Vans Warped Tour, now in its 24th and final year, will bid farewell with a sustained roar
I couldn’t wait for the summer at the Warped Tour — from the 2001 song, “Rock Show,” by blink-182
No Doubt, Paramore and the San Diego-bred bands blink-182, Rocket From The Crypt and Pierce The Veil are just some of the acts who received a pivotal early career boost when they performed on the Vans Warped Tour.
For several generations of young punk, ska and alternative-rock fans and performers, Warped has been an annual rite of passage each summer since 1995.
That rite, sadly, is ending after this year’s edition of the cross-country tour — the victim of changing musical tastes, a glut of competing festivals and a growing preference for social media over real-life experiences.
“I’m not going to chase the trends. I’m not going to chase hip-hop. I’m just not into doing that,” said Kevin Lyman, who in a 2017 Union-Tribune interview dropped hints that the tour would end this year.
The final Warped Tour opened Thursday with a sold-out show in Pomona, where it drew a capacity crowd of 17,000. The tour stops today at the sprawling SDCCU (formerly Qualcomm) Stadium parking lot in Mission Valley, where 55 acts — including the San Diego trio Lighterburns — will perform on five stages. (Ticket information and the complete stage by stage lineup for the San Diego show appears below.)
“As of June 5, we’ve sold 11,000 advance tickets for San Diego,” said Lyman, who noted that total attendance for last year’s Warped Tour date here was 8,000.
“We’re a solid brand and we’re having our strongest advance sales, ever, this year. The tour meant a lot to people over the years, in some way, and those people are coming now to say: ‘Hey, this was important and it’s not going to be here any more. Maybe we took it for granted’.”
Yet, even if the Warped Tour will exist only in the past tense after this summer’s 38-city jaunt, at least a few of the bands on its final road trip might see their national profiles jump significantly.
“It’s a huge way to perform in front of a lot of people who have no idea who you are and get your name in their heads,” said Pierce The Veil singer Vic Fuentes, 35. His four-man band made its Warped debut in 2008, was brought back in 2010 and 2012, then headlined the tour in 2015. “We gained a lot of exposure.”
So did fluf, the the San Diego punk-rock quartet that performed on the inaugural edition of Warped in 1995.
“As soon as the first Warped wrapped up, big things started happening,” recalled former fluf bassist Jonny Donhowe. “We began playing bigger shows and major record label interest started to perk up. It resulted in a record deal with MCA for fluf, although I’d left the band by then. I also played the West Coast leg of the second Warped Tour with a band called Jalopy.”
Donhowe, 52, now runs North Park’s Lucky Dutch Juice Company. He still holds the Warped Tour in high regard.
“Warped put a bunch of little bands on big stages, and right after they got off the tour, they would blow up and become huge,” Donhowe said. “It showed you didn’t need major record labels backing you, because you could do it yourself, and that’s the best part of what Warped did.”
Start and end of an era
The most successful annual punk-rock-oriented festival ever, Warped began in 1995 with a simple concept that eventually blossomed far beyond tour founder Lyman’s wildest dreams.
Having previously spent three years working on the Lollapalooza festival — which was co-founded by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell and former San Diego concert promoter Marc Geiger — Lyman wanted to do something different that would appeal to a younger, under-served teen audience.
“My major at Cal Poly Pomona was was recreation administration,” said Lyman, who had been working as a counselor at a weight-loss summer camp for girls before he became a stage at Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach in the 1980s. He was soon working at concert across Southern California including numerous shows in San Diego produced by Bill Silva, who Lyman cites as a major mentor.
His Lollapalooza experience directly inspired his quest to create what, in 1995, became the Warped Tour. The Vans shoe and clothing company signed on as the tour’s title sponsor a year later.
Apart from Lollapalooza and the jam-band-fueled H.O.R.D.E. Festival, annual national music festivals were scarce in the 1990s. So were the upscale amenities that have now become increasingly prevalent at KAABOO Del Mar, Coachella and other festivals. With its no-frills approach, low ticket prices and a celebratory spirit that endured even when temperatures hit triple digits, Warped was perfectly timed.
“My vision was to have a skateboard ramp and some bands I associated with skateboarding,” Lyman, now 57, recalled.
“I wanted to make that into a community and expose people in the American heartland to this Southern California lifestyle. With music and skating, it became the Warped Tour. And, 24 years later, it’s still supposed to be about community.”
The Warped Tour quickly became a major cultural and commercial force. San Diego’s blink-182 is a key example of a once little-known band benefiting enormously from being part of the festival. The trio played on the tour in 1996, 1997 and 1999. By 2001, the last year blink-182 played Warped, the band had become a worldwide attraction.
“The guys in blink didn’t even have a van for their first Warped tour, but they had an incredible work ethic,” Lyman recalled. “I let them ride in my tour bus.”
Other acts whose national profiles surged following their Warped Tour stints include Beck, Sublime and Eminem. The three male members of Black Eyed Peas met their future female singer, Fergie, at a backstage barbecue during the 1999 Warped Tour. Sonny Moore, who later achieved fame as lone-named EDM solo star Skrillex, got his start with the band From First To Last on the 2004 edition of the Warped Tour.
Then there’s Katy Perry, who regards performing on the 2008 Warped Tour as a badge of honor, as she pointedly affirmed backstage at the 2009 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
“It’s real easy for girls to pop up in pop music, and (for people to) say: ‘Where the hell did (she) come from’?” said Perry, who headlines the KAABOO Del Mar festival here on Sept. 16.
“I really think I paid my dues on the Warped Tour. I was on a bus with 14 sweaty guys — with no showers, no sound checks, no set times — and I just got on stage (every day) for 30 minutes, got off stage and did my job. People thought I would die on that tour, and I lived. Now I’m at the Grammys, so f--- them!”
‘Punk-rock summer camp’
Told recently of Perry’s comments, Pierce The Veil singer Fuentes laughed.
“That’s pretty accurate,” he said. “The routing of the tour is pretty brutal. You’re driving at least eight to 10 hours between shows, sometimes more, almost every single night. When you have to load in your equipment every morning at a new venue at 7 a.m. and then perform at 11 a.m., it isn’t easy. The Warped Tour was the first time we had a tour bus, instead of a van, and it had extra beds we rented out to other acts.
“If you’re dying to take a shower, you can take a shuttle, from the festival to a hotel, and it ends up taking two to three hours to get there and back. So we made makeshift showers out of camping bags that we set up on top of our equipment trailers, so that the water would be hot. You’d take a shower standing in the gap between the trailers and the tour buses.”
But Fuentes isn’t complaining.
He was in 10th grade when he attended his first Warped Tour stop here. He left at the end of the day, feeling tired and grimy, but full of hope that — just maybe — one day he’d be on stage performing at the festival.
“We started our band around 2007 and getting on the Warped Tour in 2008 was the biggest thing that ever happened in our lives,” he said. “We were so excited! We’d heard it described as a punk-rock summer camp — everyone uses that phrase — and it’s so dead-on accurate. It’s like a traveling neighborhood, but you definitely have to live like a camper.”
At least three San Diego bands — blink-182, Rocket From The Crypt and Unwritten Law — were part of the second Warped Tour, whose 1996 stop here was in the parking lot of the San Diego Sports Arena. It was a very different time for fans and bands alike.
“When I went to the Warped Tour each year between 1995 and 1998, there was no social media and there wasn’t a way to learn about music like we can now,” said Vanessa Anton, 41, who works in the HR department at UC San Diego and teaches improvisational comedy. “Going to the Warped Tour and other shows was like social media in real life.”
YouTube was barely a year old in 1996. Facebook and Twitter would not exist for another eight and 10 years, respectively. In the pre-streaming days of 1996, annual CD album sales in the U.S. topped 448 million, while vinyl album and cassette tapes accounted for about 330 million more sales. By 2017, with online music streaming setting new records, total CD sales had dropped to just 10 million.
Yet, while CDs are now passé, the punk-rock music and lifestyle that Warped Tour founder Lyman championed for the past three decades has become an entrenched part of mainstream culture.
Or, as Lyman told the Union-Tribune last year: “I think I’ve fought for what I believe in and given people a chance. But what’s punk anymore? We’re the punk tour that ran under the radar for years, but now we’re looked at as the establishment by a lot of people. I kind of laugh at that.”
So does veteran San Diego music champion Tim Pyles, the co-host of radio station 91X’s “Loudspeaker” show, which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
“There are so many festivals now, but Warped will always stand out,” Pyles, 52, said. “It just doesn’t have the same impact now with this generation. It’s something a lot of young people have experienced and there’s a lot of love for it from several generations of fans.”
One of those fans is Brooks Betts, the guitarist in Mayday Parade, the Florida punk-pop band that this year is playing the Warped Tour for the seventh time since 2007.
Betts was 13 when he attended his first Warped Tour show in 2002. Four years later, he and his band mates went to nearly every show on the 2016 edition of the tour, although they were not part of the lineup of bands performing.
“We started off by selling our CDs to people in line for the entire Warped Tour, except for the shows in Canada,” Betts recalled. “Nobody invited us, we just pressed 10,000 copies of our own, self-funded EP and got in a van. We bought cheap CD players and headphones from Walmart. We would approach people waiting in line at the Warped Tour to listen, like: ‘Hey, check out my band’!”
While pitching their CDs at the 2006 Warped Tour stop in San Diego, Betts and the other Mayday Affair members were threatened with arrest by the head of Warped Tour’s security detail. Fortuitously, Betts spotted Warped producer Lyman bicycling nearby a short while later.
“I told Kevin what we were doing with our CDs,” Betts recalled, “and he said: ‘Yeah, that’s alright.’ The next time we got caught by his security guy, he said he was calling the cops. We said: ‘No, don’t! We talked to Kevin.’ He radioed Kevin, and Kevin told him we were okay.’
“In return, when we saw ticket scalpers, we’d report them to the security people and stay there until security could come over. So we were kind of like narcs for the Warped Tour in 2006! The next year, our band was booked to perform as part of Warped.”
The success of Warped inspired Lyman to spread his creative wings. In 1999, he launched the Latin-rock-oriented Watcha Tour with a lineup that included Mexico’s Cafe Tacuba, Colombia’s Iluya Kuriaki and Puerto Rico’s Puya. In 2010, he launched the Country Throwdown tour. Willie Nelson was the headliner in 2011.
Watch and Country Throwdown both folded after a couple of years, in contrast with two other Lyman-produced festival tours. The Warped-offshoot Taste of Chaos debuted in 2005, ran for six years, then returned in 2015 and 2016. The heavy-metal-oriented Mayhem Tour ran from 2008 to 2015. Last year brought the maiden voyage of the first Warped Rewind at Sea cruise aboard the nearly 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl, which sailed from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico.
After the land-bound Warped Tour concludes its final edition this year, Lyman is planning a stand-alone 2019 event to celebrate next year’s 25th anniversary of the festival. He dismisses any suggestion that he might revive Warped sometime in the future.
“No, this will be the farewell tour. I can’t physically run this tour the way that I used to,” said Lyman, who this fall will begin teaching music business and live-event production classes at USC’s Thornton School of Music.
“I think I’ve done everything I can do with the Warped Tour. I don’t have anything else to prove with it. But the door is open for someone else to do their own Warped Tour. We haven’t done it perfectly, but maybe somebody can create that Utopian ideal.”
Vans Warped Tour alums
Here is a partial list of some of the bands and solo artists who have performed as part of the Warped tour since its inception in 1995: blink-182, Sublime, Bebe Rexha, Green Day, Beck, Katy Perry, Paramore, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Incubus, No Doubt, Fall Out Boy, Eminem, The Black Eyed Peas, Andrew W.K., Ice-T, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, My Chemical Romance, Weezer.
2018 Vans Warped Tour
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, June 22
Where: SDCCU (formerly Qualcomm) Stadium parking lot, 9449 Friars Road, Mission Valley
Tickets: $40 (plus service charges)
Phone: (800) 745-3000
Journeys Left Foot Stage
Reel Big Fish
This Wild Life
Journeys Right Foot Stage
All Time Low
Falling In Reverse
Four Year Strong
We The Kings
Mutant Red Dawn Stage
Ice Nine Kills
The Amity Affliction
Mutant White Lightning Stage
Crown The Empire
Every Time I Die
Hail The Sun
In Hearts Wake
Motionless In White
As It Is
Assuming We Survive
Dead Girls Academy
Full Sail Stage
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