The Vans Warped Tour is finally old enough to buy a beer.
For the past 21 summers, the ambitious tour has crisscrossed the country with dozens of up and coming, and more established, bands. In the early days, those bands were mostly punk-ish. Many still are. The 2016 roster includes Sum 41, New Found Glory, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Crown the Empire and many more.
On Monday, the Vans Warped Tour returns to New Orleans for the first time in 13 years. Last time around, it set up shop in the parking lot of the University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena; attendees and bands broiled on a hot summer day in the treeless expanse.
This time, the tour’s seven stages will be scattered across Mardi Gras World (1380 Port of New Orleans Place), home of the Buku festival each spring. Gates open at 11 a.m., and the show wraps up about 9 p.m. The schedule of bands, which changes for every tour stop, will be announced Monday morning.
The show has traditionally catered to a young audience and is open to all ages. VansWarpedTour.com contains information on how a parent/guardian of a minor can receive free admission. Otherwise, tickets are $49 and $59.
With its float warehouses and backdrop of Mississippi River traffic and an abandoned power plant, Mardi Gras World is in keeping with the tour’s decidedly urban aesthetic.
That aesthetic has evolved over the years, even as the tour has sustained its youthful, outsider identity.
In its earliest incarnation, the Warped Tour — the skate-punk shoe company Vans didn’t sign on as the title sponsor until the second year — focused primarily on punk bands, especially Southern California punk/ska. The likes of No Doubt and Sublime played Warped before they blew up as hugely popular mainstream acts.
The tour has been around long enough to now feature bands whose members were inspired to become musicians after attending Warped as kids.
With so many bands on the bill — 69 are listed for the New Orleans date — musicians certainly don’t get rich. Shoestring budgets are the order of the day.
To stay in the black, the tour maintains an extensive sponsorship program and a brutal schedule, with very few days off. The tour launches in Dallas on Friday; Monday’s New Orleans stop will be the fourth show in as many days. In early July, the bands and crew will power through seven consecutive shows in seven days in seven different cities.
But there are benefits for bands beyond a paycheck. To be tapped for the carefully curated Warped Tour roster carries a certain kind of cachet and credibility. It is a badge of honor to be selected for, and then to survive, the grueling pace. The British pop-rock trio Sykes announced its participation with a giddy Facebook post this spring: “We’re so pumped to be playing the whole of the Vans Warped Tour USA this summer! This is such a crazy opportunity…Bring it on!!”
The original touring version of Lollapalooza predated Warped by a few years and, initially at least, boasted a similarly underground vibe. But Lollapalooza ballooned quickly, and was soon presenting some of the biggest bands in the world. It also lost its identity, which was built on diversity but ultimately floundered with too much diversity.
Lollapalooza as a touring enterprise went away, only to be reborn as a massive, one-off weekend festival in Chicago. This year’s Lollapalooza, scheduled for July 28-31, boasts Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LCD Soundsystem, J. Cole, Lana Del Rey, Future and Chris Stapleton — all of whom, at this point, are far too famous for the Vans Warped Tour.
Along with the music, Warped features scores of nonprofit organizations promoting their causes. Philanthropy is also a major component of the show. The nonprofit Music Saves Lives gives away a limited number of backstage wristbands to attendees who donate blood.
Warped founder Kevin Lyman has said that the rise of the X Games, which exposed mainstream, middle America to skate culture, helped convince him that something like the Warped Tour could succeed.
Along the way, the musical roster has expanded. White rapper G-Eazy, who earned a music business degree from Loyola University, paid his dues on the Warped Tour. The tour has also featured electronic dance music, whose polished presentation of sonically pristine pre-recorded tracks is the polar opposite of sloppy, sweaty, flesh-and-blood punk. Pop music, too, factors into the Warped mix, as does hard rock.
“The definition of punk is pretty broad,” Lyman told OffBeat magazine recently. “Punk is in your heart, not in what you wear. It’s not safety pins and mohawks — it’s, ‘Maybe I can start my own T-shirt company.’ ”
In that regard, the Vans Warped Tour is still the most punk festival of them all.