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Warped Tour turns 20 with eyes focused on next 20 years

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Kevin Lyman isn't spending too much time celebrating the Vans Warped Tour's 20th anniversary.

He's too busy thinking about the next 20 years.

Lyman launched the package in 1995 as a "punk rock summer camp" and a way to put bands on the road that didn't have the kind of financial support or exposure more mainstream rock acts received. It's since become an annual part of the summer touring landscape, maintaining its popularity -- Lyman says attendance has been "stable" compared to previous years' -- and holding its value with a comparatively low ticket price for its wealth of music (more than 90 acts on nine stages this year), giveaways and opportunities to mingle with performers.

"It's still the backyard party for a generation of kids," Lyman notes.

Nevertheless, Lyman says that "I'm not doing a whole lot" to commemorate Warped's two-decade run. "We're trying to stay current; that's what's going on now, to be honest," he explains. "We have a tent out here that has a bunch of photos, which is kind of cool. It's fun to stop by and look at the bands who were all kids when they played this tour.

"Other than that, we've just got to stay relevant and current and as forward-thinking as possible to stay in tune with the kids. That takes every bit of our energy. There's so many festivals out there now and the challenges of people and their entertainment dollars being pulled in so many different directions. A good name and a good track record isn't enough to insure they'll keep coming back."

Music is the key component in that campaign, of course. Over the years being on Warped Tour has helped break acts such as Sublime, No Doubt, deftones, Limp Bizkit, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Sugar Ray, Paramore, Chiodos and even Katy Perry, whose shrewd decision to be part of Warped in 2008 gave her a level if hip credibility some of her pop peers never achieved. Kid Rock and Eminem also logged time on Warped's stages, while southern California punkers Less Than Jake recently played their 365th Warped show and Bowling For Soup makes it a part of their annual touring schedule.

Warped has added more hip-hop and EDM to its lineup over the years, and Lyman identifies this year's breakouts so far as including headbangers Issues and For All Those Sleeping, as well as alt rockers Ecosmith.

This year's Warped Tour has incorporated more non-profit groups, and it's also instituted a policy of free admission for parents accompanying minors. "It's funny; some of the parents were kids who came to the first Warped Tours," says Lyman, 53, whose 19- and 15-year-old daughters are part of the Warped staff this summer. Periodically changing venues also helps keep the festival fresh, and he's been particularly pleased with the tour's move to the Palace in 2012 after several years at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.

"I think that's worked out well," Lyman says. "I like the Palace. They're nice to work with. To be honest, I think a lot of the kids that come to Warped tour are comfortable going to the Palace, and with our demographic there was a wariness from parent about leaving their kids in downtown Detroit."

The kids, of course, are always the future of Warped Tour, and Lyman says his other goal has been to grow a staff that will be able to help him continue Warped's run for another 20 years -- and beyond.

"We've got a lot of kids out there working, a second generation that's working on the tour," he explains. "They're showing the passion for the tour that maybe I had -- or still have, really. But I always say it's not going to be one of my peers; it's going to be our children who will take over, if it's really meant to happen. We'll see."

Vans Warped Tour

11 a.m. Friday, July 18

The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills

Tickets are $23.50-$37.50 in advance, $45 day of show. Parents accompanying minors (under 18) get in free

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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