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Op-Ed: “The way we communicate is at a pivotal point, and I fear for today’s youth.”—Kevin Lyman

In recent weeks, accusations regarding the activities of some members of the YouTube community have lit up the internet. Because those participants were slated to join this year’s Vans Warped Tour, the controversy got blown up even further, putting the onus on the tour and its founder, KEVIN LYMAN to address what is being done to keep Warped a safe place for both attendees and bands alike.

In this first in a series of three opinion pieces, Lyman discusses how his tour has grown alongside the rise of the internet and how both the stances and attitudes of the online community have impacted people’s lives—and not always for the better.

I want to make it clear that what follows here is my opinion on the state of affairs that directly affects a scene that I not only hold dear, but feel I had a hand in creating, and therefore a responsibility to nurture. I write this as a businessman, producer, music fan, father and a mentor.

One of the reasons I started the Warped Tour 21 years ago was to bring a community together through music. I remember working in the clubs, six to seven nights a week, and watching the bands always being told they would have done better if someone had not played the night before.

This led me to believe if the bands at this level got together and shared fans, they could build an independent scene together. It was risky at that point and nearly did not work out. At this time, a No Use For A Name fan wasn’t necessarily a Sublime fan, which wasn’t necessarily an L7 fan, and on and on. However, when we did start to build the scene, the great thing that came out of it was once the bands met each other, they became fans of each other. This trickled down to their fans, who learned to appreciate each other and new music that they may not otherwise have opened themselves up toward.

This was at the beginning of the internet era. The Warped Tour was one of the first tours to have a website and I remember having to get my first email address. (Yes, it was an AOL one.) I’ve always believed in the internet and championed the network as a great way to reach your fans. Not only to send information to them, but also to learn from them, what they wanted to know and who they wanted to see. The message boards were our conduit to find out what the fans were thinking—and that was great! At times, the message boards could be harsh, at times helpful and supportive. I started to realize that many of the harshest critics never really had any ideas to make it better but just liked to complain, while others really had some good ideas.

Fast forward to 1999, and though the tour had always been an eclectic mix of artists (which included acts like Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, the Alkaholiks, Sugar Ray and Deftones), that year, I decided to feature Blink-182 and a young up-and-coming rapper named Eminem. To this point, please understand the lead bands were always groups like Pennywise, NOFX, Bad Religion and Social Distortion.

The message boards went ballistic. To this day, I will never forget some of the messages that were posted. “I will kill Kevin Lyman the minute I see him,” and every incarnation of “Fuck Kevin Lyman” you can imagine or string together. This was personally devastating and I thought this would be the end of something I cared so much about. I was nervous going into that first show after I read all the vile and hateful words that were thrown around so easily. I actually asked some of the people who wrote the worst things to come talk to me at the show so I could understand what was going on.

I only had one taker. I never will forget when I got to Buffalo and the only person who took me up on that offer met me at the backstage gate. Now you have to remember this is the person who threatened to kill me just a month or so earlier, so I was a little on guard not knowing what would happen and if he would try to carry through on his threat. On the other hand, I think he thought I was going to meet him with a crew and pound him into a bloody mess.

We both looked at each and both let out a relieved chuckle. After inviting him backstage, we started to talk and it dawned on me that what led him to write what he did was his passion for the brand that I started to build. He told me he looked forward to Warped all year because he was picked on in school for being one of the few kids who loved “punk rock,” and other kids would bully him for his passion. I realized right then and there that maybe what I created was becoming a place for people like him to be able to spend day with no judgment and freedom from the everyday problems they may be having at home and school. A place for kids, who, like, as I was once called, are “on the fringe.” We dressed a little different, dyed our hair, didn’t listen to Top 40 radio, and liked our music loud and fast. We all lived fast and thought we were going to die young. Some of us didn’t make it through, but most of us—as well as you—will make it through, too.

The internet is a great tool. We are able to reach you with our message, and bands are able to reach me from around the world. For a while, it seemed like a great relationship.

As the years went by, I noticed the message boards became much more nasty in their general tone and nature. This is when I was given a book called WWW. Stands For World Wide Whiners: How The Internet Is Being Manipulated, by Steve Price. In short, it explains that we have given the whiners of the world a forum beyond the ear of the bartender who was paid to listen to them. Though this book was written in 2007, it is still as relevant today as the day it was written. Once I read this, it made things a whole lot easier to understand. I also realized that when negative comments are posted, they are just the smallest percentage of your overall audience. They can still sting, but in the words of Ice-T, I learned to “pimp past it.” Eventually, we just took the Warped message boards down because a small group used them to complain about everything from the lineup to the pizza they ate last night, to why is the sun going to be out on the day of their show.

Fast-forward to the era of “social media.”  All we talk about is social media and how it is the way to reach your audience and for people to communicate it different ways. My first exposure was when I met the people who started Myspace and they explained their platform was going to be a great place for people to gather, share their interests, and how music would be a big part of this. I thought any way to help and promote bands in this world would be great. Since they didn’t have any money, I waived the booth fee, since I thought it was important to the audience. This turned into a great relationship and proved that waiving a fee once in a while brings greater returns down the road. I thought Myspace would be my partner for as long as I did the tour and things would be great.

However, in this new world, everything is accelerated and brands get hot and then they are not. Before I knew it, I was hearing about Facebook and how everyone was leaving Myspace and we needed to be on Facebook. Then it was Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat, and in the last few months I have been hearing about how Meerkat was going to change the world.

Add to this the new YouTuber revolution. These are kids who communicate through YouTube and are very popular with the 13 to  20-year-old audience that Warped speaks to. I learned about them and invited a few over to my office. I realized they had a passion for music and invited them on the road in 2014. I wasn’t quite sure how this would work out, but thought that maybe by bringing some of them off the internet to a live audience, they would find a place within the tour. They interviewed bands and shot short pieces for the website. I also saw they had rabid fans just like many of the bands that were out on the road.

The reason I am writing this is because I have been around since the beginning of the internet era and I feel we have now entered what I am calling the “Dark Era.” It all started with Isanyoneup.com and the rise of Hunter Moore, a true predator who used the internet to take advantage of kids within this scene. When I was one of the first to speak out against him, I saw how he tried to destroy myself and my family for trying to stop what he was doing. It took some time, but from what I know, he has now taken up residence in a federal prison, as the laws against cyberbullying have gained traction and carry weight in court.

In the last year, I have seen things change drastically for the worse. The way we communicate is at a pivotal point, and I fear for today’s youth. It started when we began to announce bands for this year’s tour. I started doing the weekly announcements a few years back in the hopes of exposing people to new music and to emphasize the broad nature of what they may see that following summer should they choose to attend. Each week, we would announce a group of bands, and instantly, the response from people was not to give them a listen, but to throw that vile and bile out that I remembered coming forth in 1999.

I actually started to question if maybe it was time to end Warped Tour and move on with my life. However, as it was pointed out once before, this is ultimately only a small fraction of a percent of the people who we were reaching: The greatest thing most of them had probably accomplished was the ability to take a selfie. With that in mind, I think Warped still stands for what it originally did: a place for many to come, to meet friends, support charities, learn something, discover something, get motivated to do something great and have a great, fun day in the sun.

The other thing I have seen this year is the new “court of the internet.” Our country was built on the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, and though our system is flawed, it is still probably one of the best in the world. There is a process and what I have seen is the total breakdown of this process and how it has worked for over 200 years.

It started with the allegations against Front Porch Step. Not one person whom he had interaction with went to the authorities (after I encouraged them myself) or to their parents. I know this is a hard thing, but when I universally hear they don’t trust the police and don’t report this because they fear that nothing will be done, it makes me question what our society has become. When someone from Baltimore, who has lived with this distrust his or her entire life makes that sort of statement, I understand it. However, the majority of the people who have made these claims against musicians, vendors and YouTubers appear to be from backgrounds that don’t fit the typical description of someone who has witnessed police abuse and profiling. If this utter distrust of authority is as prevalent as it appears, we as a society are in a great danger.

I have seen completely innocent people have their names dragged through the mud, as well as some who deserved it. I have also seen some of the hardest working and people of the highest integrity being accused of harboring and protecting pedophiles, which I can assure you, is not being done. This is all new to many of the people in our scene and the bad eggs will be weeded out, but the witch hunt must stop. People will say these are not witch hunts, but I will debate that with anyone, just like I did the kid backstage in Buffalo over a decade ago.

Which leads me to the next topic. The word that people have obviously not read the definition of: pedophile.  I must say, it is being used quite casually these days. This is one of the most vile of words, describing the most vile of people. A true pedophile should be thrown in a cell and the door not locked so the other prisoners can sort it out.

Here is an actual timeline of the growth of the word’s use (via Google Books):

Google Books Mentions of Pedophile

 

By using this word so casually, it will lose its true meaning. Just like the word “fuck,” which when I was growing up, was only used in the most extreme circumstances and really got your attention. Now that word is used in business settings, casual conversation and even has been heard at Sunday dinners. Consider the definition of pedophilia from Wikipedia

Yes, there have been mistakes made and people’s lives have been affected and potentially ruined. However, from the majority of what I have seen and studied, the offenders are guilty in the court of stupidity, not in the court of law. I do encourage anyone who feels they have been threatened or approached in a lewd manner to step forward. This is the only way for true change.

For good and for bad, the internet is part of our lives. I fear for the youth of today because they cannot make a mistake. Those mistakes last forever and can come back anytime to destroy your lives. I have met few that can say they have led a perfect life without any mistakes—I am not one of them. We pay for our mistakes if they are great enough and there is a system to help us sort through this. I implore you to use it.

People ask me what the solution is. I am not sure if it is that simple, but our bands need to have mentors, people who have been around a while, to explain what their actions can lead to. I never thought I would be in this position, but each band on my tours will spend a little time with myself discussing the world we live in, how any action they take can possibly destroy their career and how to navigate the impulses of the road and the life they have chosen. I plan on reaching out to colleagues to create a way for fans to report abuse. This is in its earliest stages, but the plan is to have a safe place where people will respond to each report and it will be investigated to its fullest. There are people who care and we want you to know that.

I also implore the fans to not be persuaded into anything they feel uncomfortable with. Be strong and remember that no means no, and the sooner you make this a part of your vocabulary, the better. Let’s be kinder and more mindful. Ask questions and learn, rather than judging and hating. alt