Warped tour continues twisting to Cincinnati

Photo: Attila plays at Riverbend Music Center July 19, part of this year’s Warped tour lineup

By Alan Sculley

It was early afternoon during the opening week of this year’s Warped tour when tour founder and organizer Kevin Lyman called in for an interview to discuss all things Warped.

By that point, he had already been up and at work for upwards of eight hours, saying he had awakened around 4 a.m.—an hour or so earlier than usual—to answer some emails on the tour bus. With some luck, he would be able to fit in a late afternoon nap, but otherwise Lyman figured to be up until midnight or so, trying to keep things running smoothly at the tour stop in Phoenix.

As it turned out, this was a less than ideal time for Lyman to try to squeeze a phone interview into his schedule. Gates were set to open in about 45 minutes, and Lyman found himself fielding more questions from his staff and crew than he could take from a journalist.

So we agreed to try to do the interview later in the day, after some of the chaos of getting ready to open doors to concertgoers had passed.

Welcome to Lyman’s world on the Warped tour, where day after day, he takes the concept of hands-on management coordination at each tour stop to a level that would probably cause most concert promoters/tour managers to shudder in admiration, fear, or both.

But that’s just the way Lyman has been rolling ever since he founded the Warped tour in 1995. Twenty-two years later, he’s seen Ozzfest, H.O.R.D.E., Lilith Festival, and every other touring festival bite the dust, making Warped the only remaining true festival tour each summer.

The tour has evolved over the years, adjusting to the evolving tastes of Warped’s mostly teenage to early 20s audience. Some of the punk bands that were standard-bearers during the first decade of Warped—such as Bad Religion, Pennywise, and NOFX—no longer fit the bill. Their average audience members are now in their 40s, and those fans don’t really want to spend nine hours at an outdoor venue during the peak of summer.

Punk remains a key part of the mix, but in recent years, modern metal/hardcore has gained a prominent place on Warped as it also appeals to the tour’s teen-to-early-20s core demographic.

And after expanding the scope of the lineup a few years ago to include newer genres and trends such as EDM and acoustic music, Lyman last year scaled back Warped to refocus on various forms of alternative-leaning rock, punk, and metal. The 2016 lineup was also notable for featuring the return of several second-generation pop-punk acts such as New Found Glory,
Yellowcard, Less Than Jake, Sum 41, and Reel Big Fish—bands whose stints on Warped a decade earlier had helped fuel their popularity.

This year, though, Lyman wasn’t able to duplicate the 2016 mix of bands. The Adolescents are essentially the only band in the ballpark of a Sum 41 or Less Than Jake. The established acts instead come from metal, with Hatebreed, GWAR, and Sick Of It All being among the biggest names on the bulk of the dates.  And the range of styles is a bit more diverse, according to Lyman.

If some of the acts he would have liked to book weren’t available for this summer, Lyman is nevertheless pleased with the lineup and feels some of the younger acts will make an impact on the early dates of Warped and fuel a buzz for the tour as it continues into July.

“A lot of great young bands, I Prevail, Beartooth, those are the bands that in a few weeks everybody will be talking about, Neck Deep [as well],” Lyman says.

Lyman is also already looking ahead and hoping to make Warped better and more marketable next year. He noted that the costs of putting a tour like Warped on the road are increasing, and he’s already told record labels, band managers, and other industry pros he needs some bigger names on the bill next summer if Warped is going to remain viable.

“To be honest, this year, I’ve told them we’re going to sit in August … and we’re going to figure out these main stages,” Lyman says. “We’re going to figure out who is going to help anchor this tour because I need some support from the scene of music that I’ve supported for so long [and] because I can’t be the guy that has to develop every band. We need some of these bands to come out and anchor this so we can have a little bit more of the household names for the casual fan. So next year, I’m going to be looking for that because, to be honest, it’s not easy to put on this tour.

“I want to keep doing this, but this will be the third year that we’ve been financially challenged out here,” he says. “Everyone knows it’s not [all] about finances to me. But it is still part of a business.”

Warped tour takes place Wednesday, July 19 at Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati. Doors open at 12:30 p.m. Tickets start at $33.25 in advance. For tickets or more information, please visit VansWarpedTour.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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