June 15th, 2012, 12:34 pm · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
For concert promoter and tour creator Kevin Lyman, the annual Vans Warped Tour is the heart of his career. The 51-year-old L.A. resident remains passionate about each of his successful endeavors – including metal-driven bashes like A Taste of Chaos and Mayhem Festival as well as the Country Throwdown – but he says Warped is still his baby.
Now in its 18th year, Lyman’s brainchild is all grown up. But with age comes a need to make tough calls: How best to put together a summer-long traveling circus that appeases the event’s target audience, teenagers?
In past years its chief has realized that the 40-year-olds who show up to see stalwarts like Bad Religion weren’t wanting to sit through younger acts like Pierce the Veil or the Devil Wears Prada. “The younger kids, too, were like: ‘Who are these creepy old dudes?’” Lyman says with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
“There’s been a transition in the last few years and an understanding that the brand has become mature even though this show is still for kids,” he continues. “When I started to look at a lineup for this year, it was me recognizing the whole festival culture that has developed so much in the United States in the last 10 to 12 years, and recognizing that Warped Tour has become a festival for the 13- to 19-year-olds.
“It’s the first entry-level concert that kids go to. They show up, they get the experience, they’re home by dark and they get hooked on festivals – but by about 19, they want to run away and go camping at Coachella and go to Electric Daisy or Bonnaroo and experience those things.”
Lyman also realized that with the economy as tight as it is, it would be wise to offer something to the slightly older generation of concert-goers, those 20-somethings who may have outgrown Warped but who now face greater responsibilities and financial strain, and might appreciate a less expensive festival experience.
“When I started to book bands like Taking Back Sunday, the Used, Yellowcard and Senses Fail, the response was very strong from those within that age group (21-29) because those were the bands that were big back when they were 13 and going to Warped Tour,” he says.
The tour, this time including All Time Low, Falling in Reverse, Mayday Parade, We the Kings, New Found Glory, Vampires Everywhere! and more, gets underway this weekend in Salt Lake City. It makes a perennial stop at Pomona Fairplex on June 22, heads to the Ventura County Fairgrounds two days later, then pulls into Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista on June 27.
This year, however, Warped returns to O.C. for the first time since 2004, when it set up camp on the athletic field at Cal State Fullerton. On Thursday, June 21, it will become the first full-scale touring festival held at the Great Park in Irvine.
The 526,000-square-foot site has been previously used for trade shows, community festivals and circuses, and the occasional free concert series. It has 780 parking spaces and a fence with eight gates, which securely contains over 212,000 square feet of actual festival space, according to the Great Park’s website.
“It’s nice to get back into Orange County,” Lyman says. “We hadn’t really had an option to play, but I know that there are a lot of kids that follow Warped Tour that live (there). The Great Park came up as a great option for us, and hopefully everything will run smoothly.
“I know there was some apprehension from some councilmen and things like that, but the Warped Tour is a good show for these people to try this out. There has been talk of some really big shows down there, but with Warped Tour, we come in and we’re gone. We don’t waste a lot of time there and we’re done by sunset. I think it’s a good test run for the Great Park.”
Lyman says he hasn’t physically been on the festival grounds, but he trusts the advance work of partners at fellow concert promoter Goldenvoice, who scouted out the location. (They’re also responsible for Coachella and Stagecoach every spring in Indio.) Warped’s chief has seen a catalog’s worth of photos and various maps and says he’s satisfied with the location, excited to add a new venue into the mix.
“We’ve been going around the country now for 18 years and there have been some parking lots in America I guess I haven’t seen,” he admits. “We’re actually playing a lot of new places this year, but I’m not nervous. I had to shake things up this year.”
Bracing for a Great Park Bash
Lyman may not be fretting about the O.C. location, but there have been concerns over security issues and potential traffic congestion on the 5 freeway.
“It might make the authorities a little nervous, but I know Goldenvoice has (given) people down there the phone numbers of police departments and people up in Pomona,” he says. “Basically, they’ve all said: ‘Hey, we wouldn’t let them come back here every year if it wasn’t a good show.’”
For Blessthefall frontman and former Newport Beach resident Beau Bokan, this will be his first time performing on Warped Tour. As a curious teen in the late ’90s, he attended a Warped stop on a dirt lot adjacent to Irvine Meadows. He recalls braving the moshpit for one of his favorite bands, NOFX, and feeling a sense of accomplishment upon surviving the sweaty, dusty circle of dudes.
“I’m just excited that I went to my first Warped Tour in Irvine and now I’m going to be playing my first Warped Tour in Irvine,” he says during a phone chat. “It’s really a nostalgia type thing.”
Blessthefall will be sharing a tour bus with the Warped veterans of Buffalo band Every Time I Die. Bokan and his group plan on looking to them to learn the ropes.
“I’m definitely bringing deodorant with me, toothpaste, my laptop and Blackberry, and my wife just got me a Nintendo DS with a couple of games,” he says of the current contents of his suitcase. He mostly plays Super Mario Bros., which he hopes to beat by the end of the tour. “That’s my mission for the summer.”
On top of providing entertainment and memories for young fans, Lyman is also proud of keeping Warped’s ticket price at around $40, although he shares that to truly cover the cost of the tour, it should probably be $10 higher. Disinclined to drive up the cost, Lyman and his crew have come up with creative ways to supplement that lost income, including rerouting the tour from 21,000 miles last year down to about 16,000 this time.
“It ends up affecting everyone, even down to the smallest band. We’ll see how the summer goes, but that could end up working out well for everyone. We’ve done things, too, like try to get people to combine crews so there are less people to bring on the road. Just make it really tight. We work really hard on this tour and there’s not that many days off.”
As kickoffs approach, Lyman tends to stay pretty calm. There’s so much planning involved in this military-style operation of “get in and get out” touring that he can somewhat relax before the musical hurricane hits.
When he’s not working like mad on Warped or other tours, Lyman spends time with his family and gives talks at colleges and universities. A few weeks ago, during a seminar in Canada, a student approached Lyman and several other promoters on the panel and asked: “Aren’t you guys all getting too old to book your festivals?”
“I was like, ‘Look, it’s called demographically desirable.’ Knowing what’s demographically desirable is my job – that’s what I do, I book festivals and I should recognize my audience, and the day I don’t, people will stop coming and then I won’t be doing it anymore.
“After that I had all of these kids coming up to me like, ‘Kevin, can you come see my showcase? We go on at 10 p.m.’ I told them: ‘That’s not demographically desirable for me.’ I can’t hang out. I’m cool until about 11 p.m. Put me in a room with a bunch of 50-year-olds and I’m great. But put me in a room with a bunch of 20-year-olds and I’m a weirdo.”
He isn’t sure if Warped Tour can actually go on “forever,” but Lyman says he’s received kudos for his longevity from peers, including Epitaph Records founder and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz.
“He came up to me in a parking lot and he goes, ‘You did it. You actually switched this tour over to a whole new generation fairly seamlessly. It could have been over, but now I think you can do this as long as you want.’
“It’s not a bad job,” Lyman insists. “I could have worse things to do everyday, but it’s not a bad life.”
Vans Warped Tour, featuring Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, the Used, New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Blessthefall and more, arrives June 21 at the Orange County Great Park, Sand Canyon & Marine Way, in Irvine. Also catch the festival June 22 at the Pomona Fairplex, June 24 at Seaside Park at the Ventura County Fairgrounds and June 27 at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. Tickets are $35 for each stop.
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