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Charlotte’s Last Warped Tour: A Family Reunion

In 1995, Kevin Lyman founded a skateboarding-based music festival called Warped Tour. In the 23 years following, Lyman has crafted a legendary piece of history that served as the foundation for many successful music careers from Eminem to Paramore.

In the midst of an industry where Lollapalooza led the way as America’s largest music festival, Kevin Lyman saw it a different way. Insisting upon bringing different bands and fans together for what they called a “punk-rock summer camp,” Lyman provided a touring alternative in 1995 where tickets stayed around $30, skateboarding and BMX ramps were a highlight of the day, and bands formed unusual bonds over barbeque. With bands playing equal set times and no status separation, the 1995 bill featured Quicksand, L7, Sublime, Sick of it All and more. Vans jumped on the steadily rising tour as the official sponsor in 1996 and the lineups began to grow in size and quality as fans and bands recognized the opportunity to play a tour where it felt like a family reunion.

warped tour 1995

As Warped Tour grew into the summer’s largest punk-rock and pop-punk festival, bands from near and far built their careers on Warped Tour’s guaranteed crowds and music industry professionals sought work on this cream of the crop tour. If you did it right, working behind the scenes on Warped Tour guaranteed valuable connections and networking in all types of jobs from stagehands to accounting. Even working one day as press constantly provided journalists and photographers immeasurable opportunities to speak with huge artists face to face and capture rare moments of exhaustion mixed with happiness.

Stephanie Smith reflects on Charlotte’s final Warped:

This ‎Nü Sound contributor attended her first Warped Tour in 2015. Last summer, it was a dream to get a photo pass, providing me access to shoot the first 3 songs of any given band’s set from the pit.

This year I wasn’t shooting for a publication, but wanted to document my third and final Warped at Charlotte’s PNC Music Pavilion nonetheless. Running around the grounds July 30, I managed to catch 15 bands, all of which I was seeing live for the first time, all with a somewhat nostalgic and sad air lingering above. I met The Maine (they were lovely); Mayday Parade punk’d everyone into thinking blink-182 was there, and almost made up for it by covering “The Rock Show”; and I ran into a friend from college. Cassadee Pope sang old-school Hey Monday songs, and a kind stranger even offered to hold my umbrella above me so I could keep shooting, mid-downpour. These types of experiences are what have held this festival together with a family-reunion vibe for all these happy and hard years. The day ended with a gorgeous golden hour, as the final Vans Warped Tour solemnly waved goodbye to fans who grew up attending it.

When I re-listened to Don Broco’s “T-Shirt Song” last night, one lyric summed it all up: “They’re saying there’s one song left; no time for no regrets.” Here’s to you, Warped Tour.

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