There are very few festival creators that people know by name, but even if you are barely involved in the punk scene then you know the name Kevin Lyman. He's the creator of the Warped Tour, which is turning 23 years old this summer. He is also the creator of It's Not Dead Fest, which will be happening for the second time on August 26, 2017 at the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA… and the line up is STACKED just like the first one, which took place in 2015. Punknews editor Ricky Frankel spoke to Kevin Lyman about It's Not Dead Fest 2, the history of the Warped Tour, what it is like to put on a fest now compared to when he was just starting out, who was supposed to play the Warped Tour and more. Read or listen to their conversation below or on iTunes. (Music from A Wilhelm Scream and Buzzcocks is featured in this episode, Brian Pretus's DownWrite.com Profile).
Photo Credit: Earshot Media
I'm here with Mr. Kevin Lyman, creator of the Vans Warped Tour and It's Not Dead Fest. Kevin, how are you doing today?
Alright. I'm doing alright. You know it's sort of like Summer now -- Memorial Day weekend and warm up here in Southern California. Time to hit the road pretty soon with Warped. But you know really excited about getting home from Warped and in a few weeks later and It's Not Dead Fest 2. That's going to be a great time.
Yeah. You know, like I said before we started recording I was at It's Not Dead Fest 1 and that was definitely a line up for the books. I remember when it was kind of being like first circulated, people thought the lineup was fake. They weren't sure it was real at the time because it was just so packed.
Yeah that was really lucky. I kind of booked that. You know the funny thing about it was kind of just the way we did it -- with the spinning wheel and it kind of came together and it's funny when I run into people like Jay Bentley or Fat Mike. [Jay Bentley was] like, "Dude when you called us to talk about it, I was standing outside the Verizon store working on my son's plan and all of the sudden you called me and explained that we're going to spin a wheel or are going to do all these different things…" and I'm like, "Sure no problem. Sounds awesome." You know it was just different. We're not doing it every year, but we're adding a few more bands to It's Not Dead Fest 2. I think we just announced Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. This weekend after Memorial Day we'll be able to announce a few more.
Cool! So I have questions about all of that stuff. So 2015 was the first It's Not Dead Fest. Why did you decide to create something like It's Not Dead Fest when you have such big success with Warped Tour and why was it the right time to for it?
Well this festival for me was kind of for my soul, too. You know, I grew up during this era of punk rock in Los Angeles and it was -- you know, these bands I sometimes wish could come out and do Warped Tour again. But the type of schedule we keep on Warped Tour is maybe too physically demanding for some of my friends. Sometimes you have to do something for yourself. My wife asked, "Couldn't we just go to Hawaii for a couple of weeks?" And I go, "Well, no." This was a moment in time and the music to me that was so important. I want to get everyone together while we still can. Sadly, Gabby passed away recently (from Manic Hispanic) and I'll always remember him having a big smile on his face at the festival. He wasn't feeling great, but he pulled it together the band came and crushed it that show and the fans responded and like I say, "You know, sometimes you have to feed your soul," and all of a sudden 20,000 of your friends and people showed up to hang out with you. It was quite an event. We're doing it again where the kids get in free, which was very popular because all the people who have now had children get to bring their kids in the Art's Not Dead exhibit -- Lisa Johnson really puts together that tent and people were stoked to see all that art and book signings and we've got a whole bunch more coming out this year. Everyone's coming in to do book signings and it's just to bring that community back together. It's important to do that once in a while.
I totally agree. With what's already been announced, I don't know how you can really not be looking forward to It's Not Dead Fest 2 at this point. You mentioned that you're not doing it every year. I'm curious -- is it going to happen other every other year or so? Why isn't it happening every year?
I don't know. Well I know it's not happening every year because I think doing stuff that people don't realize how far out you have to work on these projects. I'm already working on 2018 Warped Tour. I'm talking to people. I'm trying to strategize and figure out a few things, where as It's Not Dead -- this year it was really cool because you know Tim [Armstrong] came out there last time, and I wanted Rancid to play at that one. He came out played with Devil's Brigade and he played with The Interrupters and it was like I got part of Rancid playing [it already]. And then they were already doing this Dropkick Murphys tour and they approached me and said, "Hey, let's try to do It's Not Dead again and we'll come in and end our tour there. You build the rest of the package, Kevin." That's what we ended up with and I'm really stoked. We got so many bands coming from the U.K. and we'll be announcing that The Adicts are going to be joining us, too. For me it's like having The Adicts and The Exploited and GBH and the Buzzcocks all in one show. I don't know if that ever happened in California. I don't know if it ever happened in the U.S. where they were all on one show. I don't either and especially out in L.A. where I am, too I know the The Adicts have a huge following. So I know that'll be good. When you were thinking of the concept for It's Not Dead Fest was there sort of a different goal compared to Warped Tour?
Well, we we built it for a Saturday afternoon. For Warped, we have to do six shows a week you know Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, sometimes Mondays. This was built for a Saturday. Some people said, “Kevin, with that lineup you could do two days." And I go, "No, one day is enough. We're all getting older. Let's bang them over the head on one day. Let everyone go home and rest." I bet you were sunburned and you had to lay on the couch next day. I think everyone was exhausted. Most people have to get up and go to work the next day.
Yeah I was pretty knocked out for like a day or two and waiting for the dust to come out of my lungs after that, but it was totally worth it! I've always been curious -- because I look at Warped Tour and it is such a massive project. You guys must have it streamlined to make it somewhat easier…
Well no, it's still a ton of work. It's efficient, but there's a lot of work.
I think those are better words. Sure. What are the major logistical differences between putting on something like Warped and then It's Not Dead? I mean obviously it's traveling versus not traveling…
For It's Not Dead there's production we have to bring in the stages and do all that, but it will be a party as much as anything else. For me it's about the booking. We've got some local production people that are fantastic that work on all our projects and for me that day I try to get out and see as many of the bands as I can. I try to say hello to anyone. I know so many of these bands that I grew up around and it's nice to see everyone. You see the look in everyone's eyes like, "Man, this is cool." People were just wandering around at that first one and I suspect the second one will be the same. Everyone goes, "Hey, we were part of a special time in music, but it's also now ike the bands like The Interrupters or this band is coming over from the U.K. that I saw down at South By [Southwest] that you know I'm looking for those new bands they could be the future of punk rock. And that band is called Heck. There are some new bands that can carry the punk flag forward. So you know really it's not dead!
Yeah true. I totally agree. I think that there are a lot more bands to choose from, but there's definitely some up and comers out there that are definitely going to take charge later on.
You know, for this show I was trying to do with like a completely different lineup than the first time, but then The Interrupters -- they're my band. I love them. They came out on Warped Tour and you know it's my party. Having The Interrupters and now putting them up on the main stage, to me that's who I'm looking forward to seeing out there -- the future of punk rock.
Sure. I'm in LA, too so I've seen them plenty of times. They are always playing around here. You briefly mentioned this, too. Will the rotating stage and the wheel make a return this time?
Well we're doing the rotating stage, the wheel not so much because it's just the Dropkick Murphys and Rancid headlining. They're going to close the show. But we're not really going to announce the rest of the line up until the morning of like last time. We'll have the tent. We're actually adding an extra stage this year that's allowing some of those bands that kind of were the L.A. bands that played on all the shows. They were always the opening bands and they were always on all the little shows around town like bands like Love Canal or The Grimm. Those are really cool punk bands that maybe didn't really hit it as much on a national level, but they're very cool. And then Wraths, which is Jim Lindberg's side project -- so he'll be out there. So we're getting part of Pennywise and I've been poking at Fletcher to get out there to do something.
It's a great day. You know, I'm trying to keep that ticket price fair. It's going to be about 60 bucks when you pay your fees, but you can't get away from the taxes and fees on shows these days. of this size. You need the venues and the venues have certain fees and the ticket increase. But you know at 60 dollars I think we're bringing you a great value for the day and you'll get a great dose of punk rock. You'll probably get a nice sunburn and have some good memories.
Oh absolutely. And it is good value. We talk about this on the roundtable discussion on the podcast every once in a while and this is just coming from me, but it's not the fees for a festival like this that kind of get under my skin. It's the Live Nation fees for a one night show, for example at like The Palladium or something like that.
Yeah, what are those fees these days?
It's closing in on 35-40 percent. So the value is not there, but here I can absolutely see that.
Wow. And you know they charge you know an $8 parking and $10 fees on the ticket so you know it's a fact of life. I didn't know the fees were so high at The Palladium. it's been so long since I've done a show like that, but that is kind of crazy.
Yeah. It's not even that I'm paying it. It's just that if I'm paying this much to see the band I'd like the money to go to them, you know? So that's just sort of what we talked about. I know you had Me First And The Gimme Gimmes added and you just you mentioned The Adicts. Are there any hints you can give us as to who else will be playing?
Nah. You know I'm running out of time in the day. So you know maybe I'll hold out and have a couple of "last minutes." But you know at this point that lineup is getting more and more stacked and I don't know where else we could go with it. It's another day that will be on.
Sure. I guess we're going to move a little bit into Warped Tour because I had questions about that. Skateboarding and punk rock have pretty much always gone hand-in-hand especially I would say in early 2000's and in the 90's. You have ramps and skaters at your fests, too. But lately have you been noticing like I have that maybe the skating and punk rock relationship is sort of separating a little bit or is that just me?
I think the skating is still there. So many of the skaters have other options now so you don't see them merging up at shows as much. You know ,they have the X-Games and they have all these other things they can go do that are more sports focused. It's harder to blend that together. I see skaters that are listening to a lot more hip-hop now. I think skaters are just reflective of society. You're still going to have that niche that loves punk rock, but you're going to have a lot of kids skateboarding who are listening to maybe a little more hip-hop and things. So it's still there. You know I think it always goes hand-in-hand. I think there's always going to be a core and just like the music. With Warped Tour this year I’m trying to bring back some of that punk roots to it. We're trying to bring some of those bands out again. You know it's nice to be able to being Sick Of It All, Strung Out, The Suicide Machines, The Dickies — and TSOL is doing a bunch of dates. And some of those younger punk bands like I said, there's that whole movement of young punk bands as well like The White Noise and we're bringing Bad Cop/Bad Cop this year. I'm always going to try to put punk rock back into the events I do. It's just important to me.
That was actually my next question. It seemed like for this year's Warped Tour lineup there was a very concerted effort to bring in punk bands that you've mentioned and also like The Adolescents and you mentioned Bad Cop/Bad Cop, too.
Why was there that changed this year?
I kind of feel like I think there's a movement again towards punk rock by a group of people and some people you know will accuse me of not backing punk rock or that, but I just felt like this year -- and it was like bands like The Adolescents are willing to jump in a van and go out and do the tour with me so I want to create that opportunity if possible and I'm hoping the public warms up to it and wants to see them. There's a lot of history out there this summer. Street Dogs doing a chunk of dates with us, too. That's almost like its own little mini It's Not Dead Fest.
I also saw recently on Facebook that War On Women seem to be taking on some extra responsibilities on the tour. What exactly are they going to be doing?
Well you know Shawna is a very interesting person and I hadn't really met her, but I like the music and I like the direction they're coming from. Bands need to stand for something. And I really think she's an artist who stands for something and the safety of women in general, but the safety of women at shows and I'm going to give her a platform to work. So you know it was definitely interesting for her to talk to me because maybe she's read -- of course we know there are some people who don't like me out there and they have disparaging things they've said about me on the Internet or anything, but you know in the first conversation I had with her I explained to her that you know I did the first Rock For Choice shows in Los Angeles. I did the Rock The Vote shows. We were very active in LA. We were very vocal about things we believed in and let me now maybe as a mentor of someone who's been out there for so long help you with getting your voice out there. So we had some great phone calls. We had some great talks. You know, creating a safer scene is her mission. I hooked her up with organizations that I worked with a like A Voice For The Innocent. Now we have The Crisis Text Line involved with the tour. So hopefully what I want to do is you know give her a platform and maybe support her so she can build her message and then take it out in the rest of her career and using the Warped Tour as that platform.
So I'm stoked. It's interesting because people don't realize that maybe she grew up and saw some of those things that people said with no backing or no actual fact behind it. And all of the sudden we're talking and I mean like, yeah she could have been a punk in parking lots in 1984 thinking how we're going to attack Reagan and everything we did back in the day. You look at me now and I look like a soccer dad driving around in the car, you know? I've always believed that we need to have a voice and that we need to stand for something and I think in the world we live in right now that if I can find artists that stand for something I'm more than willing if I can to help them with that platform
That's great. Because it's a traveling festival, do you have to get permits for every state you stop in? Is there a way of like that streamlined now? I mean how does that work behind the scenes?
No. It's so much work. The amount of work that's been created by bureaucracy and paperwork in cities and permits -- we used to be able to fly under the radar. I mean we toured the world at one point. We did shows in Germany and just showed and set up the skate ramp and a little PA. Now people know what the Warped Tour is. This will be our 23rd summer and the amount of paperwork that's generated for each and every show — there is no easy process. Maybe some cities know us so they don't make it more difficult. They accept us now. We're coming in there with respect to their cities and we're trying to get a little better place every time we come. They'll work with us, but it doesn't eliminate the paperwork. It doesn't eliminate the process and every year there seems to be a new thing. "Do your trucks need to get a new sticker on them?" "Do you have to pay a new tax?" "Is there a new fee for this?" It all adds up. And then so many of the shows now, the cities have put up entertainment tax on tickets.
Yeah. You know you pay out of the growth, but for a 50 dollar ticket for Warped Tour you might be paying 5 dollars tax right off the top.
Wow. I'm assuming you guys have like a team that takes care of it? Or you have to do it all before?
Well we work with local promoters. We have a local promoter and I have my production manager. He's in Australia right now, but he's working already on the first few weeks of Warped Tour. There's always been a question of sponsors on Warped Tour -- you know is it selling out punk rock or whatever? But without those brands helping us we wouldn't be on the road. There's no way we could survive without them. They have to get permits, like if you want to sample a product out on the road you got to get health permits. You've got to get local -- all kinds of things going on. There's a lot of parts moving right now with a very small staff. My staff is four people. Now we're ramping up for the summer so a lot of people are being brought on a contract basis. They're working on it year round just to kind of make sure that when we go out on the road we don't stop or run into a problem that keeps us from doing a show that day.
Wow. I didn't realize how much went into it. According to my research, there have been three acts that have played Warped Tour when they were first starting out that went on to play the Super Bowl halftime show and that includes Katy Perry, No Doubt and Kid Rock.
Didn't get to Green Day play it?
I don't know if Green Day has played the Super Bowl. I think that they played Warped Tour in like 2000, right? What do you think of that? What do you think it says about the Warped Tour that you have acts that go on to play one of the biggest shows ever?
It doesn't surprise me. It's kind of cool. By the way, I don't think Green Day have [played the Super Bowl half-time show]. It's nice to see and I wish all those bands the best. When I book them I think they're going to be the best. I guess the best get to play the Super Bowl -- of a certain genre of artists and that's kind of cool.
Back when No Doubt was playing the Warped Tour did you see them and be like, "Yeah, they're going to make it big."?
I worked in the clubs in LA for 12 years. And right when they were coming up they'd be like eighth down on a bill of 12 bands at a ska festival. We would watch Gwen, and Paul Tollett who does Coachella -- we worked at the clubs and venues together and we would sit by the side of the stage and go, "Wow! She's going to be a star." Once back when No Doubt started they kind of wore clown suits and everything. We're like, "Get rid of the clown suits. Let her be the star and she will be the star." I believe the next person that played on Warped Tour that would be on the Super Bowl at some point will be Hayley Williams of Paramore. I can see her going there someday.
Interesting. That's a good that's a good choice.
That would be my odds on bet. I always thought that Green Day should play the [Super] Bowl, too. I think they'd go over really well.
I wouldn't be surprised if at some point they would. So you we’re getting close to the end, but I have a couple of questions left. Was there ever an act that you just could not believe that you booked and was there ever one that you couldn't get that you really wanted?
Well most of the bands that didn't play Warped Tour -- you know, Joe Strummer was supposed to play the year that he passed away.
Yeah. He was supposed to play it. So he was a big one. I've been talking to a lot on social media about The Ramones lately and I always wanted The Ramones to play and I even promised them, " Like a 30-minute Ramones and I'll give you a full stage. Bring all your side projects." That never happened. I tried to get Twenty-One Pilots, but they decided they were going to do something else and they blew up so fast. So I got one more band that played the Super Bowl. Did you say The Black Eyed Peas?
I did not! I missed that one.
Yeah. The Black Eyed Peas. I just came across that as we were talking. They played the Super Bowl and the legend is that they met Fergie at a barbecue backstage at Warped Tour. That's kind of like the urban myth. I don't if that's true or not, but a lot of people come up to me and say, "Do you realize Fergie hung out at barbecues at the Warped Tour?" So who knows?
That's pretty crazy, too. You said that this is going to be the 23rd summer of Warped Tour. Is it harder now or is it easier to put on a festival compared to when Warped Tour started?
Oh it's harder. The entry point financially is a lot higher especially right now. There are so many festivals out there. You're reading about them going out of business almost on a weekly basis. The entry point and the success -- you know before when I started Warped Tour it was like we not a success at first, but I got a second chance. So many times now that second chance -- you wouldn't have that opportunity. So I think in 1995 I timed it right. I really do. I think we built something that was so different. No one really understood it, but people gave me support because I'd worked for 12 and a half years in the clubs of LA — 320 shows a year. So I had a lot of people that said, "Okay, you know what? Kevin failed the first time, let's get it right the second time," where I don't know if nowadays they'd give you that second chance.
I've have a theory that because we're all so insulated with technology whether it's our jobs or just in our personal lives, there's just less places to be socially. So I always thought that the music festival market would actually grow because people want something social and personal to go to.
I think you're right. I mean a lot of people want to go, but now there's so many festivals. Is the audience split? Can you bring a community together like those early days of Warped Tour? When we go to a town we were like the only ones, maybe Ozzfest was going through or Horror Festival or Lilith Fair, but Warped Tour was that kind of underground alternative festival that was kind of dropping in your city and all the punks and all the skinheads and all the ska fans would show up in a parking lot and have a great day and build a community that way. Now you kind of got the folk punk kids who want to do their thing. You got the hardcore kids maybe doing their thing. So it's kind of maybe harder to bring a community together. We still try though. Each summer we try to bring them together. We do okay.
So Kevin thank you so much for doing this interview that brings us to the end of it. Where can people find out about Warped Tour? Where can people find It's Not Dead Fest 2? Where can people find you? Plug away haha. VansWarped.Tour.com and It'sNotDeadFestival.com. You can always follow me at @KevinLyman on Twitter. I guess that's my big one right now that I'm using a lot. You can voice your opinion sometimes as well as talk about bands. So hopefully I see you out at the parking lots this summer.
I will definitely be at It's Not Dead Fest 2.
Be sure to say hello.