A summer tradition is coming to an end, and the guy who started it is afraid the concert industry might be on the outs, too.
The Vans Warped Tour, an annual outing for teenage and young-at-heart rock fans since 1995, won’t be coming around anymore. Tour founder Kevin Lyman declared this the final year for his traveling punk, metal and all-things-aggro caravan, which rolls onto the Canterbury Park grounds in Shakopee one last time Sunday with 40-some bands spread across six stages.
“There are moments now when we say things like, ‘Oh, God, that’s the last time we’re going to be in this parking lot,’” Lyman said two weeks ago from the road, a month into the tour.
Sunday's local finale even prompted a proclamation from Gov. Mark Dayton declaring it "Warped Tour Day in Minnesota." So wear your Vans even if you're not going to the show.
Started as a less arty, more jocky and punky answer to the then-flourishing Lollapalooza tours, the Warped Tour became a vehicle for skateboarder punk bands such as Pennywise, NOFX, No Use for a Name and Anti-Flag and later more emo-flavored bands, including All American Rejects, Taking Back Sunday and the Twin Cities’ own Motion City Soundtrack (“I’ll never understand why they didn’t get much bigger,” Lyman said of MCS).
But Warped has also featured an unsung array of hip-hop, reggae, ska and none-of-the-above acts over the years. It fostered some superstar acts along the way, too, such as Eminem, No Doubt, Sublime, Kid Rock and even Katy Perry (yep, that Katy Perry).
In the Twin Cities, Lyman, his crew and his mantras about keeping music festivals inexpensive and youthful have earned loads of respect from other seasoned concert vets.
“To this day, I would say it was the most positive overall experience I’ve ever had on a tour,” said Minneapolis rap stalwart Slug (Sean Daley), whose group Atmosphere earned heavy traction on the tour in the mid-2000s and cribbed from it to put together its own successful festival, Soundset.
Despite being indie-rap outsiders on the trek, Slug remembered, “All the other bands were so cool and welcoming to us, which is the whole attitude behind the tour.” He also remembered how hard the crew worked: “I’ve never complained about any of my own tours being too grueling after being on Warped.”
Rose Presents vice president Gene Hollister also marveled at the arduous work that gets done. Rose has partnered with Lyman every year as the local promoter on the tour’s Twin Cities area stops, including the 1998 installment when Warped famously paired up with Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest in Somerset, Wis.
“The crew gets there at 6 in the morning, they are ready to open by 11, and then they’re ready to pack up by midnight,” Hollister said. “And then they do it all again the next day in another city.”
Reached by phone on the rare off day, Lyman said that chaotic day-to-day schedule has kept him from “getting too emotional” about calling it quits. The daily grind is also one reason he’s ending it: “This has been every summer for me,” he said.
The 57-year-old roadie is also excited about his next ventures, which include becoming a professor at the University of Southern California and the leader of a new organization to battle opioid overdoses called FEND (Full Energy No Drugs). Here’s more of what Lyman had to say.
On the continued vitality of Warped: “The numbers had been decent the last few years,” Lyman said. “But I felt like we weren’t getting the 14- to 17-year-olds that always replenished the Warped Tour crowds. There was always a big contingent of young kids coming to their first festival, but not as much in recent years. I think it’s more a societal thing than a Warped Tour thing. Kids are distracted by video games, cellphones, Netflix and a million things going on. We just didn’t see that crowd we depended on replenishing. There’s also the plethora of other festivals, too.”
On what Warped’s end might mean for other tours and festivals: “I’m fearful for the industry I’m in. I’ve been telling my friends in the industry: We need to get focused on how to get these people to appreciate going to see live music. Because if they get to be 18 to 21 years old and they’re not already going to live shows, it doesn’t become a part of their DNA like it did for so many of us before them. As I leave this tour to become a professor, I’m going to tackle some of these issues with my students.”
On Canterbury Park, Warped’s Minnesota home for a decade: “The people that own the horse track have always been very cooperative. For us, it comes down to finding the right kind of rent deal where we can make this tour work at the low ticket price we always want to maintain. They’ve been great about that. And I think a lot of the kids that do come out are from that part of the cities. Our numbers are always very solid out there.
On the one-time-only combination with Ozzfest at Float-Rite Park in 1998: “We were still just kind of ramping up as a tour, so they gave us maybe half a football field in size to do the whole Warped Tour. It was interesting to wander over into the Ozzfest world and see they had like 27 layers of backstage passes. We had one pass that would get you anywhere.
“We had to leave early that day, but we made a point of getting up on a hill there and shooting bottle rockets at the Ozzfest stage and buses, and then we left. We had fun with it, and I think it did show — in terms of numbers and the audience — that the Warped Tour wasn’t just a little sideshow, it was a real thing.”
On Warped Tour’s most famous alumni: “People think Eminem was the first hip-hop artist we had, but by then we already had the Alkaholiks and some others. I knew he was going to break out, and he knew we helped with that. He recognized that the following year when he sent out [his protégé group] D12 on some Warped shows.
“Katy Perry is the epitome of a Warped artist: She worked her ass off out there. We were working on her breakout at radio that summer, so she was up doing radio shows at 5 in the morning, doing TV, then coming to the venue. And she always gives Warped Tour its due when asked about it. She says, ‘It taught me how to be a live act.’
“Kid Rock, I knew he was going to be a star. He definitely knew it, too. He was cocky. He’s still cocky to this day. But it works for him. He’s one of those guys that has talked [crap] about Warped Tour sometimes, but that’s OK. He was playing on a 1-foot stage and getting paid $100 a show.”
On why Warped didn’t cater more to its original, Gen-X-aged crowd: “I noticed as my own friends grew older, they didn’t have the physical stamina to be out in the sun all day. Warped Tour is physically demanding. There are no creature comforts on this tour. But I also always felt Warped’s main mission was trying to replenish the indie and punk scene by bringing new people into it, those young kids coming to their first festival.”
On renewed interest for the final tour: “The crowds have been bigger than ever in some cases. We might have our second biggest summer ever overall. We’re seeing a lot of the audience that hadn’t come back for several years.
“They’re wearing their old shirts. And they all want to stop and tell you about the first time they came to the Warped Tour, and what kind of impact this tour had on their lives. It’s been really fun.”
VANS WARPED TOUR
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Where: Canterbury Park, 1100 Canterbury Rd., Shakopee.
Tickets: $41-$51 at gate; vanswarpedtour.com.
Bands include: Less Than Jake, Every Time I Die, Reel Big Fish, We the Kings, State Champs, 3OH!3, Simple Plan, Asking Alexandria, Twiztid, 30 or so more.