By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
Ah, yes—the Warped Tour. The annual summer gathering of skaters, punks, ska fans, scenesters, and the few remaining emo kids who all spend a day sweating it out to watch their favorite bands and buy overpriced food, t-shirts, and booze.
Well, that all comes to an end after next year. On November 15, Kevin Lyman, founder and producer, announced that 2018 will be the final year of the Warped Tour.
In a statement he released on vanswarpedtour.com, he claimed: “Today, with many mixed feelings, I am here to announce that next year will be the final, full cross-country run of the Vans Warped Tour.”
In Billboard’s interview with Lyman, he attributes his decision to various factors such as changes in the summer festival industry, fewer bands available to play, and a decline in ticket sales in the teenage demographic.
The festival has spent over two decades touring the nation, traveling almost 17,000 miles each summer in the space of 52 days. Each year they have stopped here in St. Louis at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (or Riverport/Verizon, as it was known when I went). I am sure I not only speak for myself, but other University of Missouri-St. Louis students and faculty, when I say that it has always been a great time.
It was at Warped Tour where I first witnessed My Chemical Romance right before they led their Hot Topic-riddled brigade of emo into the mainstream. I also caught killer performances there by Less Than Jake, The Offspring, Senses Fail, Dance Gavin Dance, A Skylit Drive, and countless others. It was at Warped Tour where I went crowd-surfing for the first time and also almost got my nose broken in a circle pit, and it’s the same place where I met some of my favorite musicians while they were on break.
Prior to 1995, Warped Tour founder Lyman had spent a few years working as an operator for the Lollapalooza festival.
When Lollapalooza was not happening, Lyman was spending his days back then working rock clubs. He had been growing concerned about the fragmented punk scene at the time. While it was true that bands like Green Day and Rancid were gaining momentum at the time, Lyman still had his concerns.
The first Warped Tour began June 21 at the Idaho Center in Boise, Idaho, and ended August 18 in Detroit. The lineup was small compared to those to come. 95’s lineup included the Deftones, Face to Face, L7, No Doubt, Sick of It All, Sublime, and Tilt.
That same year, Lyman approached skater shoe manufacturer Vans, the tour’s future primary sponsor.
Vans vice president Steve Van Doren recalls: “For myself, Vans was really strong in Southern California, but I wanted to get our brand out to the youth of America around the country.”
Vans became the Warped Tour’s primary sponsor (hence, its official name: Vans Warped Tour).
Over the years, they began gaining steam, eventually going international in 1998. The tour that year included dates in Australia, Japan, Europe, and Canada. This was the apex of the tour’s reach. Throughout the following years, the international dates of the tour would ebb and flow.
While the tour began with a predominantly punk lineup, they would diversify over the years. As the 90s went on, the tour would feature alternative acts such as Beck, Mushroomhead, and Weezer.
During the second half of the decade, and into the 2000s and beyond, the tour also helped give rise to pop punk, featuring acts such as Blink 182, NOFX, Paramore, A Day to Remember, and Bowling for Soup.
Eventually, the festival also began bringing in rappers, and pop acts such as the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Eminem, Kid Rock, and Mod Sun.
While many, especially the older fans, had problems with the fest as the lineup diversified and began to incorporate more “scene” bands, one could argue that the tour was simply trying to keep up with the times.
“We do so much data and so much research on our fans. So I kind of know what these people want to see,” said Lyman in his Billboard interview.
However, Lyman had to admit that some things have changed for the worse.
“I think the community is, for many reasons, not as unified as it used to be…And to be honest, it gets a little frustrating now.”
And things like that can wear on a person. More than two decades of planning, battling heat, and long days full of snafus would get overwhelming for anyone, let alone the headmaster of the whole affair.
“I wanna go have fun. It hasn’t been fun the last few years,” said Lyman.
While 2018 will be the last national Warped Tour, the name will remain at least until 2019, when the festival will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. As for the final tour, Lyman has high hopes to go out with a bang.
“We’ve gotta have Less Than Jake and Every Time I Die,” he said. “I always tell the bands, ‘Why don’t you pattern your life after Less Than Jake?’ They don’t overthink it. They just go out and play.”
Lyman also discussed having on bands like The Maine, Mayday Parade, Pennywise, NOFX, and Bad Religion.
Regardless of who ends up on the bill, it only seems inevitable that some of the scene’s heaviest hitters will be on board for the last hurrah. It’s like Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz once said: “We all get under the Warped umbrella to keep the community strong.”