Like the burning bush on Mount Sinai, there may be no better authority to dole out the Ten Commandments of music festivals than Kevin Lyman.
"At one point I was literally doing 320 shows a year," says the veteran independent promoter, who for 35 years has produced everything from skateboard events to wine shows and music festivals. Lyman ran his own SoCal-based production company where he worked with Goldenvoice when it was still independent, as well as fests including Lollapalooza, Coachella and, of course, his signature Vans Warped Tour, which launched in 1995 with primarily punk bands and extreme sports.
Now in its 23rd year, Warped is one of the most successful festivals of its kind -- and one of the most difficult to mount. This year it launches June 16 in Seattle and will feature some 90 bands, (including GWAR, Anti-Flag, War On Women, New Years Day, Jule Vera, Save Ferris, Sick Of It All, Hatebreed and The Adolescents, full line-up here) along with hundreds of vendors and sponsors who must load in and out almost daily for over 40 dates in the sweltering summer heat.
Lyman first began booking shows in College at Cal Poly Pamona. "We used to rent the backyards of fraternity houses and it was five bands for five bucks and all the beer you could drink," the 56-year-old promoter recalls. "When the beer would run out we'd bail out and call the cops on our own show," he says laughing. "But everyone got paid."
When asked what's hardest about putting on festivals these days, Lyman says he's "getting tired of being the one who has to run towards the lightning. All these years between Lollapalooza, Warped and every other festival I've done, I've always had to run towards the lightning because it's my responsibility to make sure the fans are safe and my crew is safe." He says in recent times weather has become more extreme.
Lyman was named 2009's Billboard Touring Awards Humanitarian of the Year, twice honored at the Grammy/MusiCares MAP Fund Gala and inducted into the Top Dog Touring Hall of Fame.
Here then is the fest veteran's Ten Commandments of Festivals.
1 // THOU SHALT GO FORTH EARLY, DISCOVERETH AND BE MERRY
Don't judge a festival by its headliners. A casual festival fan may, but the true festival aficionado starts at the bottom and works their way up, building their schedule from when the doors open to the top. It's is always a badge of honor to say "you saw them there first."
The people booking the festival have the best sense of future talent. And those lower stages are heavily curated and they try to bring something. That could be artists like Katy Perry or in the last few years Echosmith, Bebe Rexha or G Eazy-- all of who now sell-out larger venues but once were on the smaller stages.
Learn about the bands before you go. I study the lower parts and find four or five of those bands I want to see. I like to get that "whoa" and have a sense of discovery. That's how festivals were originally developed in this country. Those bands could be the headliners and they are the future of the business.
Don't be afraid to go in the heat of the day sometimes and take the evening off. I'm not working Coachella anymore, but to this day my wife and I will be the first ones at the doors cruising around on our bicycles to each stage and checking out bands all afternoon. And then we leave at eight or nine o'clock to beat the traffic.
2 // THOU SHALT BUYETH TICKETS DIRECT
Be sure you are buying direct and not immediately being directed to a broker. It's amazing how many people email me and complain they were charged this much for a ticket and when you do the research they were either re-directed or tricked by the ticketing company into buying a more expensive ticket.
Also, beware of buying on the streets. There are always people selling out there and many times they're fakes. It really puts us in a weird situation when you get to the gates with a fake ticket. I tend to be nice and figure out a way to help you, but most places you just get sent packing, losing out on your money and the show.
When you first go clicking through a website it used to be it would come up as the cheapest available tickets. But now days it will come up as a sliding scale. People don't know. Or it won't advertise the cheapest ticket first. A lot of times I get kids going, "I just paid $69 for my Warped Tour ticket" and I go on and see that they haven't clicked the cheapest available.
We use multiple ticketing companies because we work with the local promoters but the transparency is usually there. So slow down and make sure you're getting the best deal on the ticket that you're buying.
3 // THOU SHALT BOOKETH THINE LODGING NOW
Get your lodging situation sorted out immediately, don't hesitate. Lock it in and if you find something you can usually cancel within a certain amount of time. I have seen some hotel rates and homes rates dropping closer to the shows lately so if you can cancel you may find a deal.
You saw that at Desert Trip. There were quite a few tickets because people started to realize if you didn't have a place to stay, they were gonna charge you $400 to stay in Temecula [nearly 2 hours from Indio, CA]. When you buy that ticket get your lodging on hold right away.
As soon as cities know about a festival, the lodgings are jacked-up. That's one of the reasons I took over the camping for Paul [Tollett, head of Golden Voice] at Coachella. I told him at a BBQ at my house, "Paul if you don't have camping at Coachella you'll lose this festival because it's going to be the only affordable place for people to stay because people start gauging."
[Airbnb's] are onto it too and they jack up the rates. Some of the lodging prices are coming down a bit because they went so high on those rental houses. The public is pushing back on how high they put them up at. I saw that for Stagecoach. But the economics of these things are changing.
4 // HONOR THINE FESTIVAL PARTNER
Make sure you are going with people that you are compatible with. Or just decide there's going to be times when you separate. Don't think you can hang out all the time together. You may want to see other bands or maybe one of you has seen a band before and wants to see someone else..
When I was running the campgrounds at Coachella I saw more relationships end because festival goers were not on the same page on how they saw their festival experience being. The boyfriend wanted to sit around drinking beers and the girlfriend wanted to check out the latest DJ in the Sahara tent at 1 a.m.
Then you have the spiteful hookup. Then they're fighting in the campgrounds and you have to go break it up in the middle of the night. I've had to do some domestic settlements and things like that.
5 // THOU SHALL BREAK FAST AND HYDRATE THYSELF
Every day there are two or three kids who pass out before doors and you go, "Did you eat your breakfast did you drink any water?" And they're like, "No." Start Hydrating three days ahead of time and if you are going to drink alcohol. Drink one glass or bottle of water to one drink. We put this all on our websites on preparing to go to an all-day festival. Eat breakfast, drink water.
We don't tend to go outside for nine hours a day on a hot day. And all of a sudden you go out there without preparing for it and your body just shuts down on you. Dehydration starts early. It's one of those things that when you're very very thirsty, you're already dehydrated.
6 // HONOR THE SUN, FOR IT IS HOT
I know you just got a great dye job, or style for the show but wear a hat. There are some great ones out there and it can save you a nasty burn and sun stroke. Sunscreen 30 and above, you won't look like a 5 year old at the beach if you put it on often. You will still get that great skin tone but might not have to lie on the couch for 3 days afterwards.
I used to get it from parents who would say, "The Warped Tour is such a great financial investment, it's such a good value because I know my kid's gonna go, they're gonna have a great time, they're gonna get sunburn and then they're going to lay on the couch for there days. If i'm sending them to a movie, they're gonna be bored an hour later and ask for more money." There's only so much money for summer fun.
7 // THOU MUST NOT LOSE YOUR CAR
Write down your, parking, bus or shuttle location when you get there. Stick it in your back pocket and go have fun. I have seen so many people lost at the end of the night when it gets dark, dusty, after a few adult libations -- or a combo of all three.
I've done it myself. You jump out of the car and run to the show. Now I count each row and look for about three posts because nothing's worse than walking around a parking lot at night. Sometimes you find people in completely wrong parking lots. Not even a few rows over. And festivals are getting so large and expansive. You go out the wrong gate you can be three parking lots away from your original space.
8 // THINE MERCH BOOTLEGGERS SUCKETH
It might cost you a few dollars more, but the bootleggers hawking on the road do nothing but capitalize on the festival producers and artist's hard work. In this day and age many artists and festival producers only profit comes down to some sponsorship and merchandise money.
All the festivals face the bootleg market. You'll see them on the on-ramps and they follow the tour. They'll be on it for four, five or six cities and follow you all through the mid-west. And then you'll pick up another crew in the Southeast. Some people would say you're just trying to gauge the fans, but there's a lot of work and unfortunately margins on most festival are tight. Usually you come home and hope you come home with some of the sponsorship and merchandise money and that's the end of it nowadays. Festivals are so expensive to produce.
9 // THINE VIP BUYER SHALL BEWARETH
If you shell out money for a VIP experience be sure to get what you paid for. Some people do wonderful jobs and I've seen others who are going for a quick cash grab. Of course the ones doing the cash grab will be gone as their festivals probably will in the next few years. Be vocal if you are not getting what you paid for.
I don't do VIP experiences. The only VIP experiences I do on my tour are charity based. I've gone to some of these festivals they're charging people a lot of money and then the bathrooms are overflowing or they promise food all day long and it's gone. Drinks are gone. Make sure you're getting your value.
10 // VARIETY IS THINE SPICE TO LIFE
Of course you may have your yearly must-go-to festival but pick a new one each year to experience. Make it a center point of your chance to get to visit new places and meet new people. If everyone went to festivals and shared things about their life's the world would be a better place. Festival culture is now a part of American culture.
I actually went to an Azalea Festival in North Carolina and it was a lot of fun. I went to the Rhythm & Blues Festival.I went to the Telluride Blues Festival and that was great. We're a festival family and my wife was like, "Oh great we're going to another festival..."