Vans Warped Tour says goodbye: Stories and statements over 25 years

For almost a quarter of a century, Vans Warped Tour was a clubhouse for music culture, focusing on alt-rock and then branching into a punk-rock juggernaut with tentacles in all kinds of genres and nonprofit initiatives. After this weekend’s final event at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, tour founder Kevin Lyman’s vision for a massive touring fest will be remanded to the record books, and all we’ll have left are our own personal memories of ringing ears, sunburn, sweat and smiles. 

As we were completing what would be our final Warped issue (AP 372), we realized there were plenty of commentaries from people on all sides of the stages that we simply could not get into the book. We hope that as you are waiting for your fave band to jump around in front of a Vans logo backdrop, you enjoy these stories and statements from people who were part of Warped’s rich history. Thanks, Kevin. 

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“Kevin Lyman is man who has taken many risks, and he has indeed stepped in it many times. [Laughs.] Our year was definitely the learning curve year, the make-a-lot-of-mistakes year, the Sublime-completely-went-off-the-rails year. That was the first year Sublime were [on tour] out of Southern California. They were reckless. They brought their dog on tour, and it bit some people. Every day, somebody would take a Sharpie and write on the dog’s head, ‘DON’T FEED.’” —Jennifer Finch, L7 


“Any of the successful festivals at the time—H.O.R.D.E., Lilith Fair, Lollapalooza, Ozzfest—were driven by artists, not by the guy who drove the trucks. But having Pennywise and NOFX with us step up and say, ‘This is something that we want to be a part of’—because trust me, their agents weren’t very cooperative when I tried to book them—ultimately legitimized us. We started to be getting known as ‘punk-rock summer camp,’ but looking back on it, maybe that term was an overbranding of punk rock. We were already booking bands like the Black Eyed Peas, Limp Bizkit and Sugar Ray, and other types of bands were starting to drift to Warped Tour.” —Kevin Lyman, TOUR FOUNDER

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“I had a new child at home. We had a show in Lawrence, Kansas, and a day or two off to get to Salt Lake City. I left at 3 in the afternoon. By the time I landed in L.A., my phone was full of calls. It turned into the Lord Of The Flies out there. Deftones got fireworks and set a portable toilet on fire. My production manager’s quick decision was to take the Porta-Potty on a forklift and push it into the river. The city’s mayor had been running on this ‘clean up the river’ platform, and that was on the front page of the newspaper the next morning.  My wife said, ‘Look, never come home again from Warped Tour. This is crazy. You were an idiot when you were home, trying to deal with 90 million things. When you go out on the road, go out on the road.’” —Kevin Lyman, TOUR FOUNDER


“We knew that [Warped] was our people. It was bringing Southern California to the world. It wasn’t like a Lollapalooza that doesn’t have an anchor—just a bunch of famous people. Warped Tour was conceptually Southern California punk rock, skateboarding and surf culture, shorts and flip-flops. It was something that we should be a part of. It became if we were going to roll into Lincoln, Nebraska, we’d get 500 people, but if we came with the Warped Tour, there’d be 10,000 people.” —Jay Bentley, BAD RELIGION

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“As I remember it, the Kevin Says stage was a collective idea based on hearing the phrase ‘Kevin says’ every day, all day in the production office. Lisa Brownlee, Heike and myself, among others, time and time again would try to manage expectations when it came to bands just showing up and inquiring about their set time, most not being on the daily grid. They would push and insist, ‘But Kevin says.’ When bands wanted catering that wasn’t part of their deal, it was always, well, ‘Kevin says.’ Anything from special placement in the field, on which stage, at what time, ‘but, Kevin says.’ And sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t. But all in all, we would troubleshoot the situation and make sure we did what Kevin says, because chances are he did say.” —Keri Lee, WARPED PUBLICIST, 1998-2004

“On one of our first runs in the early 2000s, a bunch of kids from different bands were hanging out one night and we had taken a golf cart from the venue. It ended up getting totaled at the bottom of a hill next to a lake. We had to go to ‘the principal’s office’ and deny it was us. At that point, nobody had any money to pay for it and didn’t want to get kicked off the tour. Years later, I admitted it to Kevin and offered to pay for it. He said he knew it was us and just laughed. What a guy!” —Benji Madden, GOOD CHARLOTTE

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Warped’s sense of community between Lyman and the bands continued to grow in all directions from philosophies, camaraderie (the post-show poker games) and attitude checking. When Alien Ant Farm were rising up the charts with a Michael Jackson cover, they demanded that Lyman bump hardcore titans H2O off a main stage for them. AAF singer Dryden Mitchell further exacerbated the situation by throwing shade at such Warped lifers as Rancid and Pennywise during their set. When members of both bands confronted the Farmers afterward about their attitudes and the conditions one might experience to necessitate a trip to the closest ER, Mitchell informed Lyman that his band were leaving the tour shortly thereafter.

“You go play a festival these days, [and] half the time you’re never going to see the promoter. You have your rules and regulations, setup and what places you are or aren’t allowed to go. Kevin would be in the trenches, up at 6 a.m. positioning the barricades. He really wanted feedback from everybody, and he created a situation where everybody was equal. There was respect for everybody out there, no matter how big or how small.” —Fletcher Dragge, PENNYWISE

“We took all of Good Charlotte’s money at those poker games. And Yellowcard’s. [Bad Religion guitarist] Brian Baker was quite rude to Good Charlotte. He said, ‘Man, it must suck to be in a band as bad as yours.’ But then Benji [Madden] came back with, ‘Man, it must be weird being the oldest guy on this tour, knowing your career’s about to end.’ [Laughs.] He came right back at him!

The poker game story you didn’t hear was that Fletcher lost thousands to Nick [Hexum] from 311, and boy was he pissed. He lost $2,000 to him, and then he lost money to [AFI’s] Davey Havok, and then he started playing War for a thousand dollars a hand with Kevin Lyman. He’s like, ‘Mike, give me another $10,000 in chips.’ And I’m like, ‘All right, dude.’ [Laughs.] Fletcher lost about $14,000, and about eight of it was playing War with Kevin Lyman. I went to their tour manager and said, ‘Hey Stuart, Fletcher owes me $14,000.’ And he didn’t even blink an eye. He just went over to the safe, got the money and gave it to me. [Laughs.] He didn’t even call Fletcher. He knows Fletcher; losing $14,000 is probably a good night for Fletcher.” —Fat Mike, NOFX/ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMES


“I remember the Randall’s Island show was absolutely bonkers. While the Suicide Machines were playing, singer Jason Navarro whipped the crowd into a frenzy—cliché, but true, he did—when he asked them to make a circle pit around the ice cream truck. The kids did and then climbed on top of the truck to see it better. The ice cream truck workers were scared, but it was all just good clean fun. Well, not clean, because a storm came, and there was tons of mud, and the grounds were evacuated for a time. Fun fact: The Suicide Machines were possibly one of the first bands, if not the first band, where I saw the Braveheart ‘wall of death’ mosh pit go down.” Lisa Johnson, ROCK PHOTOGRAPHER


“I’ll never forget the summer of 2004, the very first year we did Warped Tour in its entirety. Waking up every morning to push our own gear to the stage across whatever was in our way, then hitting the entire line with a flyer with our set time on it. We definitely worked our asses off, but it made us the band we are today. We wouldn’t be where we are today without that summer.” Spencer Chamberlain, UNDEROATH

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“My first tour was in 2003. I did the full tour working for the Truth campaign. It was an epic lineup, but that’s when I noticed the lack of chicks onstage. I was frustrated, because coming out of the NYC riot grrrl scene, I knew they existed. I asked Kevin if we could host some girl bands in the Girlz Garage tent in 2004. He said, ‘Great idea, maybe next year.’ It was the 10th anniversary of the tour, and they had a lot going on. So instead of waiting, we just crashed the tour. When Warped Tour came to Fullerton, we drove into the gates with our pink RV and parked across from the skate ramp and set up a little PA. Kevin walked up, looked around and says, ‘Shira, OK. You on for the rest of the tour?’ 

In 2005, we came back with an official stage and hosted over 250 female-fronted bands, including Paramore on their first-ever Warped Tour. We returned in 2006, and Joan Jett graced the stage: I even got to sing ‘Bad Reputation’ with her in Cleveland that summer. In 2015, we played a side stage that FINNEAS later played on. He is now more known as Billie Eilish’s brother and producer. That’s the beauty in the musical diversity of the Warped Tour.” Shira Yevin, SHIRAGIRL

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From 1995 to 2005, Laura Raun was family nurse practitioner for Warped Tour, coming to the aid of action-sport athletes, bands and crew members. 

“I was on it for about 10 years. I never really dealt with the audience members at Warped. I dealt with the crew, the bands and the athletes. I would often say to them, ‘I don’t know how far you’ve gotten in life without killing yourself,’ because they did some of the dumbest shit all the time. But every summer, I enjoyed myself: I hung out with all [of] my friends and listened to good music. I had countless good adventures.

I did a lot of stitches. One idiot in the kitchen electrocuted himself so bad, he had black coming out of his ears and nose—he really fucked himself up. The athletes alone were keeping me busy. I had to tape them up every day for better ankle support so they could do their events. 

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It was in Texas with these young motocross riders who were invited to participate. I heard the sound of the bikes and the speed, and I got the rhythm of how they approach the ramp. This one kid was going so fast, I just picked up my gear and started running to the ramp. He overshot the ramp and landed flat. His mouth went through his handlebar and took out all of his teeth, broke his jaw, a broken femur—he just fucked himself up. I was picking up all [of] his teeth and having his friend sit behind him because he was in shock [and] got the ambulance over there. I put them in his front pocket and told him, ‘Don’t forget, your teeth are in your front pocket!’ Kevin went to see the kid later on—he had to have surgery obviously—and the kid was still stoked that he was on the Warped Tour.” —Laura Raun, WARPED TOUR NURSE, 1995-2005


“We hadn’t been on it for a number of years due to the style of music changing. It’s funny: I hear people talk about ‘punk rock,’ and I’ll say, ‘Look, this thing is going to come up. Nü metal is going to come up; emo is going to come up. This, that and the other thing are all gonna come up and rear their heads for a little while. And then they’re going to fade away, and punk rock is going to be sitting right there.”

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People are starting to gravitate back to that because a lot of stuff is flash in the pan. We didn’t play the last few years, but we still had love for the tour and for Kevin. Closing down the last show [in 2018] was pretty emotional. There wasn’t a dry eye on that stage when we played ‘Bro Hymn’ for the final time on that tour. How do you get a bunch of grown men on a stage crying about a tour? That pretty much spoke for itself. It was definitely the feeling of something great coming to an end.” —Fletcher Dragge, PENNYWISE

“What did I take away from Warped? If shit needs to get done to make the day better for everyone, then jump in and help. Serve food at catering, or help Sully and his team catch kids in the barricade. Just get off your ass and participate in the chaos anyway you can. Don’t be lazy, disrespectful or selfish—and most of all, don’t be an arrogant rock star! You don’t need a dressing room, a massive hospitality rider or a golf cart to the stage. If Kevin Lyman doesn’t need it, neither do you! Also, Vans shoes rule! Thanks, Steve Van Doren!” Lisa Brownlee, TOUR MANAGER/DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF “LIFER”

The final Alternative Press Warped Tour issue is available now. Get the complete history of the punk-rock summer camp here or below.