Summer festival tours have become commonplace since Lollapalooza rewrote the rulebook back in 1991. Over the course of the decade, mammoth touring festivals have become increasingly factionalized and indicative of their audiences. Although the commercial considerations of packaging bands together in a era where few bands draw enough to tour as headliners are a major factor in the evolution of these migrating musical carnivals, the unity felt among audiences -- at least for a day -- is very real to the attendees of Lilith Fair, Ozzfest and the HORDE Festival.
But the Vans Warped Tour is perhaps the most reflective of its audience's lifestyle. The all-day event hasn't changed its sound-and-sport format much since its inception in 1995. This year's tour includes half-hour performances from punk and ska heavy hitters Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And cutting edge loud-and-fast favorites Hep Cat, MpMx and Deftones will alternate with swing-darlings Cherry Poppin' Daddies and ska-legends the Specials.
But it's the young bands with label deals who benefit the most. Everywhere the tour has landed, younger punk and heavy alternative bands such as Sprung Monkey, Unwritten Law and The Urge have doubled their record sales.
"Our style of music fits right in with that whole Warped program," says Sprung Monkey vocalist Steve Summers. "It's upbeat, aggressive; kids really seem to love it. You try to keep a melody on there, y'know, something that your ear can grasp onto, but then the music just makes you want to go crazy."
And then there's the sports. Throughout the day pro skateboarders, BMX bikers and inline skaters show their skills on the ramps and street courses lugged from place to place on the tour. The action is continuous, as is the music.
The bond between extreme sports and fast music has its roots in the surf and skate video industry. Warped was conceived by L.A. promoter Kevin Lyman. A former Lollapalooza production manager, he is an old-school Southern California skater who spent days with his associates skating and surfing, and nights watching the skate, surf and BMX videos whose soundtracks were provided by punk bands. For him, a tour combining those elements represented a natural evolution.
The first tour wasn't a financial success, but Lyman's investors saw the potential. The next year it pushed into Europe, and last year into Australia and Japan. The tour's Central Florida venues also reflect its growth, from an original tour stop at the former Edge nightclub downtown to the more sprawling Central Florida Fairgrounds this year.
Orlando is one of more than 30 U.S. cities on the current tour, which requires 50 buses to transport a crew of 450. Parking alone is a logistical nightmare. But it's worth it to Lyman if kids get turned on to a band they might not check out otherwise. "If they're having the best time of the whole summer, they're more open to the bands that are playing," he says.
"Everyone's record sales are doubling from playing on this tour. And the bands are having fun," he says. "They don't realize how much they're accomplishing by being so open to these people."
The increased exposure also has translated into international audiences. "The Mighty Bosstones went over to Australia," says Lyman. "They jumped from probably being able to draw 100 people in clubs to, like, 2,000-person shows."
One of the highlights this year is the participation of the Specials, who already were planning a reunion tour in support of their new CD, and skipped going out on their own to join this one. "I always followed the bands that I grew up with," says Lyman. "I heard they were back together and had a new album. I saw them in a little club in L.A. and started talking to them. Now, they're going all the way around the world with us."
The tour will donate a share of ticket proceeds to the American Red Cross' Florida State Relief Funds to help victims of this summer's brush and forest fires. Lyman is donating 5 percent of his fee, as are the bands, who are kicking in another 5 percent of their merchandise sales. And the promoters of the Florida concerts are donating 38 cents from each ticket.
Indeed, Lyman feels the Florida audiences are the most fervent on the tour. "You guys spend a lot of time outdoors, and people can appreciate a good party down there, and the Warped Tour has always been a good party."