FOXBORO, Massachusetts — After seeing nearly 50 cities during the two months he spent on the Vans Warped Tour, co-founder and organizer Kevin Lyman had one thing on his mind at the tour’s all-star finale at Gillette Stadium: booking next year’s outing.
“The last show’s not even over, and we just confirmed the Transplants for next year’s tour,” Lyman said Friday. “I think they’ll be amazing. They were so good on the last record, but they never really got to tour behind it. So their whole plan this year is to put out a record, and then play it on the Warped Tour.
“And a band that’s played half this tour and one I really believe in — I believe in them as people, I’ve hung out with them — My Chemical Romance, will be doing the tour all summer.”
While this summer was Warped’s most successful one to date (see “Warped Tour Launch Electrifies Without The Lightning” ) and Lyman has already made a dent in next year’s lineup, he’ll hardly have time to rest on his laurels. He’s got a long way to go before he’s locked in the nearly five dozen bands that will play on any given date. Besides going through the six boxes of demo tapes he’s collected this summer, he’ll catch up on the accumulated stacks of fanzines, otherwise known as required reading.
“That’s where we get turned on to the Avenged Sevenfolds, or Matchbook Romances, or this year it was Senses Fail or Under Oath,” he explained. “All these bands have blown up on our smaller stages.”
But it’s not just catchy songs or a good review that will ensure a band’s place on the 11th installment of the Warped Tour. The secret to earning a stage slot is simple.
“You gotta be a good live band,” he said dryly. “You’re just not going to make it if you’re not a good live band. There’s too much going on, that if you’re not a good band, the kids are going to go somewhere else. They’re going to walk away.
“[Now that the tour is over,] I’ll start going to club shows once or twice a week,” he added.
This kind of personal attention to detail, coupled with reasonable ticket prices and plenty of music, extreme-sports demos, and merch and info booths to hold the interest of even the most ADD-riddled kid, has allowed the Warped Tour to flourish in a season marked by so many media stories that forecasted a touring industry in peril. Lyman said this year’s total attendance reached 650,000, up 20 percent from last year’s numbers, and this was the first year the modest organizer traveled in his own bus; he rode with the production crews in years past.
“The bottom line is we give value,” Lyman explained. “We have a good brand that we don’t mess with too much, and we don’t overcharge the kids. There’s no reason someone should be paying $100, $200, $300 to see a show. The promoters are paying huge guarantees to artists, and when the tickets don’t sell, they’re losing a lot of money. I talk to guys every day who are losing $100,000, $150,000, $250,000, a half-million dollars because they booked the wrong band on the wrong day. That’s not right.
“We need to drop the guarantees. We need to deliver merchandise at a cheaper price. Our merch is about half of what other tours are charging. We need to get kids to see live music and experience it in a good environment.”
The good environment doesn’t only pertain to what’s happening in front of the stage. The camaraderie that goes on backstage is legendary — so much so that bands are more than happy to sign on. The artists eat, drink, and watch other bands together, and the veterans, rather than being jaded old punks, take the rookies under their wings. While so many have given the tour the nickname “Punk Rock Summer Camp,” some artists, like Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, have taken to calling it “Punk Rock Boot Camp” after having been shown the ropes by one of their idols.
“I remember when we came on the tour in 2001, Rancid was on the tour, and right away, they came up to us and pulled us in,” Madden said. “They made us feel at home and introduced us to everyone. Those guys were Warped Tour veterans, and for them to take us in and make sure we were OK and look out for us … I’ll never forget that.”