About 20 tour buses down from the press tent is Kevin Lyman, barbecuing with one of his friends in 102-degree heat as the sounds from this year’s lineup are all in earshot. There’s no security, no PR people shadowing him to make sure he doesn’t say something he shouldn’t or prompt him to talk about a certain topic.
As I’m walking through the rows of tour bus parking lot toward Lyman’s bus, I pictured it different—I pictured a security escort maybe or a PR person from hell analyzing my every question and telling me not to ask about this or that.
I didn’t expect to be sweating and was hoping there would be a nice green room with air conditioning and mini-sandwiches at the end of the line. There was none of that. The closest thing to a PR person was Lyman’s grilling buddy and the only security he had was the tongs he was holding in his hand.
There he was throwing slabs of meat on the grill prepping for the barbeque kick off. If your part of the scene, you’re familiar with the barbecue. To the casual tour attendee this doesn’t mean much, but to the bands and crew, it’s a rallying call for much needed after-hours hang outs and good food.
The after-show barbecue is a tour tradition for those who work the tour to close out our hectic day with some grub, conversations that don’t require shouting over P.A. systems and maybe a reggae jam or two.
At 50, Lyman is a battled veteran of the road, “You don’t think about the heat. It’s a summertime tour you know. I’ve been doing this 17 years on Warped, I was out on three Lollapalooza’s that’s 20 times through Texas during the summer,” he explained as I’m gripping my (now) lukewarm bottle of water and wiping sweat from my face.
When he first hit the road, he signed on for a 26-date run starting in Salt Lake City and wrapping at Frazier Park in Irvine. On the tour was an unknown band from Long Beach who called themselves Sublime, OC punk rock beauty queen Gwen Stefani, and alternative metal band from Sacramento named Deftones.
“It’s lucky it got two. I really thought it was going to be one summer and then I’d go do something else.” But in fact the tour labeled “The Tour That Won’t Die,” didn’t. The second year he assembled a lineup that included Blink-182, Beck and 311. “It’s was good, maybe a little luck—maybe I could hear a good song,” Lyman humbly mumbled.
Luck—sure. Luck may have played a role but more so was Lyman’s drive to make this work and his love for the music. When I asked him thoughts on this year’s tour he turned into a little 14-year old gray-haired scenester rambling on about all the bands he was excited about, “Yesterday you had The Dance Party talking to Lucero and then Asking Alexandra came by and then some of the guys that have been around like Less than Jake and Pepper rallying around. Sometimes the older bands kind of isolate themselves but they’re right in the mix. It’s pretty awesome.”
“It’s good to have people coming back. Paramore is playing later this summer. We’re getting 3OH!3 back and kicking it up with A Day to Remember. You know those are bands maybe at one point some bands don’t come back. Bands have realized this is a pretty great place to be.”
The primary reason that Lyman’s baby is now in its 17th year is because it has managed to adapt to shifting musical tastes. You will still find more traditional punk and ska on Warped, but those styles are played down as post-hardcore, screamo, emo and metalcore have grown more popular.
Lyman’s received a lot of criticism over the years for a lot of things, but you would have to expect that over the past 17 year’s thing couldn’t always be perfect. “This year I didn’t listen—one time Ice-T told me ‘Go with your gut’ and I think I got away from that a little bit. I started to listen to other people the past couple years. The lineups were good, they were cool, but this one is special.”
When he does catch wind of a bad reviews, he shrugs it off, “I guess we got a bad review the other day, they said it was some guy not familiar with the scene—a Michael Buble fan I guess.”
Lyman is a godfather of sorts when it comes to the underground music scene. He’s solely responsible for giving alternative music a voice when local radio stations guided by the corporate hand wouldn’t touch it. He’s credited for putting together bills that have included musicians No Doubt, Sublime, Deftones, Katy Perry, Gym Class Heroes, NOFX, The Vandals, Bad Religion, Bouncing Souls, Face to Face, Kid Rock, Less than Jake, Incubus, Eminem, Matisyahu and the list goes on (and on).
Lyman and his crew have booked hundreds of artist from all genres to play Warped.
“You know when it’s going to be a good summer. Last year I knew the lineup for me was a little off, I spent two months booking this lineup and I think it’s showing. Anyone who says there are not any good bands out here is crazy. There are some pretty amazing bands out here and a lot of musicians and they all know they need to support each other this year. In the first three days you see the bands all getting to know each other and there are so many bands from different scenes but there all musicians and they realize it.”
Sure Lyman’s gotten older, but at one point was down in the pits similar to the rest of the hardened Warped Tour goers. He grew up in Claremont, CA and first discovered punk music while still in high school. During his teenage years he listened to bands like The Mamas & the Papas and The Beatles, until meeting some transfer students who were into bands like Crass and the Dead Kennedys.
While enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona, Lyman started booking punk shows and working with bands like Fishbone. He eventually got on board with the original Lollapalooza, at the time owned and managed by Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell. Once it went under, he started organizing skateboard competitions and demos, before signing a sponsorship to launch the original Warped Tour.
Today, he’s still a normal dude, living with his family in the suburbs of Sherman Oaks and it’s hard to say anything bad about him or the tour. You would think after 17 years he would be someone who hides behind a bunch of suits that decide what he’s going to say or be at home in the air-conditioning running the show from home.
It’s quite the opposite though; Lyman is just as accessible as a band that’s playing their first warped tour on the Ernie Ball Stage. He doesn’t hide out in his tour bus all day avoiding press and crowds; he’s out in the blistering heat constantly rescheduling bands, watching for storm clouds and barbequing (when there’s time).
After 17 years on Warped, he loves everything that has to do with the tour—the heat, the crowds, the bands and even the press. “My thing is…it goes back to the beginning. If a kid that wants to write about what you’re doing let him right about it. It used to be if you had a library card with your name in the school newspaper then let them in. That philosophy and treating people well is it. All those people are writing for Rolling Stone now they’re writing for all the big publications I have to do interviews with and they’re like ‘You know Kevin it’s really hard for me to say anything bad about you because you gave me my first interview or you gave me my first chance to interview a band…so that’s maybe a benefit of going 17 years.”
Dennis M. Ayotte, Jr.