Vans Warped Tour Turns 10 — So What’s Its Secret?

Veterans of the punk-rock summer camp try to explain.

Who knew punks were so persistent?

When New Found Glory, Yellowcard and several dozen other bands take the stage Friday at Houston’s Reliant Park, it’ll mark the start of the Vans Warped Tour’s 10th year (see “New Found Glory, Bad Religion Get Warped; Itinerary Set” ). That’s longer than any other touring festival, including Ozzfest.

Back in 1995, it seemed traveling musical circuses were the wave of the future, with something for everyone in Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, H.O.R.D.E. and Smokin’ Grooves. Over the next decade, however, each called it quits (see “Lollapalooza Canceled; Organizers Cite Poor Ticket Sales” ), and other upstarts met the same fate. Ozzfest, which launched in 1996, and Warped have been the exceptions, though there are reports that ticket sales for the former are down.

Kevin Lyman, who launched the Vans Warped Tour after seeing the impact live music had at skateboarding exhibitions, has hit upon a formula for attracting both fans and bands year in and year out.

“First and foremost, the reason why Warped Tour has lasted longer than any of the other tours is the ticket price,” said Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory, one of this year’s unofficial headliners.

“It’s like $25 for 100 bands,” said Tre Cool of Warped veterans Green Day. “That’s less than a buck a band.”

Actually, this year’s Warped Tour features 125 bands, though many, such as Good Charlotte, are staggered throughout the summer, so it works out to about 50 bands per show. Cool was correct about the ticket prices, though, which are $25, and if you buy them on through Internet pre-sales, that includes a Warped CD.

What makes the tickets such a bargain, of course, is the lineup.

“They’ve got a lot of variety,” said Randy Bradbury of Pennywise, who will return for Warped’s official 10th anniversary reunion show August 20 in Boston. “Kevin tries to keep his ear to the ground and get what the kids want to see.”

Even if the kids want to see a little bit of everything.

“They’ll always have the few new bands, they’ll always have three maybe artsy kind of different bands, and then they’ll have the five bands that have been around forever,” Gilbert said. “I think, too, the bands that are on the Warped Tour are the kind of bands that draw fans, bands like NOFX and Bad Religion. They might not be on MTV and be on the radio, but when they go on tour, they always draw a couple thousand people, no matter if they have a new album or not.

“I think a lot of the summer tours, they revolve around more of the bands that have big singles.” Gilbert continued. “Warped Tour will exist with or without [radio].”

Another draw is that the big names on Warped each year more often than not have played the smaller stages in past years, said Story of the Year guitarist Ryan Phillips, who knows from experience. This year’s Briggs could be next year’s Simple Plan, which adds an element of excitement to the event.

“A band like the Sounds that’ll be on this summer, they’ve toured tons in the U.S., but the fans of Warped Tour have probably never seen them and they probably would love them, which is cool,” Gilbert said.

“I like the fact, too, that they add some hip-hop bands to it,” said New Found Glory’s other guitarist, Steve Klein. “Eminem did it one year. Ice-T did it one year. Atmosphere’s on it this year.”

A testament to the Warped Tour’s appeal to bands is how many return each summer even without new albums to promote, like Good Charlotte are doing this year.

“It’s the best tour to do by far,” said Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, who’s playing this year with his Bastards side project. “You get to see all these people that you haven’t seen in a while and you get to make a lot of new friends too. It’s like punk-rock summer camp.”

Bands have referred to Warped as “punk-rock summer camp” for years, probably because of the nightly barbeques and bonfires, along with other backstage activities.

“A lot of gambling goes on,” Green Day’s Mike Dirnt said.

“I remember massive games of C-Low, tons of cash,” his bandmate Billie Joe Armstrong added. “For a bunch of poor punk rockers, they still have a lot of freaking cash. But I came out ahead many times, I must say.”

Armstrong has also been known to crash golf carts and mopeds, which is just the beginning of the dangerous games going on.

“In Florida, we saw a dude swim with alligators,” Story of the Year’s Dan Marsala said. “It was one of Pennywise’s road guys or something, and he was wasted and everyone was like, ‘Do it! Jump in! It’s gonna be cool!’ ”

Gator-baiting aside, the tour’s vibe is famously friendly.

“It’s such a, like, family outing,” Yellowcard’s Ryan Key said.

“There’s just such an appreciation of that go-out-and-do-it-yourself, work hard [attitude], especially all the bands that have been touring that sort of underground circuit,” added Key’s bandmate Sean Mackin. “That brings so many people together.”

With all the musical bonding at Warped, it’s easy to forget the tour also features skateboarding and other extreme sports shows. And then there’s that other selling point.

“Let’s not forget that Vans makes a very nice shoe,” Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz joked.