The Untold Truth Of Vans Warped Tour

From 1995 to 2019, Vans Warped Tour became the mecca of alternative music. Fans would flock to the traveling festival to see their favorite artists and to discover the next big thing, while musicians would know a spot on this coveted tour could elevate their career. After all, there's no disputing the impact it had in the ascension of the careers of groundbreaking acts like Paramore, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy.

Founded by Kevin Lyman, Vans Warped Tour is widely associated with the punk rock movement and a strong ethos of the do-it-yourself attitude, being seen as the everyday person's music event. However, in the later years, controversy engulfed the tour. From scene politics to giving a platform to disgraced musicians, there were accusations that it was no longer the same place it was in the beginning. For some, it simply didn't feel like home anymore. As a result, there were mixed feelings when Lyman announced the tour would officially call it a day after its 25-year celebration.

Regardless of the sentiment toward the Vans Warped Tour, no one can deny the importance it played in the music scene throughout its run. It outlasted many of its peers and inspired others to start their own events, too. With that said, let's take a look back at the untold truth of Vans Warped Tour and if it is due to make a comeback.

The founder cut his teeth on Lollapalooza

Anyone who has worked on the live side of the music industry understands it is a demanding and grueling job. Not only is there the physical aspect of setting up the equipment and ensuring everything is in working order before the doors open, but there is also the marketing element and understanding of how to deal with unexpected issues that may arise on the day. Think of it like organizing a big birthday bash, but times the difficulty level by 100.

Kevin Lyman was no rookie when he decided to start his own tour, since he had already spent time working as a stage manager at another famous music festival. "Before Warped I was on three years of Lollapalooza, so [it's been] 26 straight summers out on the road," he told Billboard.

Having experience, Lyman also understood that he needed significant sponsorship to make this dream tour a reality. As revealed by Vans Vice President Steve Van Doren, Lyman approached the sneaker manufacturer for finance, and Vans saw it as a mutually beneficial opportunity to expand its reach throughout North America.

Vans Warped Tour gave a lot of people second chances

When applying for jobs, background checks have become the norm. However, that hasn't stopped people from being prejudiced against for having a criminal or substance abuse history, as research has shown, per Criminology. There's a stigma that sticks with people long afterward and makes it exponentially more difficult for them to find work and rebuild their lives.

Speaking to Loudwire, Kevin Lyman discussed the importance of affording people second chances, explaining how it is something deeply personal to him and his value system. "The majority of my early Warped Tour crew guys all had to spend a little time in jail for stupid decisions," Lyman said. "A lot of them were selling meth or whatever and did their time, and I gave them their second chance. And that built a loyalty, giving a second chance to people."

It is also one of the main reasons Lyman became involved in other organizations and philanthropy projects, such as MusiCares and FEND, which address addiction. He believes a large portion of society is still reluctant to allow others back into the community after they have shown remorse and tried to make amends, so he wanted to do his part in inspiring change.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Why the schedule for the Vans Warped Tour changed daily

Vans Warped Tour would take the acts across the country, performing sweaty day-long sets in numerous cities and states. There were even groups of fans who would follow the tour and try to attend as many shows as possible. To keep the shows fresh and unpredictable, the tour's organizer switched up the order of the lineup on a daily basis.

In an interview with Forbes, Kevin Lyman brought up his past as a stage manager for Lollapalooza and how this influenced his decision with Warped Tour's schedule. He explained how he would notice the same acts performed at the same time every day, and the predictability reflected in the audience attendance, as a majority of the people would only show up when it was time for the headliner to go on stage.

"So I said, if I ever get to do this, I'm going to mix it up," Lyman said. "It just spurred in my mind what I thought I'd do. I'll write the schedule each day. It keeps people engaged — you never knew who you were playing before or after, or what time you were playing. It keeps everyone on their toes." The unpredictability encouraged the audience to hang out for the whole day since they never knew who would be playing and when, while it excited the bands too. As Every Time I Die's ex-vocalist Keith Buckley explained, no one knew when they would be hitting the stage, which provided an element of surprise.

How the BBQ Band concept came to be

With all those bands on the road for Vans Warped Tour, there were bound to be a lot of hungry stomachs after a show. However, the tour figured out a way of solving this problem while also giving a group a unique opportunity every year. In return for working the grill after every show, a musical act would be given a spot on the tour's lineup. Hence the birth of what became known as the "BBQ band."

Kevin Lyman revealed to Vice where the initial idea stemmed from. He explained how punk rockers Lagwagon had their own barbeque after a show, but only bands with laminate passes sourced from Lagwagon themselves could get any. Lyman thought that every group deserved access to this and that it shouldn't be limited to the friends of the band, so he came up with a plan where a single act would be responsible for the barbeque at every stop for everyone.

Explaining what the group would get in return, Lyman said, "Yeah, they get a full set, they sell merchandise, they sell albums, and I pay 'em some money on top."

The time when Deftones set a Porta-Potty on fire

If there isn't an element of danger involved, can it really be considered rock 'n' roll? While no one decided to put their head inside a tiger's mouth or challenge a bear to an exploding barbed wire death match, other outlandish shenanigans took place throughout Vans Warped Tour's history.

Alternative Press interviewed numerous people who participated in the tour, and the stories ranged from a golf cart being wrecked to Sublime's trusty dog biting people. However, it was Kevin Lyman who recollected one of the wildest tour tales.

Lyman explained how he intended to take a few days off in 1997 after the birth of his child, but when he stepped off the plane, he was alerted to the chaos taking place in his absence. "It turned into the 'Lord of the Flies' out there," he said. "Deftones got fireworks and set a portable toilet on fire. My production manager's quick decision was to take the Porta-Potty on a forklift and push it into the river. The city's mayor had been running on this 'clean up the river' platform, and that was on the front page of the newspaper the next morning."

The presence of the controversial anti-abortion clinic

The spirit of punk rock is built on progressive values and fighting against oppressive systems. As a result, many non-profit organizations set up tents to promote their causes at Vans Warped Tour throughout its 25-year run; however, there was one that raised more than a few eyebrows. In 2016, the anti-abortion organization known as Rock for Life became a part of the tour, and it drew ire from many attendees and online commentators. The next year, Rock for Life returned to Warped Tour, again reigniting the debate about the presence of a pro-life organization there.

Speaking to Spin, Kevin Lyman explained how Rock for Life's values didn't necessarily align with his pro-choice stance, but that he included various other NPOs on Warped Tour with differing ideologies so that debate and conversation could take place between people.

He said: "I go to the booth, and I see people talk to them. They're really promoting adoption, and other things besides abortion. I'm adopted. I'm not supporting them, but they can have the spot. They're not hassling people."

13,000 people signed a petition to stop a musician from playing, but he did

In late 2014, disturbing accusations surfaced regarding Jake McElfresh, aka Front Porch Step. According to the allegations, McElfresh had sent inappropriate messages and images to minors. Considering Front Porch Step had performed at the 2014 Vans Warped Tour and was relatively well known within the music scene, the news spread fast and wide among the community.

Over 13,000 individuals signed a petition to not allow Front Porch Step to play at Vans Warped Tour again. However, in 2015, McElfresh was confirmed to appear on the tour. This resulted in backlash from fans and other musicians, who couldn't believe Front Porch Step had been allowed this platform — especially considering how many young fans attended Warped Tour and the harrowing nature of the allegations.

Speaking to Alternative Press, Kevin Lyman stated that McElfresh had not been formally charged with any crime and his appearance was part of a rehabilitation program, based upon discussions with his counselor. In a later 2018 interview , Lyman expressed regret at allowing Front Porch Step to have performed at the 2015 Vans Warped Tour.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The accusation of being a boys' club for the most part

The Vans Warped Tour faced accusations of being a boys' club from certain sections, with The New York Times citing how only seven percent of the bands listed for the 2018 edition featured female members. Although the tour had shown improvement in its numbers and given more opportunity to women over the years, especially as headliners, there was no disputing that the acts on display were predominantly male throughout the years. Coupled with this was the prevalence of a bro culture that boasted bad behavior. 

The publication spoke to several women and nonbinary artists to get their perspectives of the tour. Each person had their own unique experience, with some stating they hadn't seen misogynistic behavior, while others expressed opposite views.

Five Iron Frenzy's Leanor Ortega Till, for example, explained how there was a need to be cautious with tour buses as an example. "One of the bands we went out with had a little inflatable pool," Till said. "They'd get in their underwear and go out there and hang out. And I knew what they were up to, which was get girls into their underwear to hang out, too."

Kevin Lyman said 2017's Vans Warped Tour was a bad one financially

When Kevin Lyman announced the end of Vans Warped Tour, there was a lot of debate about the real reasons for doing so among fans. One of them was that the tour had stopped making money. However, Lyman dispelled this notion in an interview with "All Punked Up" podcast, revealing that Warped Tour made money — except for one year.

"I had one bad year: 2017," Lyman said. "It was one of those years where everything goes wrong that could possibly go wrong, went wrong in 2017."

While Lyman didn't delve into exactly what his challenges were, the initial announcement of the lineup for the Vans Warped Tour 2017 wasn't warmly received by the fans. There were notable acts such as Anti-Flag, Andy Black, Gwar, and Hawthorne Heights on the bill, but the audience felt it didn't have the star power of the previous year's edition, which had featured the likes of Good Charlotte and New Found Glory. Undoubtedly, the lack of excitement for the artists might have factored into the decision for many fans to give it a skip that year.

The one thing that the Warped Tour never managed to do

From Katy Perry to My Chemical Romance and Blink-182, there was no shortage of world-renowned musicians who performed at Vans Warped Tour. Considering the traveling festival ran for a quarter of a century, there can't be much that it failed to achieve in this time. However, for Kevin Lyman, there is something he wanted to do that he never managed to. When asked by Outburn what that is, he replied: "Have a Ramones reunion."

The seminal New York punk band called it a day in 1996 — a year after the formation of Vans Warped Tour. At that early stage, it might have been difficult for Lyman to attract a band of that caliber to the tour — plus, it would have been mighty costly, since the Ramones were bona fide legends and wouldn't come at a discount price.

Unfortunately, by the time Warped Tour had become a force to be reckoned with in the early 2000s and could probably afford the Blitzkrieg Boppers, most of the members of the Ramones had already died

Scene politics contributed to its demise

Music brings people together, but the community also has the potential to divide like no other. Much like with any other fandom on Planet Earth — just ask "Star Wars" fans — there is a lot of politics, elitism, and people disliking each other for random reasons. Heck, even the bands themselves partake in this peculiar behavior, with social media feuds becoming equally the most hilarious and sad things to witness online.

Appearing on Kerrang's "Inside Track" podcast, Kevin Lyman opened up about how scene politics contributed to the demise of Vans Warped Tour. The promoter explained how he would reach out to various groups that he found talented and would offer them a slot on the tour; however, they would spurn his advances, citing how they didn't want to perform alongside X band or be seen as a "Warped-esque" band. They either had preconceived negative notions about other acts on the tour or didn't want to be bracketed with the type of genre artists the tour attracted.

Lyman didn't understand the logic, as most bands wouldn't even know the others and acted based on impressions rather than facts. Plus, he considered this a self-limiting behavior that impacted a band's ability to grow their fanbase and reach different audiences. Consequently, Lyman started to feel a disconnect from the community and the very reason he started the tour in the first place.

Fronzilla wants to bring back the tour

Since Vans Warped Tour hit the stop button in 2019, a massive gap has been left open in the music festival scene. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic did no favors to live music, and many have pondered if the return of Warped Tour could help bring back the crowds in droves. Appearing on "No Jumper" in 2020, Attila frontman Chris Fronzak explained what Warped Tour meant to bands. "It's not glamorous, but it's an opportunity for bands to play in front of a huge audience that they wouldn't normally have," he said.

Fronzak added that Kevin Lyman offered to sell him Warped Tour in the past, but Fronzak didn't have the funds at the time to strike a deal. When that changed, the musician reached out to Lyman again in 2020.

"He explained to me that for legal reasons, which I can't go into depth, Warped Tour can't come back for at least another three years or so," Fronzak said, "but after that I'm happy to re-open conversation, and hopefully I'm the one that brings it back because I have a really good plan for how to make it sustainable and make Warped Tour even bigger than it's ever been."