Vans Warped Tour kick-off event, group photo of some bands with Kevin Lyman in the middle (blocked out somewhat by Burt from The Used).

The Vans Warped Tour kick-off March 29, 2012 at the Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles marked the official call that summer music tour season is about to begin. Coming into its 18th year, it can easily claim the title of the longest running music tour in North America.

Kevin Lyman, founder and director of the tour is well-known in industry circles for thinking outside of box and shaking up the status quo with an in-demand speaking tour each year revolving around how he’s made the Warped Tour (and others) such a success. One of the key ingredients for Warped was understanding the need to create a tour that’s also known for breaking up-and-coming talent within an under-served demographic: Teens stoked on music. The tour normally attracts 600,000 each summer and has become the unofficial “rite-of-passage” for American youth today.

Warped has broken more bands than any other music festival in the world, ranging from past acts such as Eminem, Ice-T, No Doubt, Katy Perry, My Chemical Romance, Blink 182, and tons more.

Kevin Lyman, Founder and Tour Director, sets the stage for what to expect from this summer's Warped Tour--the 18th year on the road.

“You know we’ve turned a corner when I’m telling you that New Found Glory and The Used, who are headlining on the Main Stage this summer, are now the elder statesmen,” said Lyman at the opening announcements for the kick-off event.

Other than the enormous number of bands that play on 8 different stages throughout the day for two and a half months across North America, the Vans Warped Tour is also known for breaking new brands among youth culture. Vans owes much credit to this tour, as well as the legendary Steve Van Doren, who is as much an icon on the road (and off) with young people hoping to catch his autograph as their favorite new artists. Other brands that have achieved fame from the viral effectiveness of this massive tour include former sponsors such as Volcom and Hurley, and current sponsors such as Monster, KIA, and a stable of non-profits such as Keep A Breast, PETA2, Crochet Kids, Feed Our Children Now!, Music Saves Lives, To Write Love On her Arms, and Invisible Children, among others.

As preferences in music have moved into various eclectic subcultures, so too has Warped, which is  renowned as the most eclectic traveling tour with hotly tipped acts in every genre from punk, metal and indie to rock, hip-hop, rap, electronic, reggae and pop. It’s also the best bang for the buck: at $21.99 for pre-sale tickets and $25 at the door, the price has remained the same for years. The pre-sale package also includes a commemorative 3D ticket–which also serves as a jump-the-line early entry pass–a Vans Warped Tour 2012 compilation CD and a 25-cent donation to the Unite the United charity and all service fees.

Overall it’s an incredibly smooth-running operation, despite some 40-plus tour buses and a posse of trucks on the road creating a scene that’s larger than the Barnum and Bailey Circus coming to town. Low ticket prices are part of the scene from a variety of creative strategies such as shows taking place outside of arenas, utilizing underutilized parking lots and grassy fields around an arena rather than playing inside. Kevin’s crew 4 Fini is known for their ability to also get concessions prices down, for example, having all locations on the tour last year offer $3 water. That, along with a new program with Klean Kanteen and water filling stations, there were 40% less medical treatments in 2011.

They also have the $8.50 lunch pass whereby parents can pre-pay for food vouchers which gets their kid a slice of pizza, or burger, side dish and a drink inside the venue with the voucher. Kids can also drop-off their parents at a unique Reverse DayCare tent if they insist on coming to show. Reverse DayCare has become an ingenious way to get first-time festival goers, many of whom don’t have a driver’s license yet, to attend the Vans Warped Tour, not to mention giving parents the option of being at the festival to check-in on their kids.

Dead Sara performs at the kick-off event at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles. This band is a band to watch for the upcoming summer as potential break-out band.

Interestingly the tour is also known for bringing awareness to the forefront of youth culture, helping those in need and being the first tour to consistently use groundbreaking environmental concepts every year on the road. The Warped Eco Initiatives (WEI) range from biodiesel fuel for touring trucks and buses, to environmentally friendly catering for the artists and crew courtesy of Tada! Catering. There’s even a solar-powered sound system on the Kevin Says Stage and the website showcases public transportation options for every tour date and carpool social media apps as well as exotic eco travel contests.

Last week at the kick-off at Club Nokia in downtown LA more announcements were made for what to expect from the Tour this summer, which kicks off its 41-date show in Salt Lake City, UT on June 16th and runs until August 5, ending in Portland, OR. They include a silent disco where up to 400 kids can wear headphones and listen to various DJ’s, creating an area of silent dancers in sync to music; and the addition of an acoustic basement area for bands to showcase their non-amped chops in front of fans.

The multi-stage line-up was also revealed including Rise Against, All Time Low, Taking Back Sunday, Anti-Flag, Yellowcard, The Used, Four Year Strong, New Found Glory, Pierce The Veil, Falling In Reverse, Breathe Carolina and more. While the headliners may be the main reason press picks up on the tour, it’s the indie bands under the radar that get a great deal of attention by the fans. And as the tour travels across the country, viral word-of-mouth will create a maelstrom with at least 2 bands breaking big by the end of the summer.

The kick-off also premiered the documentary “No Room for Rockstars” based on the tour and filmed by Stacey Peralta and the producers of Dogtown and Z-boys, plus a diverse line-up that shows the flavor of what to expect from this summer’s shows including Forever Came Calling, Falling In Reverse, Matt Toka, Dead Sara as well as special performances from tour veterans Yellowcard (acoustic) and The Used.

“The energy at the 18th annual Vans Warped Tour Kick-Off Party was amazing,” said Lyman. “All signs point to a great summer to come in 2012.”