Vans Warped Tour Takes a Victory Lap

A crowd scene at Warped.EXPAND
A crowd scene at Warped.
Ashly Nicole

Vans Warped Tour has been a music festival fixture for over two decades, and bands listed on the 2018 lineup will be the last to grace its stages. Now, as we look forward to one last Warped Tour, let’s look back at its innovative roots and impact on the music scene — fans and bands alike.

It may or may not have come as a shock last fall when founder Kevin Lyman announced 2018 would be the last full cross-country outing for Vans Warped Tour — now in its 24th year. Lyman penned a sincere letter about his decision to retire the famous counterculture tour, consistently thanking musicians and attendees for the immense growth it saw since its mid-’90s origins.

Kevin Lyman expects to trade touring for teaching.
Kevin Lyman expects to trade touring for teaching.
Chad Sengstock

Lyman, an events producer, founded Warped Tour in 1995, along with Warp magazine. The tour debuted in Salt Lake City and wrapped in Detroit. Skate-shoe maker Vans earned naming rights by becoming the primary sponsor in 1996.

The inaugural lineup listed 19 bands including Deftones, Sublime, and No Doubt. That’s since expanded to well over 200 bands touring this summer. “We sold about 25,000 tickets in 1995 for 25 shows,” Lyman says. “Since then we have averaged just under 500,000 paid over an average of 40 shows.”

But Warped Tour was not meant to become an annual event. “It was supposed to last one year and then I would become a schoolteacher, or pursue another career,” says Lyman, “Now, I am going to become a schoolteacher.”

No one’s sure if a lateral event will take Warped Tour’s place, but Lyman says there are most likely people trying to figure that out. “I hope through my success and mistakes that they’ve learned and can do it better than me,” he says. “Honestly, I feel we have done a pretty good job and have been honored to get to do this so long.”

The second annual Warped Tour kicked off in Phoenix in 1996 and has stopped in the Valley every year since. Despite the 110-plus degree temperatures (and hotter still thanks to years some stages were set up in Ak-Chin Pavilion’s parking lot), attendees were thrilled to be there. For some, it was the first time they’d seen certain friends since school let out, while others were pumped to call in sick to see NOFX, Rancid, The Unseen, or whoever.

You had an outfit planned, your ride arranged (in younger years), and a chance to see favorite comp punk or hardcore groups with emerging hip-hop and pop artists. There were rules (some years studded belts threaded every belt loop but were not allowed on the grounds), but once beyond the security-ridden entrance, you were free to be you.

Warped Tour has had a significant impact on fringe music and culture — growing and exposing artists and influencing young and new listeners. You came away from a full day of music, unique merchandise, and meet-and-greets with a head full of new groups to check out, and new perspectives based on alternative ideas of a favorite band. Your view on music and the world was widened just a little bit — and that will be missed.

“I think it’s essentially the end of an era,” says guitarist Jared Monaco of The Maine, who first attended Warped Tour at 14 in 2002 and then played in 2008. The Tempe-founded pop-punk outfit is on the 2018 lineup for their fifth time on the tour. “Since then, we’ve been back multiple times and have learned how valuable the tour can be,” he says. “We’ll certainly miss it.”

The Maine, founded in Tempe, are on the 2018 lineup.EXPAND
The Maine, founded in Tempe, are on the 2018 lineup.
Courtesy of The Maine

As for the influence of the tour: “The impact Warped had was profound and not restricted by genre,” he says. “An entire generation of fans formed because of the culture around the tour. I know how important it is because I was one of those fans 16 years ago, and it led me to where I am today. I would love for the next generation of fans to have that opportunity, too.”

On the final tour, Lyman says the lineup is reflective of the bands that he likes to work with, and who also happen to bring a great live show. “I think a lot of the fans are coming back to celebrate one last summer,” he says.

Recurring members of the Warped Tour lineup, including 2018, are Buffalo scream rock favorites Every Time I Die. Singer Keith Buckley says Warped Tour has been a stronghold for ETID for most of the band’s life, and it feels like they’re returning home to the people who helped get the band started.

“I don’t like to lament loss — nothing gold can stay — but the music scene will drastically change after this,” Buckley says. “You’ll probably see a bunch of feral keyboard players roaming the wild terrain looking for Monster Energy drinks. Malnourished and confused singers with neck tattoos holding empty plates out, approaching strangers mistaking them for someone at catering. Warped Tour will leave a vacuum. Only the strong will survive.”

The California-based psychobilly band Tiger Army has been on the Warped Tour docket three times, according to vocalist and guitarist Nick 13. His thoughts on this being the last cross-country Vans Warped Tour? It’s bittersweet.

Tiger Army's Nick 13.EXPAND
Tiger Army's Nick 13.
Casey Curry

“As a band drawing from traditional rock ’n’ roll and punk, Tiger Army never really fit in to what was going on overall musically at Warped, especially later, but at one point it featured a diverse group of sounds and was a great way to get our music heard by young people who were just starting to go to live shows,” he says. “There are still people coming to Tiger Army gigs because they first saw us on Warped a decade ago or more."

The songwriter says he would like to see another alternative music and culture event crop up in the tour’s place. “That’s always my hope,” he says, “With the rise of technology, live music definitely seems less important to kids now, and that’s sad, because you can’t replicate it. You have to be there and experience it for yourself. There’s nothing like it.”

Another California punk band and no stranger to the lineup, Tsunami Bomb says they owe a lot to this tour. “Warped Tour very literally put us on the map while simultaneously giving us friendships and memories that endure to this day,” says the band’s vocalist, bassist, and founder Dominic Davi. He says the tour even welcomed a reunited Tsunami Bomb without hesitation.

“Just like the old days, while onstage, I looked out and saw so many bands mixed in the crowd, some seeing us for the first time,” he says. “It was the response to those performances that made us feel we could actually move forward as a band again.” Davi says Kevin Lyman has their support into the future.

Swingin' Utters played the inaugural Warped Tour.EXPAND
Swingin' Utters played the inaugural Warped Tour.
Joe Leonard

But things do end, and there are additional memories to look back on. “Warped Tour made me appreciate all the hard work the stagehands and crew did to make it run smooth,” says Johnny Bonnel, vocalist of 1980s punk outfit Swingin’ Utters — a band that played the inaugural Warped Tour. “Ridiculous fun with great friends, also,” he says. “Seems like a good time to wrap it up.”

Vans Warped Tour is scheduled for Phoenix on Thursday, June 28, at Ak-Chin Pavilion, 2121 North 83rd Avenue. Tickets are $46 via vanswarpedtour.com.

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