In its 17th year of existence, the Vans Warped Tour is undeniably a cultural phenomenon. Starting as an outlet for punk bands and extreme sports enthusiasts, Warped Tour has shifted and evolved throughout the years, gaining steam despite a declining record industry while single handedly demolishing every notion that a tour of this size can’t be successful. Every summer, upwards of 100 bands climb into their respective vans and tour buses and hit the road on a trek across the US and Canada, braving both the elements and each other. Though the sounds emanating from the speakers may change, the motive behind the music doesn’t and is best captured in this year’s slogan: “We Are Warped”.
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman was described to me by more than one band and crew member during the tour’s recent stop in Cincinnati, OH, as a “visionary”. Lyman’s knack for understanding the musical climate and capturing the current sounds of today’s alternative scene is legendary. Year after year, the tour manages to stay as fresh as ever, and often times, ahead of the curve. Before they were playing in front of sold out arenas, the likes of No Doubt, Sugar Ray, Fall Out Boy, The All American Rejects, and even Katy Perry were playing Warped Tour – often times on small stages at 11:30 in the morning while fans were still filing in through the gates. The list of bands that owe a good portion of their success to Warped Tour (and specifically, Kevin Lyman) never seems to stop growing.
The arguments from Warped Tour’s detractors are old and tired, yet still seem to find their way to the online message boards year after year. “Warped Tour used to be punk”, “this year’s lineup is the worst it’s ever been”, “I wish Warped Tour would go back to the way it used to be”. Not only are these comments shortsighted and unhelpful, they completely miss the point of what Warped Tour is about. Warped Tour is about music, and more specifically, the shared experience of music. Warped Tour is where, at any given time of the day, you can find a stage featuring a band playing music to suit your tastes only to find yourself surrounded by people who feel the exact same way. Warped Tour is punk. But it’s also hip hop. It’s hardcore, metal, pop, dance, emo, screamo, and every other genre you can imagine.
Warped Tour is for the outcasts, the “losers”, the invisible. Warped Tour is where you can wear your favorite band’s t-shirt without shame. It’s where you won’t get made fun of for the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, or the way you style your hair. Warped Tour is where you can scream out the lyrics to your favorite song as loud and off-key as you want, because the person right next to you is doing the same thing. It’s where you’ll walk away from your favorite band’s set covered in the sweat of 20 other people, but won’t care, because all you can talk about is how they played “your song”. Warped Tour is where you won’t feel alone. It’s one place in which it’s impossible not to make a new friend.
Warped Tour is for everyone who’s ever tried to explain to their friends why their favorite record changed music, only to draw blank stares and shoulder shrugs. It’s for everyone who was told continually to “turn it down”. Warped Tour is where you can find your new favorite band or learn about an organization fighting for something you care about. It’s where you might find yourself jumping up and down in the mosh pit one minute and skating in the half-pipe the next. It’s where bloody noses and fat lips draw high fives and nods of admiration. Warped Tour is where no matter how different you are, everyone is the same.
And while it’s about the music, Warped Tour is also about activism. It’s about standing up for something you care about and speaking out against things like racism, intolerance, homophobia, hate. To dwell on the fact that the music has changed over the years is to completely miss the point of the experience. Warped Tour is a melting pot of ideas, perspectives, and views in which every voice is valid and heard. In an age where the individual is king, Warped Tour has found a way to embrace individuality in a way that unites us.
Isn’t this what music is about? In so many ways, music is about connection. Each year, Warped Tour continues to find a way to stay fresh and relevant while offering the opportunity for anyone and everyone to take part. No matter your age, race, or background – no matter where you’re from or what you do – everyone is invited. “We Are Warped”. As long as this continues, it’s hard to imagine a time when Warped Tour won’t be a staple of the summer music scene.