EXCLUSIVE EARTH DAY INTERVIEW: WARPED TOUR / ROCKSTAR MAYHEM FEST FOUNDER KEVIN LYMAN ON HIS TOURS’ GREEN INITIATIVES
Touring is inherently not eco-friendly. Buses and trucks that burn through gas like Brent Hinds burns through beer, a rabid audience that produces several tons of waste in the form of bottles, cups, etc, bands that use materials that aren’t biodegradable simply because they’re the cheapest available… these are just some of the challenges of keeping things green on the road.
Kevin Lyman, the creator of Warped Tour and The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, has been aboard the green train for years: Warped and Mayhem feature 100% solar powered stages, volunteers from community recycling programs to sort through waste in each city the tour plays, biodegradable kitchen utensils for catering, and more. Read my chat with Kevin about Rockstar Mayhem’s industry-leading green initiatives after the jump.
How did the idea for the green initiatives on the Mayhem Fest come about?
Well it kind of spawned off of my other festival, the Warped Tour. It’s always been in my culture to do this stuff. I grew up in the punk world a lot, and I always felt that hippies and punks weren’t that far apart when you really hung out with them.
I totally agree. It seems like there is some animosity between those two groups.
Yeah, but both of them are looking for change in a way. I came from a town that was more of a hippie town – Claremont, CA. I also started getting exposed to the punk culture and working in that. [Green initiatives have] always been there, with the recycling and those type of things. Then I got into a position with the Warped Tour to actually have some say in things, and it’s nice that it’s been successful for as long as it has been.
About 6 or 7 years ago was when I started learning about bio-diesel and different alternative fuels, and [when I started] trying to do some research on it. We called Willie Nelson “Bio Willie” and they laughed at us at how many trucks we wanted to fill up. We kind of built that network where we fuel onsite now. We actually carry an eco team – a person that kind of coordinates all of the eco projects on that tour. That’s very extensive on that tour. Now we’ve taken bits and pieces of that into the other festivals and tours that I produce.
With the Warped Tour, was it a gradual process?
Yeah, it was gradual. With that tour we built solar stages. We have a solar stage, and I’m building another one now. We worked really hard on that. We used to have to ship in all the biodegradable forks, knives, and cutlery and things. But we worked really hard with Sysco Food Systems, and they now carr those things. You can order it anywhere in the country.
That’s great. I would imagine that that stuff is not as cheap as the other stuff.
No, no. We are committed — even the year that bio-diesel went crazy a couple of years ago and a lot of the dealers were gouging a little bit. We stuck with it and we were paying up to $6 a gallon one summer.
Wow. So does that come out of the profit of the tour?
Yeah, it’s straight out of the profit. You can’t change the ticket price on the fans — not that I would, I’m not that kind of person. It just comes out of the profit of the tour.
Absolutely not. Do you have to make some other concessions to accommodate that?
Not really, no. I just made less money.
Trust me, my accountants weren’t too happy with me that summer. They were trying to talk me out of it and I said “if you’re going to walk the talk, then you’ve got to back it up.” We’re going to invest a chunk of this profit to keep our mission.
You mentioned bio-diesel; what are some other green initiatives that you’re taking on again this summer?
On Mayhem, I will continue with reducing the footprint as much as possible. With touring you definitely cannot be 100% efficient on it. We do a recycling program onsite whether it’s volunteers coming onsite or encouraging sorting onsite with Waste Management (who do provide receptacles for sorting backstage). All of the t-shirt companies are encouraged to take all of their cardboard boxes and put them in one place.
Right. Do you find that people actually do this?
I think it’s going to be new… it takes a little bit, but with the Warped kids now we get 20-25 kids who come down and volunteer at each show and spend the whole day collecting recyclables. We’d like to bring that into the Mayhem mentality. I think we’re pushing it a little bit this year. We have selected vendors that we encourage people to use that do their printing on recycled materials. We prefer vendors that can do the best we do.
From the perspective of the bands, do you think there’s awareness in terms of these green initiatives or do you find that they don’t really care one way or another?
You’ll find certain artists that care. I don’t think it’s universal in anything; I think it’s like the population. We do a thing on Warped . . . I keep going back to Warped because that’s been more developed as we’re trying to integrate it more into my other festivals. We do an eco trip each year at the end of the tour that I pay for that brings the band that shows the best eco processes, the sponsor that does, the crew person that does. So all of a sudden, you’ve got your stage managers recycling things. Guitar stings can be recycled. We have a collection. Batteries are a big thing out on the road — trying to keep the batteries from just being thrown in the trashcans. Printing supplies from all the offices.
Yeah. What, if anything, are you doing to increase awareness to people who actually come to these festivals?
Through our websites. We give fans who do participate a raffle ticket for prizes. So you give a kid a bag for recyclables and they’ll go collect them and come back and get a raffle ticket. We give away merchandise and things onsite. We have a passport program on Warped Tour where kids can go get stamps. If you bring in a full book of stamps from going to nonprofit as well as collecting recyclables, you can exchange it for merchandise. We’re trying to make it fun.
Yeah, that’s great. It’s a good place to start. Do you think that there’s something about the more punk-centric community on Warped that would be more receptive to these ideas than in the metal community on Mayhem, or is it just that Warped is more established?
That one is more established. I think that Mayhem is now developing into a community and we can actually go to these people year-round and they’re looking for more ways to get involved instead of coming to see three bands.
What’s the next step? How can you take things to the next level?
I just think developing more of these stages. They’re very expensive to build, and we’re investing in another solar stage this summer.
Yeah. Those must be incredibly expensive. I can’t even imagine it.
Yeah, it’s an investment of $125,000 – 150,000 to build one.
Is that something that you can go and rent out to other people? Do you own the stage?
The one we’re building now, the staging company that I’m partnering on it with, is developing it so that it can be used in community events throughout the year. The other one is pretty specific to our tour.
Is it actually 100% powered by solar energy?
Yes, and when you’re traveling down the road, it’s got a big pack of recycled batteries with an alternator that powers the batteries. If you run into three rainy days in a row you can kind of get through it. The truck that pulls it runs on bio-diesel.
It’s actually charging even when it’s in the truck. When it’s not in use it’s actually charging all of the time as long as the sun is out.
That’s great. I really think it’s great that you’re doing this thing. I have not heard of any other festivals or touring bands that . . .
Someone that’s probably done it pretty good is probably Jack Johnson. He’s got a pretty extensive program.
There’s always going to be better ways to do it, and each year it’s always trying to find one new thing to try out.
Yeah. You touched on this earlier: how do you reconcile the fact that touring is inherently not very eco-friendly?
Because you’re moving so quickly, and a lot of times people are in a big rush so it becomes how to do this in a cheapest way. You have to be willing to go back and invest back into your product.
Yeah, absolutely. I definitely commend you guys for doing this.
Alright. I appreciate it.