For all its punk-rock and emo teen attendees over the years, the Vans Warped Tour was a safe haven for self-expression, where those on the fringes of mainstream culture could embrace their fashion and musical tastes with reckless abandon. The tickets were cheap, the mosh pits were legend, and you could discover new bands that went on to become punk legends.
The tour ended this summer after a 25-year run, making it the longest-running touring music festival in the U.S. It was time to be done.
The tour that prided itself on its DIY, anti-establishment spirit had seen its clout dwindle over the years. At its peak in 2005, Vans Warped Tour made $25 million, but in 2017, attendance hit its lowest point since 1999, and only grossed about $9 million. That same year, Coachella, by contrast, made a record-breaking $114.6 million, a sign fans wanted more pop and hip-hop than punk rock.
Warped Tour also coincidentally ended at the height of #MeToo, when many institutions and companies, including VICE, were scrutinized for how they’d treated women. The tour underwent a re-examination of its legacy, and old controversies were picked at like a scab.
In one incident in 2015, an artist called Front Porch Step, was accused of sexual misconduct with minors. He denied it, saying, “As for the allegations, they are just that – allegations, and not charges.” And Kevin Lyman, the tour’s founder, let him play.
When asked about the criticism he was getting from the internet, Lyman told VICE News, “I am really not here to discuss criticism. Some of it was real, absolutely, and you learn from it. A lot of it was bullshit.”
While the alleged sexual misconduct didn’t happen at Warped, Lyman still had to defend his decisions. His response that sexual harassment was “part of the culture” didn’t help.
“I believe in due process,” said Lyman. “I believe we have bad elements in every bit of society. The Warped Tour has always been a place for women to find their first foot into the business.”
But #MeToo didn’t kill Warped Tour. Warped Tour died because punk culture sold out.
“It's a strange contradiction to be anti-establishment in punk rock when it’s, like, sponsored by Target, and brought to you by Wal-Mart,” The Used’s Bert McCracken told VICE News. “It's all horseshit.”
VICE News attended Warped Tour’s final show to explore its legacy.