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Misfit Summer Camp: The Early Days and the Start of Warped Tour

The formation of what would be the pivotal tour for punk rock in the 90s and beyond.

by Howie Abrams
May 20 2015, 6:25pm

All photos courtesy of Lisa Johnson.

During the late 1970s and early ‘80s, much of the excitement surrounding Southern California’s punk rock scene and skateboard universe was relegated to backyards throughout the lower regions of the state, and was experienced by just a handful of people. The sun was shining, punk bands were playing, the barbecue was blazing, and skaters were thrashing empty swimming pools. A collective culture was born. Some individuals wanted to keep this vibrant experience all to themselves. Others, however, wished to share it with the rest of the world, and let kids throughout the U.S. know how SoCal got down. By the mid- ‘80s the cat was out of the bag; bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Social Distortion drew large, adoring crowds, and skateboarding was beginning to explode across the U.S. The rapidly-expanding scene’s musical palate was growing too. The influences of ska and hip-hop were palpable, with groups like Fishbone and RUN-DMC now in the mix.
Enter Claremont, California native and concert production lifer Kevin Lyman. He was one of the folks who felt the energy of that time and that place, and he believed strongly that what had been going on at those “secret” locations was begging to be absorbed by youth everywhere. Kevin had been working behind the scenes at renowned clubs from Hollywood to Reseda and found himself in the thick of the crossover between underground music and action sports. He held it down behind-the-scenes at the dawn of Lollapalooza, and after an epiphany in the mountains during a Board-Aid event, Kevin put into motion a grand plan which quickly took shape as the traveling circus now known as the Vans Warped Tour.
Now entering its twenty-first year; gone may be the “real” punk rock line-ups, as the sound(s) of the tour have expanded tremendously over its two-plus decades on the road, but a genuine dose of punk spirit remains, even if some old-school heads sometimes struggle to recognize it as such. Bottom line: the Vans Warped Tour is a staple of American youth culture, and the fact that 500,000 – 600,000 kids continue to show up each summer is a statement in itself.

Misfit Summer Camp: 20 Years on the Road with the Vans Warped Tour is a 200-page book chronicling the wild and oft misunderstood Warped Tour, available June 19th. If you’ve ever been to Warped, you should dive into its pages. Even if you’re one of those “keepin’ it real; Warped has sucked since ‘97” types, you should also take a peek, because there’s a lot you can learn about the event and its DNA far beyond a convoluted definition of “punk.” Regardless of the sound of their voice, the kids are STILL having their say.

Excerpts from Misfit Summer Camp: 20 Years on the Road with the Vans Warped Tour

Jay Bentley (Bad Religion): The concept, as far as I remember, was going to be bands and skateboarders. Kevin was now taking this on the road and calling it the ‘Warped Tour.’ I didn’t know what to think of it. It’s already hard enough to be out in a van and do the shit you have to do just to get by. I thought; I’m not going to do it with a bunch of other bands all fighting for the same cup of coffee. Not gonna happen.

Walter Schreifels (Quicksand): The way it was presented to us was: ‘there’s gonna be half pipes, there’s gonna be pro-skateboarders, there’s gonna be punk bands…’ It was definitely modeled on the idea of what Lollapalooza was, but in a more up-and-coming, not-as-much-established sort of way. Warped was a tour where Quicksand could be on the top of the bill somehow. In a way I felt like, what club would even want US to be the headliner? So, maybe this is not going to be that good of a festival.

Kevin Lyman (Tour Founder): I think some people were thinking; Kevin is going to put out some Lollapalooza thing. What’s he trying to do, beat a dead horse? I knew some bands in Southern California like Sublime, No Doubt, and No Use for a Name. They didn’t have that much going on at that point outside of Southern California, and they were willing to jump on. Then there was [artist manager] Scott McGhee who had Quicksand and Orange 9MM. We kind of put this package together very quickly. CAA had a little bit of clout to get something booked, and they were able to go out and put together 24 or 25 shows for us to play that first summer. We probably should have played two or three shows and come home.

Jay Bentley: So, the reports that I was getting from my friends in bands equaled we’re never doing that tour EVER! All of my friends would just tell me the horror stories; most of it was just the travel, the accommodations, the catering… I can really only imagine how insane it was [that first year] because of the logistics of the whole thing. It hinges on anarchy. The fact that it even happens at all stuns me.

Kevin Lyman: The original title of the tour was going to be ‘The Bomb.’ Remember that term, ‘the bomb?' Everything was ‘the bomb.’ I couldn’t afford a name search back then; they were like $400. You couldn’t just Google something and figure out if there was something already called that. The day that we were going to announce the tour was the day of the Oklahoma City bombings. I saw that on the news and I realized it wasn’t the time to call something ‘The Bomb.’ Plus, after the first year, it WAS technically a bomb. We didn’t make any money. Could you imagine everyone calling it ‘The Bomb?’ The way I got the name ‘Warped Tour’ was I had done a lot of work for the Transworld Publications, which had Skateboarding and Snowboarding magazines. They also had a magazine called Warp Magazine. I called Fran Richards and asked, ‘can I borrow the name of your magazine?’ The response was: ‘Don’t put out a magazine called Warp, and I won’t put out a tour, and you can use the name.’

Jay Bentley: The closest thing we could equate it to was doing festivals in Europe, albeit on a stranger scale. We were all basically carnies; rolling into a town, putting up our tents, playing a show, doing our thing, packing up our tents and leaving again for the next town. It’s as close to a free-form, everybody-do-what-they-want, try-to-help-everyone-out, non-malicious kind of multi-band tour as there has ever been.

Walter Schreifels: There’s a certain group of people at the center of it; some really fucking crazy nuts that are involved in the culture and are setting a tone at the center of it. Of course, there’s a corporate element to it, but with a company like Vans, for good reason, it transcends. Vans is different than Nike.

Steve Van Doren (VP Events and Promotions, Vans): Surfers and skateboarders started wearing our shoes in the mid-‘70s. Tony Alva during the DogTown days, Stacy Peralta… All the skaters back then. We got to the mid-‘90s and we wanted to get deeper into marketing and sponsoring events. That’s when I met Kevin Lyman. We realized that investing in this tour was the best thing Vans could do to spread our name where we weren’t too well known, while still keeping the integrity of the brand. I think the number one reason for our growth over the last 20 or so years is the Vans Warped Tour.

Jay Bentley: Early on the sponsors wanted to help the scene along because they were a part of it, and Vans is a perfect example. It’s a perfect example! There’s Steve Van Doren: very supportive of what we are doing; he’s friends with everybody, and he’s been making shoes for everybody I know since forever. This is just all a part of we want to be a part of this from the ground floor. Fine. But, by the time you start getting these giant multi-nationals in there, what they are basically saying is: ‘You’ve got thousands of captive kids, and we want to advertise our shit to them.’ That’s totally different.

Greg Attonito (The Bouncing Souls): When we started out in punk and hardcore with The Bouncing Souls, the way we perceived ourselves, and the world we were in as musicians; we needed support and we need to be supporting other people. As time would pass, we realized our intentions for doing what we were doing were as important as making the music. It’s a bigger picture. As we got to the Warped Tour and met Kevin, we saw that he was about that same intention. He told me at one point: ‘Yeah, I could have gone to work for The Rolling Stones, but instead I decided to help create this tour for kids, and make an effort to support everyone, as opposed to just taking a job for the money.’ Kevin managed to take this approach and turn it into a massive traveling tour, and it can only be done by someone coming from that type of place.

Tom DeLonge (Blink 182, Angels & Airwaves): There’s a support system for your band; a support system to find people that you truly identify with. That’s the idea. You know, the best thing about punk rock is that it’s not for adults.

It’s for a kid who feels better and better by being more and more of an outcast and more and more of an individual, and that’s what the Warped Tour embodies. The crazier I dyed my hair, the more rings I put in my face, the more anti-authority I talked, the better I felt about myself. Isn’t that weird?

Lisa Johnson (Tour Photographer): It’s this great traveling musical circus of misfits and riff raff coming together to celebrate every day just being alive. Sure, there’s the business end that keeps it rolling on a day to day basis, but it’s fueled by this over-pouring of creative juices. And, with the longevity of the Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman has given so many wonderful, creative individuals a platform to grow and develop their craft. It’s just wonderful, inspiring, and ever-evolving. Few people really understand how and why it works. Try this: Be kind to one another, be good to the environment, and have fun. It’s amazing what a group of positive-minded people can accomplish in a day.

Walter Schreifels: It’s like the first year of Saturday Night Live, you know what I mean? They didn’t know what the fuck they were doing, but they had a couple of different elements that showed promise, and that developed. Bands like NOFX built their careers on it probably. You are traveling, and people were in buses, but it was not fancy, ever. You are sharing them…you’re stuck in them. We were sharing with CIV, so it was fine. We were lucky. But Orange 9MM was sharing a bus with Sublime, and they had a dog, and, like, ‘class-A’ drugs! We were in shitty places; sitting around in fucking dusty shitty places all day long. That builds camaraderie. There was none of that sophistication. People were just trying to get through it, and there was that camaraderie with that. None of it was high-end for anybody.

Misfit Summer Camp: 20 years on the Road with the Vans Warped Tour will be available for pre-order beginning May 26th at here, and will be released June 19th.

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