Jonathan Rach's Documentary Reveals the True Side of the Warped Tour

Doc Worker
Jonathan Rach’s film reveals the true, gritty, sometimes cuddly side of the Warped Tour

Now in its 15th year, the Vans Warped Tour has become a staple for young music-lovers and is now the longest-running touring festival in America. What started out as a place for punk music and action sports to collide has evolved into much more, cultivating entire generations and cultures around a feeling of community and camaraderie—on-, off- and backstage.

Director Jonathan Rach unearths these scenes and brings you the man behind it all—Warped Tour creator Kevin Lyman—in his new documentary, Warped Tour: A Concert, a Culture, an Entire Generation. From never-before-seen footage of a fledgling Sublime and punk and pit culture to peeks at what life on the road is really like (Duane Peters makeout scenes! Truck-stop shopping sprees! Guns in the parking lot!) and the conjunction of music and politics, Rach presents a raw, genuine look at the tour.

OC Weekly: What separates your documentary from others on the Vans Warped Tour?

Jonathan Rach: Well, the first major [difference] is that mine covers all the years, from 1995 to now. I didn’t want to do something boring and academic; I wanted to give the viewer the feel for what it was like to be on tour and live in the culture. There’s a lot of storytelling, whereas I think other [documentaries] are just performances.

Speaking of avoiding the boring and academic, some criticisms of your documentary disparage the camera work and organization in the film.

It was just right for the punk scene. You sacrifice a bit of quality to be stripped down without a crew, but you get intimacy that you just wouldn’t otherwise have. Because I didn’t have to depend on a boom operator and a giant film crew and I was just hanging out with a consumer-level camera, there were a couple of moments in the film with Kevin and fans where we have some intimate conversations. The story element of it, I really wanted it to just flow, like you didn’t know where it was going, from moment to moment. I wanted this to be like you were wandering around the grounds and . . . and it’s a surprise from moment to moment. It’s like the Warped Tour itself—there isn’t any set path.

How did you decide to do a documentary on the Warped Tour?

I worked on the Lollapalooza tour in 2003 and had such a horrible experience—it was so corporate and anti-music. The whole crew, everybody there felt the same way: a corporate nightmare. At the time, I was obsessed with the Woodstock documentary and how it had captured something pretty significant in music culture. I just knew. Warped Tour has such a great vibe, and the fans are really true. There’s a familial community, and it was just such the opposite of Lollapalooza. But it was Kevin Lyman who made me want to do a documentary. He’s set the norm, but you got to remember, when I first went out there in 2004, the Ozzfest was happening, the tickets were expensive, Lollapalooza was my firsthand experience. There was just no love in it: The fans were getting ripped off, you could feel it in the crowd, you could see them walking around, everything was overpriced. Kevin was the opposite of that—even in the documentary, you’ll see that when it comes to financing, he’s a nightmare. He’s not focused on the money aspect. It’s not a gimmick; it’s not a façade. The guy has it in his heart to do one thing, and it’s to give kids the best time of their life—one great day of the summer is what his goal is when he comes to each town.

The documentary starts with a scene with two mohawked punk kids saying, fuck emo, Yellowcard and Good Charlotte and saying to keep things punk—“Live fast, die young in a leather jacket, and piss off as many people as you can along the way.” What do you think about mumblings that Warped Tour has sold out or that it has lost touch with its punk roots?

[Warped Tour] has managed to keep its integrity. It’s all there. You can walk around and find the hardcore bands; you can find the pop-punk bands. You think it’d be chaos, but it somehow comes together and works. Kevin has done something more powerful for any fan who comes through—Warped Tour hasn’t “sold out” any more than it had in its second year, when Vans became a sponsor. That first year, they tried to have no sponsors, and they lost their shirts and literally went bankrupt. Sponsors help out the finances, so that tickets can be cheap. They’re not deciding what bands should be on tour and what genres are played. Kevin is true from day one. He really accomplished everything he set out to do—create a community and environment to let the kids enjoy. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And he’s still going.

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