lyman’s Warped Tour and other festivals at the time? He wasn’t a musician. “You had Perry Farrell [Jane’s Addiction frontman] with Lollapalooza. You had Ozzy Ozbourne with Ozzfest. Then, all of a sudden there’s Kevin Lyman, the guy that loads vans and trucks, putting on a festival.”
That’s not to say he didn’t have the passion and experience to start his own project. For 12 and a half years, Lyman worked for powerhouse concert promotion company Goldenvoice, where he was already running about 320 shows a year. On top of this, he had a freelance production company and worked various jobs with Lollapalooza up until the year before starting Warped. The music industry experience and the passion to share great music with the country was all there.
What really legitimized Warped Tour and helped it earn some street cred in the punk rock world, though, was Pennywise and NOFX joining the lineup in 1996. Vans (in its early phase) also signed on as a sponsor, and while they were a small company then, Lyman says, “it kind of solidified what we were about.”
Other notable performers in the ‘96 lineup include 311 and Blink-182, both of whom are a part of the 25th anniversary shows. Fun fact: Blink rode on Lyman’s bus in 1996, since at that point they didn’t have money for their own.
It didn’t take long for Warped to take off. The tour went from selling fewer than 50,000 tickets in 1995 to around 156,000 tickets in 1996, which Lyman attributes to NOFX and Pennywise’s popularity. By 1997, the audience had quadrupled. Total attendance ramped up over 220,000, averaging 7,600 attendees per show.
It was also becoming clear that Warped was a jumping off point for many bands in the scene (and not in the scene). Artists were developing over these summers, gaining new fans, and selling lots of records. Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Paramore are among the many bands who catapulted into mainstream fame after Warped Tour.
Blink-182 saw huge commercial success in 1999 with Enema of the State, which went platinum in multiple countries. Fall Out Boy played Warped in 2004 and 2005, and went on to be nominated for Best New Artist at the 2005 Grammy Awards. Paramore also was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2007 after performing at Warped in 2005 and 2006. Even Katy Perry is among the Warped Tour alum; she performed in 2008 during the “I Kissed a Girl” era.
So, what happened? Why is it all coming to an end? Warped’s marketing and creative director Steph Mirsky puts it simply: “I always say, Warped Tour never changed. The world changed around Warped Tour.”
Lyman adds, “What’s made the last few years challenging was that the community of music was so fractured. Warped worked when it was a great community, when big bands could take a step backward financially and take the small bands with them.”
Back in the heyday of CDs, bands could sell hundreds of thousands of records while on Warped Tour. As times changed, bands relied more on non-stop touring for income rather than record sales. Lyman states, “Bands looked at Warped as a payday rather than a career building move.”
Social media was another factor. “Bands started to prejudge each other before they met,” he states. “Now you’ve got bands who don’t even know each other saying, ‘That band sucks, I don’t want to be part of that community, I don’t want to tour with this band.’” Not to mention, the scene unfortunately had its fair share of #MeToo drama. Even if the scandals didn’t happen on Warped Tour, the tour still faced backlash.
“When you have a thousand people on the road, you’re gonna have a couple of bad people, and we had to figure it out. We learned as we went,” Lyman says. He ended up inviting A Voice for the Innocent — a non-profit dedicated to helping sexual assault and rape survivors — on tour to raise awareness and support survivors in need.
With an average of 14,209 attendees per show last summer, the 2018 run was the second biggest summer of Warped (just behind the summer of 2005 which had an average of 14,660 attendees per show). Despite the massive turnout, Lyman stayed firm with his decision to end Warped Tour, which, of course, has upset a lot of people. And, yes, this is really the end.
Mirsky says one of the biggest challenges this year has been “convincing people that this is really it.”
He adds, “We did the absolute best we could to make a lineup that made as many people as possible happy. We couldn’t get the Greendays of the world, we couldn’t get Blink for both shows, we couldn’t put the cash up to get My Chemical Romance to even look at entertaining the thought of coming back together…but we did the best we could.”
The team secured many long-time Warped fan favorites, including the Used, Circa Survive, Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and Taking Back Sunday.
What’s next for the scene? Even without Warped Tour, which felt like the glue that held it all together, the subculture will live on.
“I like what [The Maine and Mayday Parade] are doing with Sad Summer Fest. They were smart, they didn’t get overly aggressive with it, and they’ve got the right intentions,” Lyman says. He also very much approves of Emo Nite, which has been a huge community builder for the emo and pop punk scene the last couple years. “Good people with the right intentions,” he calls founders and organizers Morgan Freed, Barbara (Babs) Szabo and T.J. Petracca.
Mourning the loss of Warped Tour isn’t easy for fans, nor is it easy for Mirsky, who says he originally got into the industry with the intention of working for Warped Tour.
“I grew up going to Warped Tour. I feel the same mix of nostalgia and sadness that our fans do,” Mirsky confesses. “Looking back as someone who was an outsider and an LGBTQ youth growing up outside of Philadelphia, we didn’t really have the word ‘safe-space’ at the time. Warped Tour was a cool place to escape my otherwise shitty life. It’s hard to know that we’re taking that away from kids, but I think you don’t need Warped Tour to be yourself or express yourself. We hope the ethos of Warped Tour lives on in these kids.”
We think it just might.
(Photo credit: Corey Perrine)
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