It’s Time To End Vans Warped Tour
Posted on January 29, 2016
January 29, 2016 | by Bryne Yancey
Two decades into its existence, Vans Warped Tour has, at this point, left a mark of some degree on nearly all of us, some marginal, others indelible.
I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading this have been to Warped at least once, and that a lot of you have even been several times, and at most of them you at least had an okay time. I have solid memories of running around from stage to stage on fairgrounds and repurposed baseball fields as a much younger adult, attempting to see as many bands as I could. Before high speed internet was in every home, before we all had smartphones, it was one of the few days out of the year where suburban kids could go experience some alternative culture. It always had more of a big festival feel than most seem to care to admit, with its overpriced concessions, abhorrent corporate sponsorship, military recruiters (very punk) and other nefarious and curious influences. I still don’t understand why bands not playing Warped would get in their vans and “follow” the tour, uncomfortably bombarding kids in line with a copy of their album and a Discman as if they were unsolicitedly selling vacuum cleaners door to door. But for all its problems, most of us went to Warped because it was summer, school was out, and we could at least see a handful of bands we liked—albeit in a non-ideal concert setting—for a reasonable price.
But as we’ve gotten older, and as Warped’s target demographic has continued to get younger and more impressionable, new, more difficult to ignore problems have come to the forefront. Musicians on the tour, virtually all of them privileged white males and many of them in their early to mid-20s who in their at-this-point brief adulthoods been surrounded by “teams” incapable of saying no to them about anything, privileged white males, who, talent be damned, have been gifted a huge platform and captive audience to express themselves, are instead using both to directly or indirectly advance their own childish, churlish whims. Not that it’s every musician’s responsibility to do so, but what could be a unique opportunity for someone in a desirable position to enact real, positive change often instead ends in the complete opposite. Talk about untapped potential.
There are exceptions, of course. It’s encouraging that a band with a message such as The Wonder Years are resonating with so many kids. Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail, who went through personal issues of his own earlier in life, emerged this summer as an elder voice of reason on some of the tour’s larger issues. But for every Dan Campbell or Buddy Nielsen on Warped, there’s a Jake McElfresh or a Jonny Craig or an Ian Watkins or a Dahvie Vanity or any other number of damaged people who, official charges or not, are putting Warped’s young, impressionable audience in danger, not just that day, but every day going forward after their runs on the tour are through. It could be argued that not only does the Warped environment hinder positive growth for its audience at a time in their lives when they need it most, it perpetuates a system of unchecked power and control for its most popular performers, many of whom simply haven’t grown up yet and thus lack the cognitive capacity to deal with pressure, to resist urges, to be adults and conduct themselves in a constructive and thoughtful manner. These people need help and Warped Tour isn’t the environment in which they can be helped.
So if Warped Tour isn’t giving kids anything they can’t get somewhere else, and if it’s a toxic environment for mentally and emotionally fragile men-children, why do we still need it? What purpose is it serving to the greater good of the scene it purportedly exists to nurture? What if Warped Tour just went away? Live music wouldn’t die if Warped Tour went away; bands would be forced to work harder, playing small clubs with other, similar bands, hammering away, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And instead of Warped Tour buoying them, they’d sink or swim. You know, like bands normally do.
The traveling circus-like nature of large outdoor festival tours has had its moment in the oppressive summer sun. It’s an expired product of a simpler time when music fans simply didn’t possess the power of instant information the way we do now. Music discovery comes in many forms, and I’d never suggest that a screen and a high-speed internet connection is an equal replacement for the visceral thrill of experiencing a band live, but our abilities to connect with a song or a band are so much more frequent now and, more importantly, many of them are immediately safer than Warped Tour. If we don’t try to teach kids, especially teenage girls, that their agency matters, that safe spaces, whether that’s a live room, a tumblr blog, a zine, a panel discussion or anything else they want to create or be a part of, are paramount to personal growth within a scene as well as the health of the scene itself, we have failed them. We are complicit in a fractured section of the scene that’s become a haven for predators, often choosing to look away or ignore it as “not for us” when in reality we probably were those kids once.
I used to work at Alternative Press Magazine, a publication which often harbors, glamorizes and gives a voice to these predators, and that complicity kept me up at night. Enough is enough. These bands, these powerful men, deserve to be relegated to the fringes of the scene, if not completely extricated from it. Let’s not enable them. Don’t buy a ticket to Warped Tour this summer. If you have younger siblings or cousins or neighbors interested in alternative culture, try to show them something. Take them to a show at a DIY space or give them a record they haven’t heard before. Teach them to play an instrument. Encourage open-mindedness and curiosity and rational, artistic thought that isn’t driven by soulless commerce or animalistic urges. It’s the best we can do to start.