Revamped Warped Tour finds new energy

Targeting specific age groups fuels growth in popularity

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If you go

• What: The Vans Warped Tour, featuring more than 70 bands.

• When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 5.

• Where: Rose Quarter Riverfront, 1183 N. Thunderbird Way, Portland.

• Cost: $31.50 through Cascade Tickets, 855-227-8499 or cascadetickets.com.

• Information: vanswarpedtour.com.

Three years ago, Warped was a summer festival tour in transition. Even though the traveling festival devoted to all styles of modern rock had celebrated its 15th year in 2009 and had become the longest-running festival tour in history, even the tour's organizer, Kevin Lyman, admits there was good reason to wonder if Warped was close to having run its course.

The next year, Lyman began to reinvent Warped tour, hoping to revitalize the tour and keep it relevant and successful for the future.

Today, it appears that he has succeeded, even though some in the music industry feared Warped was doomed.

"Brett Gurewitz (of Bad Religion and head of Epitaph Records) told me one day, he saw me and he said, 'I didn't know if you could do it. I personally didn't think (so). I thought it was over,'" Lyman recalled in an early June phone interview. "And he walked up to me, and he said, 'You totally did it.' And that was two years ago."

What Lyman realized was that some acts that had been mainstays — groups like Bad Religion and NOFX — were no longer right for Warped. Those groups had grown older, as had their fans. But the early Warped following hadn't stayed with the tour as they aged.

"Hey, the average 45-year-old doesn't want to stand in a parking lot for nine hours through Pierce the Veil to see Bad Religion," Lyman said.

In a nutshell, Lyman determined that the Warped tour draws two major age groups — kids from 13 to 19 (which makes up about 70 percent of the audience) and young adults around 24 to 30.

The 90-plus acts that will play all or portions of this summer's tour, which wraps up Aug. 5 at the Rose Quarter in Portland, skew toward two specific groups of bands.

For the fans entering their teens and high school years, the lineup features such buzz-worthy emerging acts as Ballyhoo, Breathe Carolina, Machine Gun Kelly, Miss May I, Skinny Lister and We Are The In Crowd.

For the slightly older young adult fans, the bill includes established bands such as Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, the Used, Yellowcard, Senses Fail and Anti-Flag.

"They're not the kids anymore. They're the legends of Warped Tour," Lyman said.

The improved health of the Warped tour is reflected in the ticket sales for the past three years. In its glory years, the tour usually moved about 600,000 tickets. That number, according to Lyman, dipped to 480,000 in 2010.

"Last year, we were back up over 500,000," he said. "And this year, I think were going to do better than that, even."

That sort of popularity is a big why young bands remain eager to play Warped. It's the only modern rock tour playing large outdoor venues in the summer, and it's about the only tour where bands can be discovered by large numbers of fans who wouldn't see them otherwise. Levi Benton, frontman of Miss May I, said getting on Warped is a priority because there aren't many other decent touring options in the modern rock genre for the season.

"It would be impossible to do a venue tour in the summer," he said. "I think that's why usually many bands lay low in the summertime, let the festivals die out and then start up (in the fall)."

Miss May I is one of the younger acts playing the Kia Rio main stage this summer, and Benton thinks having groups like New Found Glory, Yellowcard and Taking Back Sunday on the bill will give his group a chance to play for fans it normally doesn't attract.

"I feel like all of the larger bands are more the legendary bands, not the what's modern or what's the hype right now," Benton said. "I feel like there's going to be a lot of older crowds coming in instead of just the little 13-year-old kids that go to Hot Topic and want to come to Warped tour."

That same demographic works for an older band like Yellowcard, only in the opposite way. And this is a main reason why Yellowcard wanted to be on the bill this summer.

The band, which released its fifth full-length CD, "When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes," last year and has a new CD, "Southern Air," set for release Aug. 14, has been trying to do tours that attract young fans that are new to the band as well as those who became fans on its hit 2003 album, "Ocean Avenue."

The Warped tour is an effective way to reach young fans, Yellowcard singer Ryan Key said.

"There are so many fans coming to the shows, I mean honestly (that say) 'When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes' was their first Yellowcard record," he said. "And so we really feel we still have the ability to capture the hearts, if you will, of younger fans, and we like that and want to keep that up. We're trying to be the best of both things."