Lyman Warps A Country Vision

Vans Warped Tour co-founder Kevin Lyman is moving forward on an idea he’s been mulling over for at least 9 years – a country cousin of the traveling music and lifestyle festival that’s more about twang than tattoos.

The time is right for a countrified Warped-style tour, Lyman told Pollstar, and he hopes to launch the inaugural caravan next year with a range of artists from label acts to indies and singer-songwriters. Like his other projects, the countrified outing will include a “lifestyle” element with plenty of sponsorship and branding opportunities.

While most people associate Lyman with Warped and the Rockstar-branded Mayhem and Taste of Chaos tours, he got an early immersion in traveling festivals with two big bluegrass caravans.

“Ever since I did the O Brother (Where Art Thou)/Down From The Mountain tours, I’ve been watching the country market and what’s been going on and learning and understanding it,” Lyman told Pollstar. “And a couple of years ago I was doing a campground out at Stagecoach, helping out Paul [Tollett]. I was looking out over the audience and I noticed that 30-40 percent of that audience, on the surface, could probably be at any one of my other tours.”

Lyman said the idea fully hatched and work toward a country tour began in earnest in January. While a lot of the features are still in the formative stage, he envisions a 27- to 30-city tour with 13 to 15 artists and another dozen or so songwriters, spanning the full spectrum of what could only broadly be called “country” music.

And Lyman is looking at artists who are taking a non-traditional path in career development, as well as talking to labels and agents, such Rod Essig of CAA, for more established acts. And the tour could certainly play a role in artist development as well.

“If you look at Taylor Swift this year, you know that wasn’t a traditional model for country to break a new act. There’s things changing,” Lyman said. “There’s other ways people are reaching fans.

“That model of having the radio hit, playing on the fair circuit and then going to headlining status isn’t quite there. A lot of artists who are building up these followings aren’t taking that traditional path.” Lyman continued. “With ‘O Brother,’ we learned how to market and how ‘traditional’ wasn’t supporting those artists. We had to learn how to do some of the niche marketing things through fanzines and the bluegrass associations. So I know we’re going to look at marketing a lot that way.”

Once Lyman decided in January to make the leap, it was a matter of “about 4 hours” before he decided to open a Nashville office. Sarah Baer, 4fini Inc.’s sponsorships manager, and her assistant, Kate Truscott, relocated from Chicago and put out the new office shingle on Music Row.

Lyman says he expects to have a varied lineup, not necessarily a “hardcore” country hoedown. He notes that even Warped isn’t the “hardcore” punk show people often associate it with.

“It continues my theory that people are living in an iPod these days and that iPod is on shuffle,” Lyman said. “My daughter’s listening to Akon, Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift. There’s always going to be that hardcore, and I don’t know if this tour is going to be for that hardcore country fan.

“We want to have an outlet for people to market and deliver a value if I can figure out the model right,” Lyman said. ” We’re going to have a big singer songwriter focus on this. It’s early, but there are so many good ideas coming up. There’s going to be a mix between legends of country and this sort of outsider thing that isn’t fitting the normal radio platform. We’re looking at all kinds of things; I’m pretty excited about it because the music’s pretty cool.”