Warped Tour, the travelling rock festival that’s been bringing rock music to fans across the United States and beyond since 1995, is holding its final cross-country run this summer. Over its 24-year history, the tour has featured massive rock bands like Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Paramore, as well as more unexpected acts like Katy Perry, Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. So why is a festival that boosted so many musical careers on the down and out?
The main answer is that Kevin Lyman, the man behind the massive musical undertaking, has burnt himself out, and understandably so. Before Warped Tour began, he was working on Lollapalooza for three years – after 27 straight summers on the road, it’s no wonder he told Billboard in an interview that he was simply ‘just tired’. Lyman included over 90 non-profit organisations and charities in Warped over its lifetime and will be moving on to an anti-opioid initiative called Full Energy Not Drugs (FEND), as well as a 25th-anniversary celebration for Warped Tour next year, which will continue running on a smaller scale.
why is a festival that boosted so many musical careers on the down and out?
Despite this, it would be naïve to attribute the slow death of Warped Tour solely to Lyman’s need for new projects – the bread-and-butter of the travelling festival is music which no longer captures the public spirit. Pop punk, Metal, Ska, emo and endless other subgenres of rock have gone from the frontrunners of the music world to an underground and somewhat ridiculed community over the last twenty years. This community is strong and loyal, but people with eclectic tastes no longer include bands of the Warped Tour ilk in their playlists. Lyman revealed that on 2017’s tour, attendance significantly dipped; but the bands and sponsors didn’t notice, because their dedicated fanbases still turned up in full force. Warped Tour is no longer the trendiest or most relevant place to be in America when discovering new artists; in Lyman’s words, “that casual fan that’s learning how to go to a music festival — they were not there last summer”.
Warped Tour is no longer the trendiest or most relevant place to be in America when discovering new artists
Lyman also proposes that it is not just the popular genres in the music industry, but the attitudes which have changed; he suggests that going to shows, even in more active genres like hip-hop, is no longer part of the DNA of young fans. It’s undeniable that live music as a whole is dying, with barely a month going by without news stories of another historic small venue being threatened with closure; the renowned Fleece in Bristol being a recent example. Young people seem far more likely to watch a massive stadium concert than a small local show. The whole culture around festivals is also changing, with most line-ups diversifying rather than focusing on particular genres – in this new landscape, a ‘punk rock summer camp’ could never maintain its status as a giant.
However, I think it might be too soon to declare a time of death for Warped Tour. We shouldn’t forget that the festival is continuing, just not across the whole of the United States – it was an astoundingly ambitious project even in its heyday, steered impressively by Lyman. Bands on this year’s line-up like All Time Low, A Day to Remember and Don Broco have headlined arenas across the pond and in the UK, so rock music certainly has a healthy share of fans. Warped Tour deserves to take a final bow with its head held high and should be remembered as a Herculean logistical accomplishment that changed the lives of countless musicians and fans.