Warped Tour is America’s longest-running music tour and there’s good reason. It’s launched and solidified some of the biggest names in music, including Eminem, No Doubt, Blink 182 and many others. The tour is so well-branded and affordable that the massive lineup is now secondary to the event itself. Far beyond the recognizable artists on the bill, though, there is a whole other world that exists within and around Warped.
Behind the fence
Nick Saraceni is one of the hardest-working men in the music business. Unfortunately, there’s not much left of the music business to notice it. The Cherry Hill, N.J., resident is the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Exit 4. Nick has a problem though; he simply loves Warped Tour. He’s been doing everything possible to get dates on it for the past three years. This year, despite his best efforts, which included entering contests and submitting to the festival’s agent plus e-mailing Warped honcho Kevin Lyman, offering to buy a slot on the tour (a well known massive no-no), Nick once again came up empty handed. So Saraceni, along with his bassist Brian Fredericks, who only last week graduated from high school, spent their money on airfare and set out to attend the first few dates of the Warped Tour simply to promote their band.
As crazy as it seems, Nick’s idea is the norm for a host of desperate bands in a declining and crowded musical climate. In fact, just hitting one or two dates is a relatively mild effort. Multiple bands are now attempting to follow the entire tour, living solely off the sale of CDs to increasingly uninterested kids. Though that crazed ambition has worked for some in the past, between the recession and so many unknown bands hawking CDs when most kids download their music for free, it’s tough going.
Saraceni, who also plans to attend a few dates on the East Coast leg of the tour, expresses the frustrations and desperation many musicians are experiencing.
“Local scenes are dying all over the country, and that makes Warped all the more special,” he says. “For bands that aren’t on labels or don’t have any industry backing, there’s no way to reach kids outside of your hometown. You get lost on the Internet these days. At least here, I can meet someone, talk to them, give them a flier, and maybe they’ll buy a CD. We can actually leave with new fans and friends too. I still buy a ticket to go in and see the bands. It’s Warped Tour. I love being a part of it — even if I’m not technically a part of it,” Saraceni laughs.
The man inside the turtle
When a grown man dresses up like a turtle, especially when he’s not paid to do it as a day job at a theme park, one might assume the worst. But Steve Sievers is far from insane; in fact he’s completely driven. Steve is the creator of Supa Pirate Booty Hunt, an online cartoon show, but he’s also a bona fide Warped veteran who’s spent many a sunburned day on the tour. As co-owner of Level 27 Clothing, he and partner Billy Martin, Good Charlotte’s guitarist, wisely bought a booth on Warped while Martin’s band was absolutely exploding on the tour in the early 2000s. One fateful day when a Warped-goer asked Sievers to record his impression of a turtle for her voicemail, the idea for the cartoon show was born. Now, with seven short episodes available online and a budding fan base, he’s at the Ventura date of the tour in full costume as Daniel the Turtle, handing out postcards to kids who are quick to take cellphone pics that, within a matter of days, will end up on Facebook profiles, helping spreading the Supa Pirate love online.
Sweating profusely in his turtle legs, Sievers explains why he’s back at Warped.
“It’s the ultimate place to promote,” he insists. “The Warped crowd is young and open to new things. Over the years, everything’s been promoted here. Movies, magazines, clothing lines, you name it. I wear the costume at a lot of events, but here, kids come up to you, take pictures. It’s a great vibe.”
After a quick soda break in the press area, Sievers is putting on the massive turtle head for more photos and fliers. Getting ready to pitch his show this fall to TV networks and producers, he needs as many online views as he can get, and he intends make the most of the day.
Earning it herself
If there’s one person who defines Warped Tour outside of founder Kevin Lyman himself, it’s Sarah Saturday. Growing up in the Midwestern punk scene with her band Saving Face in the early 2000s, Sarah was a firm believer in the do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) ethic. When her band broke up, she called Lyman for advice and expressed an interest in the business side of things. Lyman promptly offered her a job in Los Angeles, and the Wisconsin punker has been working for Warped, in one way or another, ever since. In the process she’s become somewhat of a mentor, if not a deity, to unsigned bands trying to get on Warped. Seeing and knowing that side of things first hand, she worked directly with booking the smaller stages and also created the earn-it-yourself (E.I.Y.) philosophy that has transformed into a popular website. At every date on the tour, one local band gets the chance to play through the E.I.Y. website.
A funny thing happened to Sarah, though on her way to becoming a behind-the-scenes Warped figurehead. She simply missed playing and making her own music. That’s why this year, she’s on the entire tour performing under her solo moniker, Gardening Not Architecture.
What’s honorable about Sarah is that while she could easily spend her days hanging backstage with the too-cool-for-school crowd (oddly enough, not the veteran bands but the recently signed, barely of-age scene bands), she hasn’t forgotten her roots. That’s why she’s set up a daily meeting where aspiring kids and bands not part of the tour, can meet Kevin Lyman along with other guests like local promoter guru Eddy Numbskull, who shared his thoughts at the Ventura date.
The workshop was, in many ways, what Warped is all about: hope. There is not, and most likely never will be, another tour where the main organizer sets aside 30 minutes a day to dish advice to acts not even playing his event.
It was a downright touching moment when Lyman, at the end of the talk, bought a CD from a band that was essentially crashing his tour. What makes Warped Tour so special is the humanity present from all angles. It draws the hopefuls like moths to a flame, and as long as that’s the case, long may the Warped Tour’s fire burn.