Photograph and Interview with Kevin Lyman by Jeremy Saffer
As part of Outburn’s Warped Tour retrospective, and with the tour on its final cross country run, we sat down and to talk with its creator and curator Kevin Lyman about the history of Warped Tour—where it started and the journey that got it to where it is today.
How did you first get started promoting? What were some of your earliest shows? I would rent fraternity houses, community centers, and airport hangers. I would bring in bands and charge $5.00 for all the beer you could drink and five bands. When the beer would run out, the shows would usually end.
Is there anything you miss about the early years of Warped Tour?
Many times we felt like outlaws in some ways. We had to win the cities over and show that punk rock was not such a bad thing.
Were there a lot of bands from when you first started putting on shows that you were able to bring along on Warped Tour?I was never really a promoter. I was a production company that ran the shows for the promoters. Most of the bands at the beginning of Warped Tour were bands I worked with in the clubs.
What are the things that separate Warped Tour from any other past touring festival?Warped Tour lasted 24 years.
In the past there used to be more of an extreme sports theme along with the music—athletes, ramps, etc. When did that start to phase out?
About 10 years ago we decided to focus on the bands, non-profits, and educational aspects. The athletes had many other options that they did not have at the beginning, and we decided that we needed to invest in the bands, redirecting funds to the lineup and still keep the ticket price reasonable.
You’ve had the unique opportunity to not only see bands come and go, get bigger, get smaller, but also curate some careers. What are some of the bands you are most proud of that have come through Warped Tour?
Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Less Than Jake, Every Time I Die, and My Chemical Romance.
What are some of the biggest success stories of Warped Tour?
Watching our children grow up and now work on the tour. There are many people whose children were very young when we started who now have roles on the tour. Watching them become friends like I did with their parents through hard work will last a lifetime.
Is there a point in a band’s career where they outgrow Warped Tour, or on the flipside, no longer at the level where they could play Warped Tour?
Anyone could have always come back, but for about 90 percent, it became a financial thing. The other five percent decided they wanted to be an indie band, and the other five percent decided it was too hot.
You often give excellent advice to many artists. Are there any instances you can think of where someone took your advice to heart and seen its positive effect on their career?
I guess the list would be pretty long from the number of people who dropped by or sent notes thanking me this summer.
What are some of the things you think festivals and tours lack that Warped Tour had?Community and accessibility. We always tried to include our fans as much as possible. I could have charged for VIPs, but I thought it was better to reward those who did good things for their community.
The unsung heroes of Warped Tour are unquestionably the crew, with some personnel lasting throughout most of the history of the tour and many going on to have an excellent career in the industry. What do you think has kept so many onboard with Warped Tour throughout the years?
The family atmosphere where we all treat each other with respect. Also, it makes the rest of your jobs look easy.
Is there any advice you would give someone looking to become a part of a tour as crew? Where to get started?
Volunteer in your community. Get out there and get involved.
Having been an attendee of Warped for the past 18 years, it seems in the beginning things were shifting a lot year to year, with stages, bands, and venues. But the past six to eight years have seemed much more routine. Is it easier to do Warped Tour now than it was around its eighth or ninth year? How do you think the current routine affects Warped Tour?
Yes, for sure. In the beginning there was a whole lot less paperwork. Now the amount of permits and pre-planning required is much more. Kerry Nicholson did a great job as production manager for all these years, but I know he was getting tired of all the new rules and regulations. Some of which were needed, but many were just created in a way to shake us down, in the name of public safety.
Has the demographic for Warped Tour changed over the years, and if so how did that affect the tour?
The last couple of years our crowd got older.
Why do you think this often single day annual event has had such a major impact on so many?
Because we kept the community going year round. We were always in contact with the fans and made them feel part of the process.
What would you say to those mourning the loss of Warped Tour to keep its spirit alive and well?
Do something locally to help one of those great non-profits we work with. Start a canned food drive, blood drive, or have your friends and family sign up for the FEND app.
Is there anything specific that you think played a major role and really hurt the touring festival circuit?
Climate change is a big factor.
With Ozzfest, Uproar, Mayhem Fest, and so many other touring festivals ending or becoming destinations fests, Warped Tour was the last one out there for rock, metal, punk, etc. After seeing the massive reaction to the final Warped Tour with sold out shows, do you think there is any future for Warped Tour?
No, it is done.
What else made this year’s Warped Tour special? Was there any difference when you selected bands for this year’s final run?
I brought bands that had supported me and were good with the fans. It was a bit of a nostalgia package, but still had room for the next generation of potential headliners.
What are Warped Tour’s greatest moments and accomplishments?
24 years of getting this tour down the road. The greatest moment was ending it the other night with so many friends and supporters surrounding me. It was also nice to get to have 38 last shows this summer where people who you helped get into this industry drop by to say thanks for giving them a chance. Warped Tour has always done great things outside of the music world, between non-profits, raising money for different causes, cleaning up and doing great things for the environment.
How did that come about, and how can other tours and festivals become more involved with charity and giving back?
It has always been in my DNA to help others and tackle problems when you can.
Can you tell us about FEND?
The best way to learn about FEND is to check out the website wearefend.org. Now that the tour is over we hope to build this in a white label platform for all types of communities. Warped was a great testing ground, and we are happy with the results with over 30,000 people downloading the app on opioid education.
MusiCares is another great cause Warped Tour has supported. What does MusiCares do, and why is it so important to the entire music community?
I am on the board of this organization, and for the last 10 years we have traveled with a counselor on the road to help artists in need. Each day of the week he would have a meeting or mediation session to help artists and crew who need it. We also donated 25 cents from each Warped Tour ticket to MusiCares.
You have famously had some run-ins with artists who have had substance abuse problems on Warped Tour. What do you think is the best way to handle those types of situations?
I think your referring to Johnny Craig. We tried. I put him in rehab, and when he came back his manager and agent said he was sober. I think their idea of sober and mine are different. When a heroin addict is sober, it does not mean he is drinking a bottle of rum a day. This truly pisses me off to this day. They sent him on the road, and he became my problem again. They also sent a female merchandiser with him who had never been on the road. This is one of the 21 reasons I decided to end Warped. People sending their problems out on the road, and then they became my problem.
One of the things that is so remarkable is you are supportive of people who want to be in the music industry. You often respond to people, either championing or criticizing Warped Tour, that they should do their own fest or tour. And what some may not understand is that you mean it. What would you tell someone who is looking to start their own show or tour?
Be patient, learn as much as you can. I have always been willing to share my mistakes so you can avoid them.
There are so many bands that exist just because of their want to play Warped Tour. With it no longer being a touring festival, what advice would you give to these bands?
Support each other.
Another issue that hit Warped Tour was the inappropriate or illegal underage situations with bands that were booked on the tour. How did you combat that, and what precautions would you tell fans, parents, and bands to stay safe given that environment?
Looking back, the only thing I would have probably done different was not let Front Porch Step come back and play that one show. I was going on the request of his therapists. Since then, I invested in getting A Voice for the Innocent out on the road with us. They are a great organization that has helped with this. We travel with almost 900 people each summer, and if you want to taint us all by a couple of bad ones then so be it. I think we have done a good job, and nothing is perfect in this world. If there is a utopian space out there, let me know I would like to visit it.
Do you have any favorite venues? Any that are gone that you miss visiting?
I learned early on to try and find something good about every stop we make. If you have a favorite, you miss the ones in between. Sometimes that favorite might have something a close bike ride away that allowed me to get off site for 10 minutes, but hear my radio or something as simple as knowing the fireflies would come out at night.
What are some common mistakes bands have made on Warped Tour?
Running out of merchandise, not changing the oil in their van and checking the air pressure in their tires, not wearing sunscreen, and not showering enough.
Are there any misconceptions fans have had with Warped Tour?
In the heat of tour you have to make quick decisions right or wrong. I made a few now that I probably given more time and information would have gone the other way.
What are some of your favorite memories of Warped Tour?
The days off enjoying activities with bands and crew, whitewater rafting, house boating, skydiving, etc.
On the other end of the spectrum, what are some of the most difficult memories of Warped Tour?
Watching the changing face of America. The medical tents changing over 24 years, where kids, due to the American diet, can’t spend a day outside. The number of people we saw in the tent each day has risen significantly since the beginning
What are your favorite day-to-day things you witnessed during Warped Tour?
The kids singing their hearts out along the barricade, the lines for signings, and when the sun goes down and it cools off on the hottest days.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give 2008 Kevin for the future of Warped Tour?
Realize that in the future, people who never met you would judge you on a thing called social media. Learn the term troll was a lot more than a funny little thing with wild hair, and they should be ignored.
Is there anything you wanted to do with Warped Tour that you didn’t get to do?
Have a Ramones reunion.
Many know of the legendary Kevin cook outs. Will this mean the end to your famous BBQs?
Lisa Brownlee, our tour manager, and myself have thought about doing pop-up reunion BBQs in the future.
What are you going to miss most after Warped Tour is done?
The changing sunrises and sunsets each morning.
What does the future hold for you now that Warped Tour has wrapped up?
We will have a few things for the 25th anniversary. Plans will start coming together now that the tour is over. It is hard to get anything done more than running the show and the tour, since your brain turns to mush.
Our biggest thanks to Kevin Lyman for all he has done and continues to do for all of the music fans, bands, crew, and those in the music industry who owe him immeasurably for his hard work and dedication, which has allowed our careers, friendships, and fandom to flourish.