Festival founder shares insights about Warped, Lollapalooza, Mayhem tours

Kevin Lyman, founder of Vans Warped Tour and Rockstar Mayhem Festival, visited Chico State students for a discussion on Thursday. After working in the festival circuit for decades, Lyman's favorite part of managing tours has been watching bands grow from small stage acts to headliners. Photo credit: Brandon Foster

The first Warped Tour was a disaster. Tickets didn’t sell, money was lost and founding Production Manager Kevin Lyman found himself frantically trying to pull together smaller shows to balance out profits.

Concert connoisseur Lyman discussed his failures, comebacks and branding bands with Chico State students in the Performing Arts Center on Thursday in a talk sponsored by School of the Arts Productions.

Getting Warped

Lyman developed a love for punk music in college, where he graduated with a degree in recreational administration. He worked primarily in the punk scene, but quickly branched out to metal music to get a feel for multiple genres.

Eventually, he became the manager of Lollapalooza, a much larger festival than anything he worked on previously.

“I had no idea what I was doing down there,” Lyman joked.

The time he spent organizing events fitted him with expertise in the field of festival management. But with a wife, new child and nearly 12 years of work pulling together shows, Lyman decided it was time to settle down and find a “real job.”

Before moving on, he wanted to test himself with one big event he could both create and manage.

In the mid ’90s, there was a rise in skate culture. Lyman took advantage of the rapidly spreading trend and formed the Warped Tour.

Originally, the tour was going to be sponsored by Calvin Klein. After a call from representatives at Vans, who offered $300,000 to be the named sponsor, Lyman made the switch.

But the tour didn’t start out with the same success it has today. Lyman contributes the failure of the first Warped Tour to two factors.

“First, was the illusion that everyone wanted to see the bands that I loved. … Second, the original name for the festival was ‘The Bomb.'”

This was just around the time of the Oklahoma City bombings, which made the name seem tasteless.

Regardless of the setback, Lyman was determined to try again. After hanging out with the musicians from Pennywise and gaining support from NoFx, he had new headliners to draw in larger crowds.


Though punk bands filled the lineups early on, Lyman wanted to broaden the spectrum of music at his festival. This was no easy task, as adding major acts such as Blink 182 and Eminem led to death threats.

Eventually, metal acts wanted in on the action. Noting that the dynamic within metal shows was different, Lyman dreamed up the winter Taste of Chaos Tour in ’05.

And he didn’t stop. Lyman then created the wildly successful Rockstar Mayhem Festival over the summer of ’08.

Now, Vans Warped Tour is going on its 20th year and sets the standard for what Lyman considers “entry-level festivals.”

Thanks to intense sponsorship, ticket prices have stayed low in comparison to other festivals. This has made it more accessible to younger audiences.

Some fans complain about the corporate sponsorship of the festivals, saying there is nothing punk about being funded by Vans. But none of the bands playing are forced to endorse the companies that sponsor the tour, Lyman said.

“You need corporate sponsors,” he said. “Without Vans, there is no Warped Tour.”

Changing Scenes

Planning multiple festivals has been an enormous time commitment for Lyman.

“I’m not sleeping well,” Lyman said. “I figure that I am getting old and running out of time. I want to get in all of this stuff I want to do.”

Currently, Lyman has started working outside of music fests.

“I’m starting to manage again,” he said. “Not bands, just people. People that I think have something to say. Maybe future leaders in the country. I start identifying them and propping them up to get them exposure.”

He hopes to affect social change through helping younger generations gain a voice.

But that doesn’t mean he is abandoning the tour life.

He plans on creating a new festival, the “It’s Not Dead Tour.” It will be dedicated to punk rock music and well-known bands in the genre.

After working in the festival circuit for decades, Lyman’s favorite part of managing tours has been watching bands grow from small stage acts to headliners.

“(I love) watching these bands develop into who they are,” he said. “Pierce the Veil wasn’t an overnight success and now they are probably the biggest band in that scene. … You just gotta stick with it.”

Jake Hutchison can be reached at [email protected] or @poserpunk on Twitter.