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Vans Warped Tour remains fresh, consistent 

Long days spent walking the pavement between countless stages as punk, rock and/or something slightly emo hits your ear drums. In the blink of an eye, one band is done and the next one is kicking it into high gear. Yep, just another day on the Vans Warped Tour. Not much has changed over the last 16 years. Even more impressive is the tour's ability to stay fresh and continue to draw consistent crowds from a young age group each and every summer.

Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman -- who also started the Mayhem and Uproar festivals, as well as the Country Throwdown Tour -- works year round to keep it going and ensure the bands stay current. Like most people, he had no idea the tour, which consists of roughly 900 people (including bands), would last this long when it first started in the mid-'90s.

"I don't think there's a better way for bands to get exposure than to play the Warped Tour in the summer time," Lyman says by phone from a recent Warped Tour stop in Cleveland, Ohio. "We mix up set times to give people a reason to get here early and stay all day -- and roughly 90 percent of people get here to see the first band."

He's aware that the people who went to Warped Tour back in the early years aren't the ones who are still going these days -- which makes the festival unique. Most of those people are older, have jobs (so they can't make the daylong stop) and have little interest in suffering through the midday summer heat to watch dozens of bands. "If everyone came to Warped Tour that was here the first few years, they'd be in their 30s now," Lyman notes. "They're not coming to a nine-hour, all-day festival."

For each stop, each year, the tour rolls into town and often starts before noon, ends before dark and swarms amphitheaters with handfuls of stages featuring short-but-sweet sets from bands ranging in styles -- punk, pop, emo, rock, etc. Among those performing this year are Dirty Little Rabbits (featuring Slipknot's Shawn "Clown" Crahan), Andrew W.K., Every Time I Die, iwrestledabearonce, Reel Big Fish, Sum 41 and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

"I have to acknowledge the future and what kids want," Lyman notes. "If I was booking a tour for what Kevin Lyman wants, I'd have Bad Religion, The Specials and NOFX, but how many of their fans are able to come out all day on a Tuesday? I'm watching bands like Emarosa and VersaEmerge hitting their stride right now with an audience."

Lyman, who attends every show on the Warped Tour, says he spends a good bit of time wandering around the festival to see what bands are drawing crowds as much as checking out what bands aren't on Warped Tour but showing up on the T-shirts of kids in attendance.

Some bands are only scheduled to play for part of the tour -- dropping off part of the way through, or jumping on -- though Lyman says most bands regret the decision once they get out and start playing.

"There are also bands on tour like Sum 41 who are at the crossroads of their career," Lyman says. "They're playing one of the smaller stages, but bring experience that can make them shine amongst the younger bands. They still are a big, live band. I keep hearing, 'Oh my god, you have to see Sum 41 at Warped Tour.' I don't think a band has ever been hurt from playing Warped Tour."

YOUNG AND RECKLESS

Back in 1998, a little known Detroit rap-rocker performed on one of the main stages and drew as many onlookers as his music pushed away. It wasn't long after that, Kid Rock became a well-known platinum-selling artist. Black Eyed Peas first got started by performing on the Warped Tour in 1999. Two years ago, it was Katy Perry who was strutting her stuff in the midday summer heat shortly after her "I Kissed a Girl" song hit the radio. It's doubtful you'll see any of these artists on the Warped Tour again.

One of this year's artists to watch is The Pretty Reckless, a band that's getting as much attention for its singer as it is for its rock style and comparisons to Nirvana. The band has a self-titled EP out now, and the full CD will be released later this year.

Singer Taylor Momsen is known to many as the character Jenny Humphrey on the TV show Gossip Girl, but her band's music is nothing you'd see on that program. There's also an attitude to it that you'd might not expect from an actress, let alone a 16-year-old.

"Kevin Lyman heard some of our music and was really into it and asked us to be a part of (the tour)," Momsen says by phone from a recent Warped Tour stop. "It's great to have them want you on the tour instead of just offering a slot. The biggest appeal is being able to play every day -- we only have about four days off all tour."

Momsen has had to grow up fast these days -- not just because of her acting or music careers, but also because of the paparazzi and having her every move thrown onto the Internet for the masses to see.

"When you get into this world, your privacy is taken away," she says. "There are pictures of my underwear on the Internet. There's no stage fright -- you just go play a show. I think there's a core fan base who know me from the show and want to hear my music. I just hope that being on Gossip Girl doesn't deter people from giving it a chance. I'll just let the music speak for itself."

Being inside in darkness with better lighting effects wouldn't be bad, but right now, she can't complain about all of the exposure she's getting to new fans. She won't even complain much about the weather.

"We played in Arizona one day and it was like 113 degrees ... that was pretty miserable," she says. "We were in Texas and there was a tropical storm coming through, so we had a wet T-shirt contest. It adds a new energy when it's raining instead of just hot. Most of the time, you just get on stage and forget about it. It's not until you're done and walk offstage that you feel the heat and say, 'Holy shit, I'm so wet right now.'

"We're one of the only rock bands on the tour, which is interesting. It's also kind of odd to play outdoors in the middle of the day for the type of music we play, but then you see heavy metal bands fuckin' rockin' out and you think, 'OK, this is cool.'"

Momsen's fashion style -- usually seen with dark makeup and wearing thigh-highs on stage and off -- has some calling her the "anti-Miley Cyrus." Is that such a bad thing? She says she doesn't pay attention to the Internet or such comments just because they're the same age, and, she says, she just wears what she likes -- and what's clean when she wakes up.

For all of the attention she's getting, she definitely sounds grounded and like someone who knows exactly what they want out of life. Then again, she's only 16 and has plenty of time to figure things out -- if she'll return to acting, explore a career in fashion or just focus on her music.

"I hope I can play music every day for every tour I'm on -- I'm not in a band just to hang out," she says. "I know that music is something that drives me and has since I was young. I can never not sing and write songs -- I know I'll do this in five years even if it's in a tiny club. As for acting and modeling, I don't know where that will lie. Those aspects aren't based on me -- music is something I do and can do whether people are listening or not."

THE FUTURE

When asked if Lyman has a wish list of bands to play in the future, he says most of the bands he's wanted to have out on the tour have had members who have died. "Joe Strummer was supposed to play the year he passed away," he says. "We wanted to have a Ramones reunion on the tour -- we were going to have a stage that was going to be all-Ramones all the time with all of their individual groups as well. That'll never happen."

As for how long Lyman thinks Warped Tour will last, he's not sure at this point. "You have to take it year by year," he says. "We're watching everything and learning a lot. The kids are young and their tastes in music and clothing are always evolving."

When asked for his tips for fans attending this year's tour, Lyman says, "Prepare. Go to the website, research the bands, hydrate and get here early. Also, keep an open mind. You might wander by a stage and hear something you like -- about a nonprofit or about the business itself if you participate in the DIY program we're holding, or maybe you'll find three or four new bands."

The Vans Warped Tour will be at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on July 22 at 11 a.m. Tickets are $30.23.

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