Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman Is Ready To Move On as Tour Comes to a Close

Friday marked the last appearance of Vans Warped Tour in Dallas. The 24-year-old music extravaganza is the longest-running music festival in U.S. history. But aside from that, Warped always seemed to find a way to bring loads of bands, brands and important causes to the masses, consistently and affordably.

So even after only a few hours of jamming, when the rain started to hit the crowd — as it always seems to do when we try to have nice things outside in Dallas — nothing changed; the bands played that much harder, the fans were more engaged and overall, there was a palatable sense of community that may be impossible to replicate.

Walking into Dos Equis Pavilion, everyone was hot. The temperature kept rising, and the lines were stretched out into the parking lot. While the venue was jam-packed, however, the overall vibe was welcoming and surprisingly relaxed.

One of the first sets we caught was We The Kings, which played Journeys Right Foot Stage. The band’s energy was so infectious, several parents jumping up and down with their kids as the band played favorites like “Check Yes Juliet.”

After the set, frontman Travis Clark sat down with the Observer and reminisced about his first experience with this tour.

"My family did everything to encourage me and support me, music-wise, but when it came to ticket-buying, we had to use our money more wisely," he says. "So I didn't actually have the money to get into Warped Tour, but I didn’t want that to stop me from going — so I snuck into my very first Warped Tour. I made a fake tour pass at my school and laminated it, took a lanyard from my middle school band room — so it looked very professional.

“Fast-forward to us playing our very first Warped Tour. I told [tour founder] Kevin Lyman because I felt bad. I was like, 'I feel like I owe you $32 because I snuck in,' and he thought it was the greatest punk rock story. Not that he necessarily wants people to sneak in, but I’ve seen people climb over a fence, right in front of his face, the owner of Warped Tour, and have him stop them and say, 'Hey, that’s not the way to do it, but let’s get you in.' I think it speaks volumes of the type of person he is, but also the type of tour this is.”

A lot of the bands seemed to have similar stories, too. Warped Tour veteran Simple Plan, which started bringing guest singers such as Clark and Nat from 3OH!3 for its track “Just A Kid,” is embarking on its 11th year with the festival, making it one of the most frequent bands on the tour. Guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre attended the first-ever Warped Tour in Montreal.

“I believe it was 1995 or 1996,” Lefebvre recalled. “I could not believe that I could see all of my favorite bands for 30 bucks. It blew my mind. And, funny enough, the singer and drummer of our band used to be in a band called Reset, and first band onstage? Reset.”

Probably one of the most entertaining sets of the day was that of 20-year-old UK artist Dom Harrison, a.k.a. YUNGBLUD. This guy bounded onto the owly.fm stage like some kind of Alex Turner/David Bowie hybrid — nails painted, dressed from head to toe in an eruption of hot pink and black stripes, with hips careening in a way that could rival Elvis’.

“I’m so far away from my mum, it’s mental,” YUNGBLUD shouted.

He performed tracks from his new album, 21st Century Liabilty, which he says is the musical embodiment of his frustration with society’s underestimation of young people, his views on gun laws and homosexuality, and his general anger toward said views.

“At the end of the day, man, if 1,000 kids don’t say anything and one idiot says something, everyone listens to the idiot — and that’s what’s happening over here.” YUNGBLUD told us about the U.S. “But there is a change coming, it’s inevitable — you’ve got to look at March for Our Lives. People underestimate young people. People said that young people would never be able to curate a march that’s going to unite millions of young people, not just in America, but across the world, for the sake of humanity. People saw the power of young people that day — and this is for them.”

Maine vocalist John O’Callaghan was also in rare form during the band’s set. As they took their places onstage, O’Callaghan shouted, “How does it feel to see the sixth-best band on Warped Tour?” The crowd laughed, and the band jumped into some new and old tracks while O’Callaghan showed off his own brand of interpretive dance. Toward the end of the set, O’Callaghan pulled a fan named Dylan, whom he jokingly called “Dildo,” up onstage to finish “Girl Do What They Want.”

And the phallic-related humor continued when Bowling For Soup brought a giant, merch-shooting penis onstage after its guitar solo-only cover of “Stacy’s Mom” — a Fountains of Wayne track. The local DFW dudes, who were joined by the horn section of Reel Big Fish, ran over their time with their famous onstage banter but finished their set with what seemed to be a caffeine-infused version of “1985.”

Overall, Dallas’ final Warped Tour was a success. Fans were treated to some knockout sets by big names like The Used, Issues and Every Time I Die while also being introduced to some of the newer rockers, including Australia’s Chase Atlantic — which had the crowd swooning through their tracks “Okay” and “Into It” and definitely made some new jazz fans with its infusion of the saxophone.

The Used performed at the last Warped Tour.EXPAND
The Used performed at the last Warped Tour.
Mike Brooks

Lyman, the tour's founder, says he feels that he has done everything he possibly can with the tour in the format that it’s in. And with the ever-changing music scene, Lyman feels it’s time for him to move out of the way and let the younger generations build something new. That said, Lyman’s been pleasantly surprised with the announcement of the tour’s end, with more tickets being sold to an older demographic — as witnessed by the tickets and beer selling out.

“Seeing the crowds the first weekend, the average age was 20-35," he says. "I’d say this year, and it sparked those memories — that Warped was a very important time in their lives, and it sparked the urge to go say goodbye.”

Lyman says Warped Tour has successfully created a safe and supportive space for artists and music fans.

“Warped Tour’s not perfect," Lyman says. "We’ve had some issues, and we’ve addressed them head on — we haven’t shied away. But when people come up to me at the shows now and say, 'Coming to Warped Tour has inspired me to do something' — whatever that might be — or, 'It showed me that it’s OK to be who I am.' Especially in a time like right now where so many groups are attacked, I think it’s been an overall very safe place for people to come and express who they are.”

And that’s what Warped Tour seems to have been for some of its oldest fans, like Clark from We The Kings, as well as some of the newer kids in town, like YUNGBLUD. In fact, the British rocker may have summed up Warped Tour in the best way possible:

“I literally used to sit, watching Kerrang TV with my nails painted, looking at like, Bowling For Soup and Mayday Parade and the Used. They played this tour with people like G-Eazy, Eminem and Gwen Stefani. And that’s the thing about [Warped Tour] — it’s just so magical that hip-hop and rock 'n' roll can share the same space; it’s that fundamental lack of fear to be yourself."

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