Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vans Warped Tour 2008 preview

(This article originally appeared in Inland Empire Weekly) The Warped Tour hits Pomona Fairplex on June 20 and Home Depot Center in Carson on Aug. 17.

Convenience, surprises and expected elements. They all add up to a successful lifestyle festival, according to Warped Tour organizer Kevin Lyman.

“I think Warped Tour works because the kids can go and feel comfortable,” he said. “There’s always something different that catches their ears or eyes. That’s what we continue to do. Sometimes festivals lose their focus when they try to shift away too much from what they’re about.”

Although teens and pre-teens comprise the core Warped audience, the annual event also attracts adults who come to see their favorite old school punk acts and those currently making waves on radio.

An Inland Empire native, Lyman graduated from Claremont High School and Cal Poly Pomona. He later worked with Lollapalooza and concert promoter Goldenvoice, before helping to launch the Warped Tour, which deftly combined skateboarding and alternative music, in 1995. It has been going strong ever since.

No Doubt, Sublime and face to face served as the inaugural headliners. Vans signed on as corporate sponsor the following year. Each edition has spotlighted established and upcoming groups on multiple stages and inside tents. Many have gone from playing a small area in the corner of Warped to topping large venue bills on their own. My Chemical Romance and Paramore are recent examples.

Lyman takes pride in watching that happen. “It’s what I’ve probably done best – giving bands a little step up. I love music and got into this business to help develop and break bands. I think I’ve done a pretty good job.”

Previous Warped tours featured enough acts to make your head spin, but Lyman said the 2008 edition - anchored by Pennywise, All American Rejects, Angels & Airwaves, Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship and Against Me! – should be capped around 75.

“Sometimes ‘more isn’t better’…when we were having over 100 bands a day, it was getting to be too much trying to park everyone and separate the sound.”

With sky high gas prices, local Warped attendees can be relieved that the festival is still anchored at Pomona Fairplex.

“There’s grass and some shade. The Fairgrounds has big parking. They help us get started and don’t charge us rent. We can go in there early to get ready to go. Everything like that goes into keeping the tour price [reasonable].”

Environmental efforts continue at Warped. The Kia/Kevin Says stage runs entirely on solar power, backstage catering uses washable dinnerware and a biodiesel fuel blend helps cut down on carbon emissions.

People who bring 10 empty bottles or old cell phones/accessories to designated on-site recycling centers earn a contest entry for the Eco Adventure. It happens this October at St. Croix with the Warped crew and Costeau Foundation. Warped VIP perks and swag are also in the offing to anyone seen carpooling or wearing a t-shirt that promotes eco action.

An emphasis on diversity is evident by the lineup inclusion of Oreska Band (all female ska from Japan) and the Pinker Tones (electronica DJs via Spain). Lyman cited young pop/popsters We the Kings as breakout of the year.

Beat Union, a promising English new wave/punk/ska quartet that hails from Birmingham, is definitely another one to watch at Warped. Singer/guitarist Davey Warsop said they are psyched about the jaunt through America, especially after reading about it in local rock rags as teenagers.

“We’re completely over the moon to be playing. To finally be here doing it is an absolute honor.” Disconnected, produced by Goldfinger’s John Feldmann, bears traces of late ‘70s-era Jam, Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Squeeze and The Police. The sharp album is one of the best debuts of ’08 thus far. They should go down a storm on the stage. “We pride ourselves on an energetic and fun live show, for sure,” added Warsop.

The Briggs’ guitarist/vocalist Jason LaRocca believes the best part of performing at Warped is “getting to experience all the other music that’s going on. To see all those bands separately would take several months. You get to do that all in the course of a day.”

His punk band is doing the entire run for the first time. LaRocca – who splits guitar and vocal duties with brother Joey – agreed that a big part of Warped’s staying power can be attributed to Lyman not gouging young concertgoers.

“Every year, he manages to make a really strong package for the price. It is pretty unparalleled. There is no other tour with that many bands and that much to experience for $30.”

Singalong chants are important to The Briggs, whose rousing fourth release Come All You Madmen dropped this week. “This is L.A.,” a fiery ode to their hometown, was inspired “by the frustration of people thinking we were from Boston because of our sound and bands we’ve toured with,” explained LaRocca. “It was always coming up in interviews: ‘Boston this, Boston that’…it kinda sucked. We have a sense of pride being from L.A. It is home.”

Easily the group’s strongest to date, Madmen features politically-themed tunes (“Ship of Fools,” “Charge Into the Sun”) and acoustic slow burners. Several Mighty Mighty Bosstones members, Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker and Dropkick Murphys singer Ken Casey also contributed to some songs.

“From top to bottom, I think it’s a really strong lineup and unique again,” noted Lyman. “I’m really excited about it and I don’t say that every year.”

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