By Kris Kielich
As I dial the number into the phone, my hands begin to sweat. I’m about to speak to a man who has literally been the mastermind behind some of the best memories of my concert going life. I’m going to be interview Kevin Lyman, creator of the iconic Vans Warped Tour, and I could not be more nervous.
The Warped Tour itself is synonymous with youth culture and the music that so closely guides our lives as we navigate awkwardness, school hazards, first loves, breakups, and a manner of other memories as we grow up. These feelings have great bearing even in who we are today, and are certainly things we don’t forget. When music is so closely tied with emotion, it’s no wonder Warped Tour flourished and is the longest running concert tour in America. It goes beyond the music though. What Warped Tour did was establish a long running tradition of getting young people involved in social causes that directly impact the biggest issues they face on an intimate and personal level, as well as a level that addresses society at large. The tour is a place of acceptance, change, nostalgia, passion, love, and friendship. Who wouldn’t be in awe when interviewing the man who’s created such a place?
Right off the bat, the nervousness disappeared. He had a friendly demeanor as soon as we began speaking, and it was clear that Lyman is a man who is proud of the way he’s making a difference in kids’ lives. “It’s philanthropy and education that are most interesting to me, and I’m proud of the amount that non-profits are involved on Warped Tour this year.” Lyman adds, “Someone asked me, ‘Are you still making a difference?’ And I said I’d like to make a larger difference, but I’m doing as much as I can with what I have.” It was incredible to see just how much he wanted to make a difference, and the passion in his voice made it all the more clear just how determined he is. Thinking big is wonderful and knowing how much of an impact he’s already made, I smiled as we talked, but what he said next just made me so grateful to be there, in that moment:
“If you can change one or two kids’ lives, at least you’re doing something.”
It’s that way of thinking that’s caused Warped Tour to constantly adapt and change socially and musically with each passing year, this year is no different, he explained, “It’s a transition year back to where we came from. There’s a bit less of everything. There are less stages and tents, but the bands are having great shows because the audience is so focused. It’s definitely a bit more focused than it’s been for the last couple of years.” The infrastructure may be different, but one look at social media this year and its clear some big societal changes are in order, from nationally to state by state. But it appears that Lyman has that covered too, “We have a lot of organizations that can’t do the whole tour, but are really focused on local issues, so we give them the option of coming to one or two shows,” he says, “Then we have the national organizations like Voice for the Innocent, To Write Love on Her Arms, and Keep A Breast and groups like that can afford to go the entire tour.” Perhaps there was one big, seemingly omnipresent event on his mind as well, as he then revealed something else, “I don’t need to tell you that it’s an election year. We have Head Count on the tour with us, and they’ve gotten an average of 175 people per show registered to vote.” I was stunned.
But for all the wonderful work of non-profits at Warped Tour, the main draw is the music and the culture, and this year is wonderful mix of old veterans to the scene like New Found Glory, Good Charlotte (I know, right!) and Yellowcard, along with the best and brightest currently coming up in the punk scene. Lyman went on to tell me how he feels the older bands are making an impact this year on the climate between bands. “They have experience. They’ve been here, and they’re helping to mentor the young bands. Everyone’s proud to be here, and everyone is so respectful. It just feels a little more mature out here.”
When I asked how he was planning on bringing more people into the Warped family this year, he simply replied with, “Great bands. The music is so good.” It’s clear that each and every year, Lyman has done his part to keep the scene thriving and appealing for all. But one last question lingered on my transcript. What happens to Warped Tour when he steps away? This whole time I’d gotten the impression that Lyman was a man who liked to keep himself always on the move. I feared the worst. No more Warped Tour? I hoped I wouldn’t hear those words. Luckily for me, and for tens of thousands of others, Warped Tour is secure for the time being. “It might disappear, but I think someone could step up to do it. I wish maybe someone would. Maybe one of these young people would come up to me and say 'I’m ready to take over.' But I’ll keep doing it for a while I think.”
And with that Lorax-esque wisdom, my time with him was up. I thanked him again, and couldn’t believe I’d just spoken to the creator of Warped Tour, among so many other amazing tours and shows. A man who is the embodiment of what music can do: bring people together, make us feel, and make a change. How could I have asked for more? But wait! One more question!
“So Kevin, who are you most stoked to see this year?” He replied with, “The Interrupters are amazing, and they’re getting a lot of new fans every day on the tour. The Heirs are great, and a band called SYKES…there’s a lot of great young talent out there.”
Thank you for fostering it Kevin. In more ways than one.
We hope to see you at Vans Warped Tour on Friday, July 22nd in Auburn Hills, Michigan and Saturday, July 23rd in Tinley Park, Illinois. Stop by our table and say hi!
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