Op-Ed: Warped Priorities

Posted: by Hannah

Blink-182 couldn’t wait for summer and the Warped Tour, but would they have seen “her” there if she stayed home because she didn’t want to attend a festival that supported the idea that she shouldn’t control her own her body, hosted violent and abusive performers, and ultimately did not prioritize attendee’s safety? I’m not too cool for Warped Tour and this isn’t an edgy article complaining about a commercialized festival; it’s an open conversation about the issues with Warped Tour and why we need to address them.

Maybe you’re a fan of Warped Tour and have had never had to question their practices; I too lived in that bubble until the news about Front Porch Step surfaced last year. After months of sexual assault and misconduct accusations, Warped allowed Jake Mcelfresh aka Front Porch Step to play the Nashville date. I felt sick to my stomach at the news because it meant a music festival which is supposed to be a safe place for young music fans, was no longer so safe. There was no warning of this appearance until the day of, which meant anyone who would have decided not to go didn’t get the chance to make that personal decision. According to Warped founder Kevin Lyman, the set was a part of Mcelfresh’s therapy. While it’s encouraging to hear that someone is getting help, that help shouldn’t jeopardize safety of attendees without their consent.

I must say, I do not believe Warped Tour has anything but good intentions. At its core, Warped is just a large tour across the country. But this simple idea is far more complex than most of us can imagine when you consider sponsorships, travel, food, crew, and more. I think it’s important to recognize that even though Kevin Lyman is the name the public has focused on, any and all problems shouldn’t be directly blamed on him. There are larger issues to address in our “scene” that Warped is just a microcosm for. These issues need to be discussed and remedied so that music festivals can become a welcoming place for all fans.

This year I spent 4 dates of Warped begging to be proven wrong about these safety concerns. However, my hopes were dashed as soon as I saw the pro-life “Rock For Life” tent, which has somewhat become the symbol of the issues with this summer’s tour. The tent was being run exclusively by men when I saw it, and they were advocating the banning of abortions, even in the case of rape. Personally I don’t think the issue with the tent is that it is too conservative or doesn’t fit the tour. The issue is that this organization makes women feel guilty and unsafe. You can personally be against abortion, but the “pro-life” rhetoric organizations like Rock For Life spread is really anti-choice. It tells women that they do not deserve the ability to decide what to do with their body. Not only is this not a viewpoint a punk rock fest should be promoting, it is an oppressive viewpoint in general.

Perhaps it is true that no pro-choice non-profits applied to be on the tour, but having the Rock For Life association at the event with no opposing viewpoints represented created the illusion of endorsement, which the organizers should have realized. There have been pro-choice organizations added since then, but this gets back to the primary issue: Warped Tour is not as welcoming as it should be. Hosting Rock For Life was unnecessary.

If there is a particular example of the problems with Warped Tour, it is Ronnie Radke. That he was asked to be on the tour at all astounds me considering his history of violence and abuse. If you’re not aware of this Radke’s past, his present is enough reason to call for his removal from Warped. Recently when he was approached about posting uncredited photos on Instagram he responded “stop stealing pictures of myself? Go sit on a gun you fucking pussy.” First off, he’s saying that he is allowed to steal pictures of himself when that picture is the property of the photographer. I cannot imagine his outrage if someone stole one of his songs without credit. Secondly, he was telling someone to go kill themselves. Lastly, using “pussy” as a derogatory term implies that women are weaker than men. He’s the exact type of person making Warped so unwelcoming and unsafe.

While the Rock For Life tent, Ronnie Radke, and some sexist catcallers had my hopes crushed, it is important to remember that things at Warped Tour are not all bad. My faith in the future was restored when I volunteered for Hope For The Day. It is one of the many great non-profits on Warped this year and focuses on suicide prevention and an open conversation on mental health / illness. Throughout the day parents and teens came to the tent to thank HFTD for being there, to tell their story, to ask our stories, and to just be told that it is okay not to be okay. Watching the founder, Jonny, talk before sets so boldly about an issue that is too often kept hidden in shame made me remember why music is such an important community and why it needs to be protected. After talking to someone who said that Warped is a place where they didn’t feel judged for having past self-harm scars, I wanted to make sure not to give up on this scene or this tour because there’s a real power here when it is used for good.

The non-profits definitely stand out more at Warped this year and there are some important ones that contrast all the negativity. A Voice For The Innocent is an organization that supports those affected by rape and sexual abuse, provide an anonymous space for sharing stories and fostering strong relationships between people who have had similar experiences. Their current Save Our Scene campaign includes taking a pledge to reduce sex crimes, educating bands and fans with material, being a resource on-site and more. In light of past and present, the non-profit having complete support from Warped is encouraging. These non-profits and others, as well as bands who are talking about social issues such as Issues, Like Pacific, and Knuckle Puck make Warped still feel like a place you can be yourself.

This exploration of Warped Tour and its problems is not to meant point fingers, but instead to question issues within the tour so that they can be addressed, and I encourage you to do the same. If you do not feel safe attending Warped Tour for any reason at all: DO NOT GO and tell their founders and management, why so they at least have the chance to improve it. Taking action is important but that looks different for everyone; whether you start a petition, volunteer for a cause, speak up from stage, even just go on a twitter rant to your followers, it is important to do something no matter how small. We can not forget that the music scene is supposed to be safe and at no point should we as a community give up on protecting that. Being dissatisfied is not enough, we all should take action so that Warped and shows in general may become the awesome place we want them to be.

–  Hannah

Editor’s Note – This post is our first official Op-Ed on The Alternative. While all music discussion and reviews are opinion, Op-Ed articles are meant to be a place where our contributors can express their own views and ideas. All stances taken in Op-Ed articles are the opinions of the author and are not meant to represent the opinions of The Alternative. I hope that through these pieces we will be able to open up a discussion on a number of issues. 

               –  Henderson