For fans of punk, metal and alt-rock music, summertime in South Florida means only one thing: It’s time for the Vans Warped Tour.
Since 1995, this crazy traveling festival founded by Kevin Lyman has celebrated an alternative lifestyle heavy on tattoos, piercings, skateboarding and cutting-edge rock, with a bit of global consciousness thrown in.
Every year, the festival — which in the past has helped break through major acts such as Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry and No Doubt — achieves a winning mix of veteran bands and up-and-coming acts, and thus has been affectionately dubbed “punk-rock summer camp.” It’s also been named “Best Tour/Festival” from 2009-12 by Alternative Press mag’s readers. First-timers invariably marvel at the grueling tour schedule and changing set times from day to day — so don’t show up at “headline-act” time, or you might miss your favorite band.
This year, ringmaster Lyman has gathered top modern-rock acts including August Burns Red, Black Veil Brides, blessthefall, Bring Me the Horizon, Chiodos, Memphis May Fire, Motion City Soundtrack, Never Shout Never, Reel Big Fish, Sleeping With Sirens, The Wonder Years, We Came As Romans and many more. But more than any other rock festival, Warped aims to give new bands a platform, a stepping stone to success.
One such act is Miami’s own The Cleopatra Complex, a group that blends rock, reggae and electronica fronted by dynamic singer Gea Gamboa, 26, a self-described “hard-rock chick.”
“The tour is pretty crazy for being the first national tour that I got thrown into,” she said. “No one stops moving from 8 a.m. to like 10 p.m., and then you’ve gotta drive. But meeting new people and new fans — that’s what it’s all about.”
Gamboa’s first go’round with the Vans tour might not have happened without the support of her peers.
“We were signed to Working Group Management , and they have some bands that are here on the Warped Tour,” she said, “and they kind of slipped the music over to Kevin and he liked the stuff and put us on his stage. He was really cool about it.”
Lyman, who originally intended the Vans tour to be a one-time deal, still sounds like a kid on Christmas morning when talking about the lineup.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said, “and when you see the crowds lining up each day, you say this is a cool lineup with a lot of bands that we need to get to know and embrace.”
Lyman is notorious for switching up the bands’ schedules, so that no one knows their set times until the morning. So how does he choose each day’s order?
“I just kind of shuffle it around,” he said, “and sometimes gauge it based on if it’s a real hot day like today. I’ll kind of pace the day so that a more active band and the crowd will get a chance to catch their breath. But it’s very random.”
Lyman’s system means that bands must wake up by 9 a.m. to determine their set times for each day. But he insists that the randomness isn’t meant to curtail excess partying.
“Well, no, they’re still partying — everyone’s having a good time,” he said. “But if you knew you were playing at 6 o’clock every day, some of these guys would wake up an hour before their set. And now they’re out there doing signings, meeting people and doing everything they should.”
One band that appreciates this system is post-hardcore headliner Black Veil Brides, featuring singer Andy Biersack — a group that combines death-metal screaming with KISS-like glam makeup and outfits.
“I actually like it, because I train myself to get up earlier and earlier,” says Biersack. “Usually on tour, I sleep until 3 in the afternoon or whatever, but on this tour you’ve got to get up by 9 a.m. to find out when you’re gonna play.”
He’s effusive about the whole concept of the tour: “Warped is all about the best day ever for the fans,” Biersack said, “and it’s definitely something everyone should see.”
Miami's Gea Gamboa of The Cleopatra Complex.