Kevin Lyman’s Warped Goodbye: ‘It Really Did Mean Something To People All These Years’

Warped Tour 2016
Photo by Suzi Pratt/WireImage
– Warped Tour 2016
Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kill crowd surfs a wave of fans at Vans Warped Tour at White River Amphitheatre in Auburn, Wash., on Aug. 12, 2016.

When Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman broke the news in November that the festival would put on its final, full cross-country run in 2018, many longtime fans and supporters were shocked, though he did leave the door open to future iterations, along with a 25th anniversary celebration in 2019. But even if Warped returns with one-off events, the festival market won’t be the same without the traveling summer extravaganza.

Warped has had a huge impact on the music industry, from being a showcase for the rise of pop punk to the place to catch a diverse group of artists including Katy Perry, Eminem, No Doubt, and Kid Rock before they moved on to big venues and shows like the Super Bowl. Pollstar has 775 box office reports for Vans Warped Tour, dating back to 1999, with an average of 12,035 tickets sold per show and an average gross of $341,288 per stop.

The music has been accompanied by giving back, with Warped working with more than 90 non-profit groups each summer and hosting annual volunteer days.

Pollstar caught up with Lyman a few days before the 2018 lineup was being announced to reflect on Warped and what’s next for the producer/philanthropist.

Pollstar: Can you talk about putting together the final Warped lineup?
Kevin Lyman: It’s a lot of bands that have played before and bands that I think could use maybe another boost from the Warped exposure. Basically, it’s a lot of people that I like to tour with and I’m looking forward to spending time with.
I think we have enough young bands that we’ll get a lot of first-time attendees.
I’m seeing emails [from] a lot of parents who came to Warped Tour maybe in the ’90s who want to bring their kids to experience it because they say, “Warped Tour changed my life in the way that I look at nonprofits, in the way that my mind opened to music.” I’m getting a lot of positive [feedback].
I’m getting a lot of calls from crew people who want to come back and work for a couple of days. They may be doing other tours but they just want to be a part of it, which makes you feel that you did do something – even though you sometimes dwell on the trolls online – but it really did mean something to a lot of people all these years.

Any regrets about 2018 being the final year?
No regrets at all. The only thing I’m really trying to figure out is how to continue the mission of philanthropy and education that Warped has always been about, beyond the music.
The biggest thing we’re announcing is this opioid initiative called FEND that we’ll be launching on Warped Tour. It’s an app-based education platform on opioid education using gamification and the Warped Tour as a stimulus for people to learn more about opioids.
We’ll be encouraging people to download the app and it will give you prompts to learn about the basics of opioids. So many people don’t know how to identify them, information about disposal of them. … And if people answer the first basic prompt, they’ll qualify to win tickets to the Warped Tour. … If you continue to follow these prompts you’ll qualify to win a special acoustic set by a couple of the artists on board for Warped Tour. 

Getting Ready To Roll Out The 2018 Lineup
Photo by John Wolfsohn/Getty Images
– Getting Ready To Roll Out The 2018 Lineup
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman poses at the 2018 Vans Warped Tour Kick Off Event press conference at Vans Global HQ on March 1, 2018 in Costa Mesa, Calif.
It seems like education is the key.
Yeah. And then we’re going to encourage people to go back into their local communities and spread the word about the app. … The city or school that generates the largest percentage of people downloading the app, I’m going to produce a show at their school next year. Bring a couple bands and do something really fun on the campus for them.
We’re hoping to build a baseline of information and use this as a large beta test to be able to take it across all platforms of music and entertainment next year. Similar to what the “truth” campaign was 20 years ago.
Can you give an overview of your thoughts on the festival market as you’ve seen it change over the years?
I think we need to nurture them and create unique [events]. It’s just not throwing a bunch of bands on stage. We’re seeing more and more that it’s about the culture. The culture of the festival is as important as the lineup.
You participated in the Production Live! panel “Stage Management 101.” Can you share about how you built Warped into what it is today for any readers who weren’t in attendance?
Warped Tour could be the last traveling festival. … Now, a festival may do select weekends and have the same name but one that really goes out there and hits 37 to 42 cities during a short period, I think that era in America is coming to an end. I hope not. But I don’t know if it could be done anymore.
Why do you think the era is coming to an end?
Well, you know, it’s harder and harder to play shows on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We had a market that would come out on those days. You can’t really tour a festival now. The way that people make money is by working Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights.
And the economics of touring a festival have changed so much. Now we’ve got the trucking laws, we’ve got labor laws. There’s a lot of regulations that make it more restrictive to think about doing these kind of events in a traveling setting.
Did all those restrictions play into your decision to end Warped Tour?
It was a huge combination of multiple things. … But it’s also where I’m at. I think I’ve accomplished everything I possibly can in the format Warped is in right now. So it’s a personal decision. Someone asked me, “Why didn’t you sell it?” I said, “Why? Warped Tour is still a strong brand.” I want to be the guy who walked away while it was still a strong brand. 
It would kill me to see someone else not nurture it the way I think we have. Because Warped Tour has been 90 percent about nurturing the culture, trying to help a community do the best we can. I don’t know anyone in that mindset [who] would put 90 percent of their effort into nurturing a community and 
10 percent into actually having to make money. …
Maybe the Warped brand will live on in other things once in a while, but I’ve got a lot more I’d like to do with my life.
And it’s physically too hard. I’m tired. I’m 57 now. (laughs) And people half my age are like, “Oh shit. We’re going to play 20 shows in a row this year?!” I go, “Yeah we are! We’re going to go out there and go strong! We’re going big. You can rest the rest of your life, you know?” (laughs)
What is next for you as a philanthropist?
We’re working with a group called Daily Karma this summer about how to ingrain social responsibility and giving into your everyday life. And that might be, if you have 10 extra cents you can [donate it].
I think brands that support events and music are starting to look at their social value, what they’re trying to spend. We’re seeing that with brands and that’s going to be the new wave of sponsorships.
I don’t want to prematurely say what I’m going to be doing after Warped Tour because I think I made a decision and it’s a pretty big one. And it’s going to be pretty cool. I gotta commit to it.
Any lessons learned from Warped Tour that you’d like to share?
You learn that you’re not going to make everyone happy and you can’t make everyone happy. [But] I think over the years with over 11 million tickets sold, we’ve made a lot of people have a good day. For some people, it was their best day.