Check out Warped Tour 2006 Tickets here.
Kevin Lyman is spinning plates.
Among the immediate issues the Vans Warped tour founder and producer juggled at a recent underperforming date in Nashville were a crew member’s minor medical emergency, an upcoming European on-sale for his Taste of Chaos tour, tracking album sales for his two labels and the magical appearance of a key piece of sound equipment that had been chasing the tour across several cities.
Lyman’s production office at Starwood Amphitheatre was packed with tour personnel, transportation coordinators, press, artists and a wealth of other, mostly heavily tattooed, individuals who all seem to function at a high level of organized chaos.
A partnership among Vans, Lyman’s 4fini Productions and Creative Artists Agency’s (CAA) Darryl Eaton, Warped has become one of the most consistent touring properties ever. While it may appear to the casual observer a dysfunctional punk family, the tour, now in its 12th year, works for reasons that transcend the bottom line.
“If this was purely driven by economics, there would be a lot of Warpeds,” Lyman says. “But if I laid it all out for you economically, no one could figure out how it works. It doesn’t make sense, because it’s not really always based on finances.”
What Warped is about is the care, feeding and shepherding of 800-plus people, including more than 100 bands, on 187 vehicles from town to town, and then setting up and putting on a show for thousands of punk kids. Virtually every detail of Warped eventually ends up in Lyman’s lap, particularly if there’s a problem, and he delegates with aplomb.
“I think he probably learns from his mistakes,” observes veteran road warrior Joan Jett, a headliner on this year’s tour. “I heard early on the food sucked, and now the food is excellent. I’m sure there are a million little details you have to get together if you’re going to make this type of thing work.”
It works. Last year, Warped enjoyed its best outing ever, with attendance of 700,000 and a gross exceeding $16 million from a ticket that is generally priced for less than $30.
For a dozen years, Lyman and Warped have continuously pumped new blood — fans and bands — into the punk-rock scene, contributing significantly to the genre’s vitality.
The sense of community appeals to groups as does the potential new audience.
“Warped gives us a chance to play for people who may not necessarily get a chance to see us otherwise,” says Andrew Everding, keyboardist for post-hardcore band Thursday, which played its first Warped in 2002. “The kids that are showing up now that are 16 were 12 back then, and for the younger kids the only concert they might go to is the Warped tour.”
Others credit Warped with an even bigger role in their development. “I think the reason we have a career is because of the Warped tour,” saxophonist J.R. of Less Than Jake says. “We’ve been doing this so long, we ended up building our fan base on tour, on this tour.”
A shared sense of punk purpose surely greases the wheels, but it takes more than good intentions to keep turnstiles spinning, particularly with a tour that practically turns over its audience every three to four years. Warped works — with the venues, promoters, bands, sponsors, crew and, most importantly, the fans.
“We aim to deliver a great experience for the fan coming to the show, the artists that come out on the road with us, our sponsors, crew,” CAA’s Eaton says. “It is truly a unique community that transcends the ‘business’ of the tour.”
Asked to profile the “Warped kid,” Lyman responds, “Thirteen to 19 years old, active, very open-minded to the music and the scene, very musically knowledgeable. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re about 50/50 male/female, but I also have noticed this year that we’re getting some of the older fans back with bands like Helmet and Joan Jett.”
As far as an economic profile, “They come with some money, they buy T-shirts and records, and music is cheap out there. They’re ready to take music home with them.”
Ten stages notwithstanding, Warped has the look and feel of a punk-rock county fair with row after row of booth space. Sixty-seven sponsors and vendors are onboard for this year’s 50-date outing.
Exhibitors have turned into Warped’s second-highest revenue stream, up 20% this year. “Now we have to turn a lot of people down, just like bands,” says Lyman, who adds that 60%-80% of the “seven-figure” sponsorship value is pumped back into the tour. “It underwrites moving this thing down the road.”
Warped sponsors and vendors are not exactly mainstream, outside of entities like Cingular Wireless and Major League Baseball. Instead, most are small indie labels (including Lyman’s own SideOneDummy Records and Warcon Records), alternative fashions and other left-of-center concerns.
While southern California fashion brands like Hurley and PacSun have raised awareness through their association with Warped, none has been boosted like the title sponsor. Footwear company Vans has presented 11 of the 12 Warped tours in the most long-lived tour sponsorship in the business.
“We were an $80-million to $100-million-a-year company back in 1996 when we got involved with Kevin,” says Steve Van Doren, Vans VP of promotion and events, whose father Paul (now retired) started the company 40 years ago.
Van Doren says the Warped association has been a highly effective marketing tool, allowing Vans to become known outside of southern California. “Our customers are 12- to 18-year-old boys and girls. We’ve always been into skateboarding and snowboarding, and music has been a great tie-in.”
This year, Vans is projecting revenue of $500 million, and Van Doren attributes much of the growth to the Warped association.
With more than 1,000 submissions to participate this year, bands obviously love being on the tour, and many are veterans.
Bands break on Warped. “The tour has consistently been the launch pad for the next round of new superstar bands,” Eaton says. “Just last year’s tour alone saw bands like My Chemical Romance, Avenged Sevenfold and Fall Out Boy, to name a few, rise to the top. I think the tour really provides a platform for fans to go out and discover their new favorite artists.”
Less Than Jake has done at least eight Warped tours. “There’s nothing like this tour,” J.R. says. “It’s truly like summer camp. You get up, you go stand in line for breakfast, you stand in line for lunch, you go play a show, run around. The camp counselor is Kevin Lyman.”
Warped is not the best payday in the world. According to Lyman, “There are bands out here making 50 bucks (a night) to no bucks, to bands that are making $10,000-$12,000.”
The majority of the bands have album releases scheduled somewhere around the tour. Veterans know a Warped slot is a huge opportunity for career development.
“You have to utilize the time you’re out here,” J.R. says. “There’s a lot of bands that don’t. They just jerk around, go watch other bands. You’re out here all summer, you’ll have a chance to watch bands. But make friends, network, meet people, because the band that’s playing on the SmartPunk stage could be selling 2 million records next year.”
Lyman sees too many bands playing rock star too early in their careers. Most Warped bands should be in, well, a van.
“I’ve got bands in two buses that are playing on my small stages. I tell them, ‘You’re going to be changing my oil at Jiffy Lube before long. You’re going to be broke.”‘
Unlike other multi-act tours, Warped lacks a tangible amount of drama. For a veteran artist like Joan Jett, that’s a relief. “There’s been a lot of camaraderie among the bands, which is pretty unique from what I can gather,” she says. “Some other people have made comments that the atmosphere is so much better than on something like the Ozzfest, where there seems to be many more head trips. I haven’t experienced that. I’m experiencing this, where everything is really low-key and down to earth.”
Warped Tour Dates
07/25 – St. Louis, MO UMB Bank Pavilion
07/26 – Cincinnati, OH Riverbend Music Center
07/27 – Pittsburgh, PA Post Gazette Pavilion
07/28 – Indianapolis, IN Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Lot
07/29 – Detroit, MI Comerica Park and Street
07/30 – Chicago, IL First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
08/01 – Buffalo, NY Darien Lakes Fields
08/02 – Fitchburg, MA Fitchburg Airport
08/03 – Camden, NJ Tweeter Center at the Waterfront
08/04 – Scranton, PA Montage Mountain
08/05 – New York, NY Nassau Coliseum
08/06 – Old Bridge, NJ Englishtown Raceway
08/08 – Charlotte, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Lot
08/09 – Virginia Beach, VA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Lot
08/10 – Washington, DC Nissan Pavilion Lot
08/11 – Cleveland, OH Tower City
08/12 – Toronto, ONT Park Place
08/13 – Montreal, QUE Park Jean Drapeau
P.S. Check out Warped Tour 2006 Tickets here.
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