Warped Tour Part Five: End Of The Day Barbecue
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
Take The Picture, Dummy
On yet another comical side note, while interviewing the drummers I noticed patterns in social skills that directly correlated to the popularity of a drummer’s group. Musicians from unknown groups were always incredibly grateful and humble, and were very fun to be around. Drummers from huge groups had absolutely nothing to prove, were the nicest people you’ve ever met, and were incredibly well spoken. About half the groups that were in between those two categories, who were in bands that were just breaking, had the biggest attitudes you’ve ever met in your life. When I asked one drummer how he warmed up, he responded “like all the greats,” and proceeded to place his name amongst Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
As the sun was setting and Whitney (the guitarist in Setoff and my cameraman for the trip) and I walked back to meet the others, we bumped into Kevin Lyman, the owner of the Warped Tour, and his very personable assistant. As I thanked him and told him how much we appreciated him letting us be there, he agreed to try and do a video interview later. Over the next two years, I can honestly say that throughout any day on the tour you’ll see Kevin Lyman walking around, talking to everyone. He’s incredibly personable, and never is in a hurry—it’s about the furthest thing you would expect from the owner of the festival. On this particular evening after he agreed to the interview, I was so amped that I bumped right into the aforementioned attractive assistant, where she consequently spilled wine on her dress. She tells me not to worry about it, and instead of tearing me a new one, invited me on stage to get some up close drumming footage of Pennywise. Now this was an amazing opportunity, since security and publicity had made it explicitly clear that my life would be extinguished if I even thought about such an act. She gets us backstage, Pennywise hits it hard, Brian Baker of Minor Threat and Bad Religion is standing directly in front of me, thousands of fans go nut, Byron is drumming his ass off, my heart is racing, adrenaline is pumping, and…the camera shuts off as the battery dies.
After the sun has gone down while the last bands were wrapping up their sets, thousands of people start to leave. That’s was our band’s cue to that we needed to start trying to sell records in order to make gas money. The trick was, you have to break down that wall between you and the person walking by, which meant going right up to them with a few copies of the record and forcing them to listen to an MP3 player with your music blaring. No one, I repeat, no one, will come to your booth if you’re an unknown band. This activity is great fun, and you meet a ton of awesome people. One person decided to help us sell by letting anybody sign his chest who purchased a Setoff record. We ended up selling around a hundred records that first day, and made more than enough money to get us to Portland.
There is a huge barbeque after each day of the tour, and each band takes turns cooking food for everyone else. On this particular evening there were two barbeques going. Felony Ron (aforementioned Road Pirate) was friends with the members of Pennywise and let us tag along to their shindig. A few of the members of Bad Religion were hanging out, and I got to speak to the legendary guitarist Brian Baker (who was also the former bassist of Minor Threat). As I asked him about what it was like working with The Draft (a band with three members of Hot Water Music), he told me that he could of, in fact, been a member of the band, but had unfortunately declined the invitation because he thought Bad Religion had a full calendar at the time. I got the opportunity to talk to Brooks Wackerman again for a little while, as I badgered him about the possible Wackerman Brothers tour, in addition to discussing his favorite Tony Williams record.
Toward the end of the barbeque Ron asked me to take a digital photo of him in between Randy Bradbury (the bassist of Pennywise) and Jay Bentley (the bassist of Bad Religion). I’ve never owned a digital camera, and I keep hitting the picture button, just like Felony Ron told me to do. I look at them confused, and mention “the camera keeps flashing the letters AF?!?” Jay Bentley, bassist of Bad Religion (one of my all time favorite groups of all time) looks at me with complete disgust. “AUTO FOCUS!!!!” An hour later I was asleep on the floor of the van.
We arrived in Portland at 4 A.M. that particular evening. At 7 A.M. sharp the alarm woke us up and we were back in the van.
Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Four
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
The Face Behind The Music
You'll notice that the name of the festival is comprised of four words denoting two concepts--“THE VANS” and “WARPED TOUR.” The former concept represents the part of the event that includes selling merchandise such as shoes, clothing, and an abundance of corporate entities inappropriately labeled “bands.”
The latter word, “TOUR” more appropriately describes the event, which, in my experience, is genuinely about the music. I feel lucky to have seen many great musicians perform at Warped over the years. While these several aspects of the tour could seem like the diabolical workings of “The Man,”—all of these entities are incredibly useful tools for every party involved. It’s what they call synergy. Big bands with corporate label budgets bring in loads of kids who, in turn, discover smaller groups. Independent groups bring in their friends who, as they’re walking between the smaller stages, hear a song performed by a band on a major label (not that anybody should care). All of these kids see the advertisements next to the stages, where the people who own those companies pay millions in advertising fees, which in turn get distributed to cover the expenses of the tour, and pay the musicians’ living expenses. And so on, and so forth. Kevin Lyman, the owner of the tour, goes to great lengths in efforts to allow small bands the opportunity to play his festival, and he does this for no other reason than to support as many bands as he possibly can. To further drive in this point, I’ll mention that in later years a certain drummer told me that his band's bus broke down, and he thought that they would have to drop off the tour. Instead, Kevin Lyman threw the band a little extra money so they could rent another vehicle and finish the tour. That money came directly out of his pocket (and this is particularly significant if you consider the fact that it made absolutely no difference to the tour’s profitability whether this group performed or not).
What I’m getting at is that there is a whole lot going on at these festivals. I got to meet a lot of amazing drummers, and I got to meet a lot of people pretending to be drummers. On that first day I interviewed three or four people posing as drummers, as they told me in great detail about perks like the video game systems in their vans. Some times I had to try my hardest to remember their names long enough to thank them once the interview is done. In fairness to them, I was posing as an interviewer, so I’m sure I could have asked them way more professional questions. As I reviewed the interviews later, I had been so nervous, things went a little more like The Chris Farley Show than that Charlie Rose thing I was hoping for. And to their credit, even the guys talking about video games, had some great suggestions for warm up routines, and had hilarious stories about life on the road. When all was said and done I got to interview tons of amazing drummers likeBrooks Wackerman (interviewed < here) and George Schwindt of Flogging Molly (interviewed here) which was an incredible experience.
Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Three
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
One Drum Set, Twenty Drummers
I’m going to take a step back, and travel back over a decade earlier, plunging into my special little punk rock memory bank. I can still remember purchasing the Good Riddance record Ballads Of The Revolution while I was in high school. I bought the album at a record store called Go Boy in my neighboring town, Hermosa Beach (an independent record shop went out of business about 10 seconds after I-Tunes was launched). Whenever I popped in that disk and the opening track “Fertile Fields” came on, I could hardly believe it was possible to play a double pedal as fast as Sean Sellers did on that tune. In college, someone finally let me know that Sellers was, in fact, only using a single pedal. I didn’t believe it at first. Luckily, I was going to UC Santa Cruz, which afforded me many opportunities to catch Good Riddance in their hometown (they usually played Palookaville, which also went out of business). The first time I caught the band, sure enough, there sat a solitary single pedal behind Sean’s bass drum.
Now step forward eight years later after those Palookaville shows. Just like an Aborigine praying for rain in the desert, I finally came to my senses in Seattle, focused my eyes 50 feet in front of me, and found one Sean Sellers walking with one Brooks Wackerman. Sellers was playing with The Real McKenzies (and was wearing a kilt to prove it [really!]), and Wackerman was, of course, was throwing down behind Bad Religion. I ran up to them and asked for interviews. Brooks agrees to do the interview that day, Sean said that he was pretty busy, and asked me to find him over the next couple days.
About an hour later Setoff was to be one of the first groups to perform on the Kevin Says Stage that day (they change show times every day). They asked all of the drummers to share a drum kit (minus cymbals and snare) that traveled with the stage, which every drummer, of course, agreed to do (in hindsight it was more of a rhetorical question). They proceeded to take out this thrashed kit that looked like it had just been dragged through the mud, and asked me to tune it. When I finally got the lug nuts partially tightened and hit the drum, I was expecting the worst. I was blown away by how huge and amazing the toms and bass drum sounded. This was my introduction to Shine Drums, as I would tell the company owner, Sean, many times later. On this tour, his drums had taken a violent beating from the last two months on the road, and they still sounded incredible. (Believe it or not, they’re not paying me to write this--his drums just sounded that good!)
As our group started performing there were very few people watching us, but my heart was racing regardless (I had been waiting three months for these shows). Two songs later, there was a big enough group of about 20 or 30 people dancing around in a circle pit. But…we made the mistake of playing a mid tempo song when the small audience was feeling more on the rambunctious side of things. They stopped moving, and half of them took off. A couple songs later as I finally came to my senses, we were told our 25-minute time slot was done. I get off the stage and start rushing back to the publicity booth for my second or third interview of the day.
Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Two
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
Learning To Respect The Crew
I had fallen asleep effortlessly that particular evening (before we backed in to a mailbox) precisely because Setoff had cut their Warped Tour teeth in Seattle’s Gorge Amphitheatre earlier that day. A couple hours after daybreak as our van pulled into one of the most beautiful venues in the United States, we quickly found out that we had no fucking clue whatsoever about what was going on. Hundreds of people were walking around. You couldn’t tell who were employees, who were band members, and who was just sitting around. Everyone’s so busy with what they were doing that no one can tell you exactly what’s happening. Every day is a new location on the Warped Tour. It’s kind of like a circus--you arrive, the tent and stages fly up, and the show goes on.
At long last, we found the stage we’re supposed to perform at. I made the mistake of asking the stage manager and soundman for a little bit of direction. They made it very clear, very quickly that there was no reason whatsoever that I should be bothering them. Over the next eight days I would learn that a good rule of thumb at The Warped Tour for no-name bands, such as Setoff, is that it’s better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask any question at all. I can honestly say after playing eight dates over two years, that the people working the Kevin Say’s and Skate stages are some of the most quality people you’ll ever meet in your life. However, one should place the word “eccentric” next to the adjective “quality” to make the sentence a little more appropriate, keeping in mind that certain types of personalities are better suited for manual labor jobs (such as setting up stages), where there is always way too much work to be done in way too little time, on way too little sleep the night before. If you have the privilege of setting up a stage with them--they’ll give you a warning before you lift any piece of metal, which triggers a reflex in their heads where they immediately impart an anecdote about some kind of crazy accident or experience that happened to them while on the road. It took me a while to realize that these are great people who have a job to do, and it stresses them out when others are constantly asking something of them. But, I indeed had to learn this lesson, which was not evident upon our arrival said morning. Had you asked me that particular day, I would told you they were some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life (and I would have been very wrong).
We unloaded our equipment, and I was immediately off on my second task at hand--find the publicity booth. In addition to playing The Kevin Say’s Stage, I was there to interview the drummers playing the Warped Tour.
Publicity was equally a nightmare. Every question I asked was answered with a scowl. “Well how do I arrange an interview?” I asked. The hired publicist, who’s being paid to contact the band members about interviews, at long last, decides that, although it’s beneath her, she will actually try to contact some of band members about interviews. She is not happy about this, mind you, and makes it very clear that she does not like me. “Well, you should just go up to the drummers and ask them for interviews,” she tells me after a few failed attempts to contact the musicians herself. Her tone makes it very clear that what she is actually doing, in reality, is inviting me to go fuck myself. Alright, I can take a hint. I walk outside. (Note: over the next few years I would run into this woman at other Warped Tours, and at events like NAMM Show—just like the stage managers, she was a real nice person who just had way too much she was trying to get done.)
Lost Letters And Dead Batteries
By Eric Kamm Published October 16, 2009
Playing The Warped Tour: Part One, Day One
I’ve spent some time on the road, but still, there are evenings when it’s easier from me to fall asleep while the van is moving. This particular night, I was out the second I laid down on the vehicle’s floor (in the space between the two bench seats [on which two other people were sleeping]). We were driving from Seattle to Portland, and it was probably between 2 and 3 A.M.. I was half awakened when the bassist, Matt, pulled onto a dirt road and the van started shaking. Now I didn’t know where we were, but I definitely knew that there were no dirt roads we were supposed to be traveling on.
When you are on a DIY tour, you play a lot of bars and basement shows (the latter mostly back East). You’re surviving on pennies, and the only way to make enough money to pay for gas is to play every night, which often results in late night drives from dusk till dawn. For safety reasons, you always have one person driving, and one person riding shotgun—that is, talking to the driver, making sure that he’s awake.
Now Nino, the vocalist in our group, has fallen asleep at band practice before while sitting a few feet away from my drums (while I’m playing them) and a couple of screaming guitar amps. What’s even more comforting is that there's a fifty-fifty chance of Nino falling asleep within five minutes of sitting down while he’s on Shotgun Duty. I awoke this particular evening to find that Nino was half awake, typing away on his Palm Pilot/internet phone (your odds are slightly worse, at about sixty percent, that Nino will doze off while giving directions from his computer phone), sleep talking directions to Matt, and letting him know that he should turn around. Matt puts the van in reverse.
All of a sudden. WHACK!, out of the blue.
And then I was completely awake.
Matt had backed into a metal mailbox. We all stood there in silence for a few seconds. My lost Christian upbringing momentarily surfaced as the slip popped out of my mouth “Do you think we should leave a note or something?” Felony Ron, owner of the label helping us out Felony Records, and esteemed and inveterate Road Pirate, came to his senses quicker than the rest of us. “GO, GO, GO!” he shouted (you earn your nickname where we come from). And once again we were off into the night.