Photo: Courtesy 4 Fini, Inc.
Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman On MusiCares, FEND, Sublime's Bradley Nowell
Warped Tour started in 1995 as a touring music festival and has grown into not only the largest but the longest-running touring festival in America. Its focus on punk rock in conjunction with corporate sponsors, such as its namesake Vans, has brought artists such as No Doubt, Weezer, Green Day, and August Burns Red, among others, straight to fans during its run, which Lyman announced would conclude at the end of the 2018 season.
Not only has founder Lyman had a hand in curating generations of music across the country, but Warped Tour has become a beacon for recovery with artists such as rapper Kosha Dillz finding their way to sobriety thanks to the iconic festival. This isn't an accident, and Lyman's connection to organizations benefitting the well-being of musicians is evident through his work with the Recording Academy-affiliated health and human services charity, MusiCares.
Early on in the history of the Warped Tour, Lyman began leveraging the power of his festival to help direct donations toward the philanthropic efforts of MusiCares, pledging a quarter of every ticket sold, holding auctions of iconic memorabilia and also hosting an annual golf tournament to benefit the organization.
In the years since, Lyman has gone on to serve on the MusiCares Board of Directors. In 2011 he was honored alongside Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode at the annual MusiCares Concert For Recovery benefit concert, where Lyman was presented with the MusiCares From The Heart Award for his unconditional friendship and dedication to the mission and goals of the organization.
"I have always had a philanthropic side to all my ventures," Lyman explains of his decision to partner with MusiCares. "More and more I saw that artists and crew members of mine were dealing with medical needs or emergencies, and then I learned more about the Recording Academy … so I figured that it was great to get involved with an organization like MusiCares.
"They've done a lot for our artists," Lyman adds, detailing the helpful efforts the organization has undertaken to help artists and crew better protect their hearing and have the opportunities for more consistent dental treatment, which can often fall by the wayside while out on tour. "I felt MusiCares needed to get more younger people supporting it, and I was able to help."
MusiCares assists music people in need with more than just medical expenses, however. The addiction recovery and sobriety management assistance that the organization helps provide can be a crucial lifeline for music people working the steps toward recovery.
"I wish I'd had more resources back in '95. Maybe some of these artists we didn't save could have been saved." — Kevin Lyman
For someone so heavily involved in music, touring and festivals for such a large part of his life, Lyman can point to his early experiences working clubs and venues in Los Angeles, and then his inaugural year with Warped Tour as having had a formational influence on his outlook on drugs, alcohol and addiction recovery.
"When I first started the Warped Tour in 1995, Sublime was on that tour. Brad Nowell was addicted. Maybe that's why I work so hard at it now — he passed away right after the first Warped Tour," Lyman said. "I wish I'd had the knowledge that I have now, or the resources back then, to maybe have been able to help him. I don't know if we could have, but I think now that we travel with someone like [sober living coach] Mike Farr … we can have some early intervention and early help for these people."
For artists and fans tied to the Warped Tour scene, Lyman challenges some elements of mainstream society's skewed perception of the punk or alternative circles — especially in their early days — as openly embracing drugs, alcohol and other forms of self-destruction as an act of rebellion.
"There were just as many people trying to be sober, and there was also the straight-edge movement in punk rock," Lyman points out. "We had no more or less issues than the music industry as a whole. … There were a lot of resources, [but] our scene was probably a little too prideful to ask."
Lyman's work in addiction recovery isn't done yet either. He's switching gears to one of the prevalent issues affecting the modern-day scene and the entire music industry — opioid addiction — through a project called FEND.
The FEND movement — Free Energy No Drugs — is an organization working to address the worsening opioid addiction epidemic that has swept our country, with overdoses now responsible for as many annual deaths as guns in the U.S., according to FEND's website.
"We are using the Warped Tour as a model," Lyman explains about the new initiative, "hopefully to be able to use it as a white label for all genres of music, all forms of entertainment, sports, all those things.
"I think that [comes from] my association with MusiCares. It's opened my eyes that there is still a lot more that we can all be doing."