The Vans Warped Tour: A Transient Industrial Bohemia

Last week I discussed the punk rock tradition and how through non-conformity and the traditional components of punk rock: individual freedom and anti-authoritarian sentiment actually creates a conformist bohemia. This is done through the musicians’ ability to create an artistic space within a city that once the musicians make it to the mainstream and attract a fan following those followers flock to a centralized artistic area thus creating a bohemia. This mass movement to a particular



area leads to the gentrification of neighborhoods which raises rent prices ultimately creating a new space within the city where the artist’s ideologies no longer appeal or exist and they are forced out of the neighborhood. I used CBGB as an example of a space that really helped to provide a space for punk rock musicians, but as a result of gentrification ultimately closed as a result of a high increase in rent.

Basically I discuss my post from last week so you will have a much clearer concept of where I’m going this week in relation to Andrew Ross’ book No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs.

Ross does a close study of two prominent New Economy companies, Razorfish and 360hiphop and the personal freedoms and rewards that the employees of the companies were granted. Underlying these benefits lays a hidden cost, longer workweeks, a lack of managerial protection and more employee risk. Ross examines the industrialization of bohemia and how through this hidden cost the companies are able to claim the workers creative thoughts and ideas.

Here’s a playlist for the Vans Warped Tour from 2005. I figured I would throw it back  ten years. Feel free to skip around. There’s a lot of variety.

This week I’m connecting the reading to the Vans Warped Tour which is the largest traveling music festival in the United

Vans Warped Tour 2015

Vans Warped Tour 2015

States and the longest running touring music festival in North America. Unlike CBGB which was a stationary venue the Vans Warped Tour is a moveable/transient space. The tour is held in parking lots and fields where stages and other structures are constructed prior to the event and remain constructed for the duration of the event. Vans, the skateboard shoe

manufacturer, have sponsored the tour every year since 1996. “The resident mythology was anti-establishment and pioneerist embraced by a warm community of job hopping engineers and programmers whose loyalty to companies was flimsy at least by the standards of Yankee discipline” (36).The tour began in 1995 as a showcase for alternative punk rock music and in more recent years has expanded to include more diverse genres.

Skateboarder 2011 Vans Warped Tour

Skateboarder 2011 Vans Warped Tour

I bet you wouldn’t think of a music festival as a business, but actually it gets run pretty much the same way a small business does. Music festivals rely on sponsorships some are more obvious about it than others. Instead of taking out a loan with a bank to start a business a sponsor provides a loan to the head of the festival which pays for the performers and the equipment needed for live performances. The sponsor money is then paid back through the profit that is made through ticket sales and merchandise sales. There is a lot of risk involved for both the person running the tour and the sponsors. “The intangible rewards—recognition, stimulation, responsibility offered by their jobs are almost as important as the financial compensation” (34).

Kevin Lyman

Kevin Lyman

Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman jokes in an interview, “It could have been the ‘Calvin Klein Warped Tour.’” The blizzard of 1996 held off a deal with Calvin Klein while Vans made Lyman a deal. In 1996, Vans CEO Walter Schoenfield wrote Lyman a check for $300,000 to fund the festival and pay for the performers. The profit from the tour is then made through ticket and merchandise sales.

On the surface music festivals appear as the transient bohemia where musicians and fans/followers are able to flock to these ephemeral spaces. Ephemeral spaces allow more freedom for fans/followers since there isn’t one space in one centralized area for them to travel. The festival travels to them. “Content, in general, was a way of drawing attention to commercial sites, and so its capacity to capture traffic had been eagerly courted by each successive wave of business models on Silicon Alley” (194).

The Vans Warped Tour is particularly interesting because it was the first touring festival that didn’t attach itself to an artist.

Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 at the 1998 Vans Warped Tour

Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 at the 1998 Vans Warped Tour

The artists attach themselves to the festival. The tour itself is a traveling industrial bohemia. Lyman works on the festival pretty much all year. Lyman takes a couple weeks off at the end of the tour. “A traditional industrial model derives value from workers where and when the company can control their labor. In the realm of no-collar work, the goal is to extract value from any waking moment of an employee’s day” (146). Before Lyman started the Vans Warped Tour he worked on other festivals like Lollapalooza doing everything from stage manager, assistant production manager to artist liaison. These skills would later help him in creating his own festival.

The Vans Warped Tour is also significant for its ability to simplify the production of the show. There are no lights because the priority of the festival is making the music sound good not so much in the visual display of the artists under lights.

I find it interesting that there is such a standard business model for a music festival which has come to be so representative of the genre of punk rock which is very non-conformist. In order to host a festival you are forced into a standardized business practice and forced to conform to these festival standards. Festivals have become essential to the survival of the music industry through the promotion of the live show.

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