Revitalized Vans Warped tour regains popularity

| Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 8:41 p.m.

Three years ago, Warped was a summer festival tour in transition.

Even though the traveling festival devoted to all styles of modern rock had celebrated its 15th year in 2009 and had become the longest-running festival tour in history, the tour's organizer, Kevin Lyman, admits there was good reason to wonder whether Warped was close to having run its course.

The next year, Lyman began to reinvent Warped tour, hoping to revitalize the tour and keep it relevant and successful for the future.

Today, it appears that he has succeeded. The tour makes a stop Thursday at First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown.

“Brett Gurewitz (of Bad Religion and head of Epitaph Records) told me one day ... ‘I didn't know if you could do it. I personally didn't think, I thought it was over,' ” Lyman says. “And he walked up to me and he said, ‘You totally did it.' And that was two years ago.”

What Lyman realized was that some acts that had been mainstays — groups like Bad Religion and NOFX — were no longer right for Warped. Those groups had grown older, as had their fans. But the early Warped following hadn't stayed with the tour as they aged.

“Hey, the average 45-year-old doesn't want to stand in a parking lot for nine hours through Pierce The Veil to see Bad Religion,” Lyman says.

Lyman determined that the Warped tour draws two major age groups — ages 13 to 19 (about 70 percent of the audience) and ages 24 to 30.

The 90-plus acts that will play all or portions of this summer's tour, which began June 16 in Salt Lake City and wraps up Aug. 5 in Portland, Ore., skew toward two specific groups of bands.

For the fans entering their teens and high school years, the lineup features buzz-worthy emerging acts such as Ballyhoo, Breathe Carolina, Machine Gun Kelly, Miss May I, Skinny Lister and We Are The In Crowd.

For the slightly older young-adult fans, the bill includes established bands such as Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, the Used, Yellowcard, Senses Fail and Anti-Flag.

“They're not the kids anymore. They're the legends of Warped Tour,” Lyman says of those acts.

The improved health of the Warped tour is reflected in ticket sales for the past three years. In its glory years, the tour usually moved about 600,000 tickets. That number, according to Lyman, dipped to 480,000 in 2010.

“Last year, we were back up over 500,000,” he says. “And, this year, I think we're going to better than that, even.”

That sort of popularity is a big reason why young bands remain eager to play Warped. It's the only modern-rock tour playing large outdoor venues in the summer, and it's about the only tour where bands can be discovered by large numbers of fans that wouldn't see them otherwise.

Levi Benton, frontman of Miss May I, says getting on Warped is a priority, because there aren't many other decent touring options in the modern-rock genre for the season.

“It would be impossible to do a venue tour in the summer,” he says. “I think that's why, usually, many bands lay low in the summertime, let the festivals die out and then start up (in the fall).”

Miss May I is one of the younger acts playing the “Kia Rio” main stage this summer, and Benton thinks having groups like New Found Glory, Yellowcard and Taking Back Sunday on the bill will give his group a chance to play for fans it normally doesn't attract.

“I feel like all of the larger bands are more the legendary bands, not what's modern or what's the hype right now,” Benton says. “I feel like there's going to be a lot of older crowds coming in instead of just the little 13-year-old kids that go to Hot Topic and want to come to Warped tour.”

That same demographic works for an older band like Yellowcard, only in the opposite way. And, this is a main reason why Yellowcard wanted to be on the bill this summer.

The band, which released its fifth full-length CD, “When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes,” last year and has a new CD, “Southern Air,” set for release Aug. 14, has been trying to do tours that attract young fans that are new to the band and those who became fans on its hit 2003 album, “Ocean Avenue.”

“The Warped tour is an effective way to reach young fans,” Key says. “We really feel we still have the ability to capture the hearts, if you will, of younger fans, and we like that and want to keep that up. We're trying to be the best of both things.”

Alan Sculley is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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