Vans Warped Tour makes 1 last trip around the country
Kevin Lyman is approaching this summer's 24th edition of the Vans Warped Tour thinking about something that never needed to enter his thoughts during most of the years he's organized and overseen this tour. He's thinking about his life without the Warped tour.
Last fall, Lyman announced that 2018 would be the last year for Warped as a traveling festival visiting cities coast to coast.
It's the end of an era in the concert world. Warped wasn't the first traveling festival — Lyman, before launching Warped, worked for three years on Lollapalooza when it was breaking ground as a touring multi-band festival. But it is the last such tour, having outlasted Ozzfest, Lollapalooza, H.O.R.D.E., Lilith Fair and every other traveling festival tour.
Lyman suspects the concept of the traveling festival has seen its day and sees multiple reasons why tours like Warped, Lilith Fair or Ozzfest are unlikely to happen again.
One reason is finances. The transportation costs, in the case of the punk rock/alt-rock leaning Warped, of getting some 70 bands and everything that comes with it to the venues has increased, as have band fees, insurance and other costs that go with the tour.
It's also become a bigger challenge in recent years to book bands popular enough to anchor the Warped stages and drive ticket sales. That wasn't such an issue in the first decade or so, when Warped was essentially the only big summer tour going for bands in the punk and alternative rock worlds and managers and record labels clamored for one of the coveted slots on the Warped tour.
But the music and touring business has changed in big ways — and the changes haven't always worked in the Warped tour's favor.
For one thing, album sales have tanked in the eras of downloading and streaming services. Without much revenue from album sales, bands have to make their money on touring. Lyman said Warped is simply not seen by some industry people as the best summer touring option anymore, particularly for the kind of acts that could bring name recognition and a measure of star power to Warped.
“When I started Warped tour, there wasn't a full summer (of festivals) in Europe that you could go to. Bands used to go over there in June, do a couple of festivals in early June, and then they'd come back (do Warped tour) and hopefully do a couple (European festivals) in August,” Lyman explained in a late-May phone interview. “But now there's a full three months of festivals going on in Europe. So the economics have changed for a lot of bands because of lack of payments from records and CDs, that type of thing. It's a time when a band can make their living going to Europe this time of year.”
On a physical level, the 16-hour days Lyman, 57, typically spends at each stop managing the tour has become a challenge — and he has a knee replacement and a surgically rebuilt ankle to testify to the wear and tear.
“Physically, it's been a drag the last three summers. I go 100 percent on everything I do,” Lyman said. “I'm always in the middle of it and I will always be in the middle of everything I do. But the physical toll on me has gotten too hard.”
So yes, Lyman sounds ready to leave behind the grind of Warped. But not until he takes one last trip around the country this summer. And for Warped's final voyage, Lyman has assembled a diverse lineup of talent that includes a number of veteran bands that have had multiple outings on the tour (Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish and Every Time I Die) as well as emerging acts that touch on everything from pop-rock (Echosmith) to punk (Doll Skin) to metal (Amity Affliction) and beyond. He likes what this year's lineup offers and what he's seen with ticket sales so far.
“I have a very solid lineup and it's all people who wanted to be there. That's really what it is,” Lyman said. “I'm very happy with the lineup I do have and also how I think we're selling our tickets, who we're selling our tickets to this year. It looks like we're selling to a fan that maybe remembers their good times at Warped tour, that's maybe a few years older, that 20-to-35-year-old set.
“I really think it's going to be a celebration of people who are true music fans, who remember those times (at Warped) and are going to come out and have a great last summer with us,” he said.
Lyman's post-Warped life figures to be busy. He'll remain involved in philanthropy, consult on certain festivals and he's accepted a teaching position at University of Southern California where he'll share his experience in the music business with students.
And he has a certain undertaking in mind for next summer.
“Now I'm going to travel in a different way,” Lyman said. “I get to take my wife on a summer vacation. It will be awesome. Yeah, next summer will be our first summer vacation in 27 years, between Lollapalooza and Warped tour.”
Alan Sculley is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.