For as long as I have been aware of its existence, the Vans Warped Tour has always been affectionately referred to as “punk rock summer camp.” I’ve always loved this name because of what it implies, on several different levels.
In one way, it appeals to the actual attenders of the show, the throngs of teenagers and twenty-somethings plus a dash of the middle aged revisiting their youth. Summer camp means going and seeing your friends, spending time doing the things you love. Everyone is on the same page. This is what Warped Tour has always been; a crowd of people united by their love for the same (general) genre of music. Another part of summer camp is learning, whether it’s arts and crafts, bible study (in some cases), or the outdoors. Warped Tour also gives the concert-goer a massive opportunity to learn. I can not count the number of bands that I have discovered by stumbling upon their set during a down time of the day, not to mention the countless non-profits and charities that are there to educate the public about their specific areas.
“Punk rock summer camp” also applies to the bands, on the stage every hot day and on the road in a van or bus every night. It almost serves as a type of convention, a time for people who are all doing the same thing in different ways to hang out, share ideas, reconnect, and get drunk together. That is most of what summer camp is about, spending time with your friends. The “punk rock summer camp” of Warped Tour has always been about community, a community of like-minded people caring for each other and enjoying music together.
It saddens me to say, however, that this may all be changing.
There have been several events in the recent history of the scene that have been disturbing to say the least, I will skip past those and speak directly to the most recent affront to the music community.
Last week at the Nashville stop of the tour, founder Kevin Lyman made a decision that may drastically alter the future of the tour. Last year, news broke about a musician named Jake McElfresh who performs under the name Front Porch Step being accused of sexual harassment by several underage girls. Bands dropped off of tours with him, his label booted him, and a petition that reached almost 15,000 signatures launched to get him removed from performing at the 2015 Warped Tour. He was dropped from Warped and nobody had heard from him since, until last week at the Nashville date of the tour.
That morning, with no announcement or fanfare, he was on the schedule to play the Acoustic Basement stage. Understandably so, the scene lost its mind. People have begun boycotting Warped, bands refused to play because Jake was allowed, and hundreds of people have spoken out strongly against the tour and Kevin Lyman specifically. He only played one date, but the ripple effect was strong. When a photo was posted of the tent as he was playing, the crowd was full of… you guessed it, underage girls.
By making the decision to allow Front Porch Step to perform, Kevin Lyman un apologetically made it clear that he cares more about ticket sales, and publicity than he does the safety of the attenders of the show. Why would you willingly put someone who clearly has problems communicating with underage girls in front of thousands of them? Several female members who are on the tour have stated that they did not feel safe or comfortable knowing that someone with a known history of sexual harassment was there. The community of Warped Tour was ripped apart, as well as the tour’s integrity.
It would just so happen that, due to the last minute kindness of a friend, my wife and I attended the Atlanta date of the tour the very next day. Overall we had a great day, got to see several of our favorite bands and enjoyed some great quality time together, but there was definitely a vibe that I have not felt at any of my past Warped Tours. It was not spoken about, nothing obvious, but you could feel it. You could feel it on the vendor’s faces, and you could feel it from the band’s onstage presence. Not to say the whole place was drowning in sorrow, it is still loud, hot, fun, and full of smiling faces; and I’m sure it will remain that way, at first glance.
But just beneath the surface is where you could feel it: a sense of betrayal, a sense of confusion, and a sense of worry for the future of the scene. No one knows what’s in store for the future of the Van’s Warped Tour, but it has a long way to go to regain its “punk rock summer camp” glory.