Q&A: Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman on Fly Fishing and Warped Heads

Vans Warped Tour founder and proud papa Kevin Lyman

The Vans Warped Tour turns 18 this year—and even in the early oughties, the Warped Tour was dubbed the “Tour That Won’t Die.” Now that the tour is older than most of its attendees, it’s still going strong . . . making it the most successful traveling tour ever.

While some may think that the Vans Warped Tour should’ve paid for for unleashing whiny punk rock bands and emo retreads into the world, it’s just not the same traveling festival that started in 1994. Most of that can be attributed to founder Kevin Lyman’s drive and remarkable business savvy. He still books the entire lineup, which features hundreds of bands on 11 stages, but he’s also made the tour much more inclusive.

Sure there’s some whiny punk in there. But more and more, it’s an iPod playlist brought to life, a  grab bag of old and new rock, reggae, EDM, folk and more. There’s a Marley stage featuring Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds. An Acoustic Basement where Bayside’s Anthony Raneri’s softer side will find a home. EDM kids will love The Silent Disco. (And we’re not even talking about the non-profits the festival features.)

We caught up with Lyman over the phone a day before the tour started on June 16. He still talks about Warped like a beaming papa.

“I read something the other day,” Lyman said. “It said that the Vans Warped Tour had the most eclectic lineup this summer. I was really proud of that.”

What are you most excited about at the Vans Warped Tour this year?
The stuff I’m excited about are the continuation of what we do with so many cool non-profits. Music-wise, there’s the Acoustic Basement. So many [punk/rock] artists are recording albums and doing acoustic tours to support those albums, so this is kind of an extension of that. And Chuck Ragan [of the Florida punk band Hot Water Music] is a good friend of mine and he’ll be out there for a while. We’re supporting his revival tour through the Warped Tour and trying to get younger fans.

I think kids are also going to like the Silent Disco a lot. It’s a tent where you wear the headphones and the DJs spin. Everyone listens to the same music, but you can’t hear it outside the tent.

We’re also shooting a TV show this year called Warped Roadies, which will be on Fuse TV this fall. We’ve got eight episodes, and we started shooting this week. It follows the life of people on the road, and people backstage. It’s done by the guys who—did you ever watch Swamp People? No? It’s a reality show, but it’s more like educational reality. It’s not a Jersey Shore-type exploitative kind of show. It’s more like this is how these guys live—it’s fun and it’s hard work, and shows the dynamics of being on the road.

Vans Warped Tour has been going on for a long time now . . . has it been 20 years yet?
Eighteen years.

Almost drinking age.
Not quite drinking age but we can go to war. And that’s what it feels like more and more each summer. I’m in Park City [Utah] today, I’m enjoying hanging out with friends. We went fly fishing, and we’re going to go white water rafting, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do this all summer like regular people?” But I have 24 hours and I have to get on a bus and get back to work.

So you get tired of it . . .
Well, I don’t know. Maybe as soon as I get on the road I’ll be really into it. Right now I’m a little tired of it. I’d like to be able to stay in Park City all summer instead of being on the road. It’s so beautiful. I could see renting out a condo and staying here.

Speaking of Warped’s longevity, what are your Top Five Warped Moments?
When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit opened, it was cool to go to that. When we did our 15-year anniversary show for Music Cares, that was great. Doing shows at the Gorge is always fun. Touring Australia was a great time. Now we’re going back to London and we’re trying to go to South America in spring.

Is it true that Vans Warped Tour is the only traveling tour that has never lost money?
Well, I don’t know about that. The first couple of years we definitely lost money. But we had a pretty good run for 18 years. It’s a good value for the fans, and a good value for our sponsors, without whom we couldn’t do this tour. People get what they put into it, and we always give people a good day. It might be a hot day—but it’s a good day! (Laughs)

Have you ever thought of turning Vans Warped Tour into a stationary event?
It won’t work that way. There are so many 13- to 19-year-old kids that come to the Warped Tour for the first time; we wouldn’t get a lot of traffic.

Do you have a lot of Warped Heads? Like Deadheads who follow the Grateful Dead around  from stop to stop.
Yeah! We’re the closest thing to [something like that]—Phish, and us, I think. One of my big jobs in the first few days is to figure out who belongs on the tour and who’s tagging along for the tour. I try to get them involved as much as we can, keep an eye on them to make sure they keep out of trouble. A lot of time I’ve dealt with kids who follow the tour who’ve run out of money and have no way to get home.

So what do you do?
I figure it out, I call their parents—but I’ve given kids money so they can go home. Not that I want to make a habit out of it but I have when kids get really in a jam.

How are you picking venues each year?
We do a lot of the same places but we’re playing a lot of new places this year. We’re playing new places in Phoenix, San Francisco—we’re mixing it up; some places seem to be working better than others.

Anything special going on in Pomona?
Aw, man, Pomona. Pomona’s always crazy since I grew up in Claremont, so all my crazy friends are going to come out. There’s a motorcycle stunt show. There’s always some special treats there; you never know what’s going to happen in Pomona.

Musically, I like majority of the band since I book all the bands on the tour. Big thing for me are the new bands—Dead Sara, Mod Sun, Silver Comet, the Constellations. If you come to Warped Tour and you see bands on the side stages, you’ll end up seeing them on the main stage pretty soon.

Planning on attending the Vans Warped Tour this year? Check out our Warped Tour archives.

—Lilledeshan Bose