the women of warped tour: a recap
Twenty-four years ago, Warped Tour began and quickly became a huge part of the music industry as we know it. The final cross country run of the traveling tour ended earlier this month, and out of over fifty bands on the full final lineup, only four of them included female members. Wait, what?
No, that’s not a mistake. And I went into the final year with this fact lingering in the back of my mind. I’ve been going to and volunteering at Warped every year since I was fifteen, and I’ve been feeling more disappointed each year by the consistent lack of female performers on the tour.
Of course, the underrepresentation on the stages doesn’t tell the whole story. Those who have performed, volunteered, and worked on the tour know that the women behind the scenes are the backbone of Warped.
I sat down with a few of the female artists that played the tour this summer, who shed some light on just how amazing the feminine force is within Warped.
Jess Bowen, who played this year drumming for 3OH!3, has been on and off the tour since 2010 with her former band The Summer Set. “When it comes to Warped Tour, I’ve never felt underrepresented,” she told me. “Maybe onstage because of the lack of female performers, and obviously the lack of female drummers. But I’ve actually noticed the shift more, because I think there’s three or four of us female drummers this year, whereas my first year on Warped I was the only one.”
“But when you look behind the scenes of Warped Tour, it’s run by women,” she continued. “They do the schedule, and there are female tour managers, and it’s very empowering and interesting to see all these male bands kind of answering to mostly women behind the scenes.”
Jess Bowen (Drummer for 3OH!3 on the final Vans Warped Tour)
In addition to the rarity of female drummers, there’s also the lack of female vocalists, particularly in the hardcore genre. Lauren Kashan of Sharptooth was the only hardcore vocalist on the final year of Warped.
“It gives me a lot of responsibility when I get onstage, being the only frontwoman in my genre playing Warped,” Lauren said. “There’s not enough representation. I’m going to keep talking about that during our sets until all the other bands talk about the issue too.”
Lauren Kashan, vocalist of Sharptooth
Strides have been taken in the past, however, to get more female artists performing on Warped. In 2004, Shiragirl crashed the tour and was invited back by founder Kevin Lyman the following year in 2005 to set up the Shiragirl Stage, with the goal of showcasing more female bands.
“The response was amazing,” Shira told me. “We proved that people do want to hear female artists and musicians. We had an amazing response from young girls coming up and saying they thought the stage was so cool and they loved our band and they wanted to start bands because of us. It was an honor to inspire the next generation.”
The Shiragirl Stage went on to host over 250 female bands including Paramore on their first ever tour, as well as the legendary Joan Jett. For the final year of Warped, the Shiragirl Stage returned to several dates including Pomona, San Diego and Ventura.
This year, the only all-female band that played the whole tour start to finish was Doll Skin. Fronted by 18 year old Sydney Dolezal, the band understood their responsibility to the young female fans in the crowd.
Sydney Dolezal, vocalist of Doll Skin
“We’re the only band some of these young girls see onstage and can relate to,” Sydney told me. “It’s a huge honor being here representing young women specifically, trying to be as powerful as possible and as inspiring as possible so that can change.”
“It is, however, disappointing to see Warped take a step back this year from having so many awesome female bands on last year’s lineup,” she continued. But again, there are so many women behind the scenes. “I was talking to the woman who started Ta Da!, Warped’s catering company, who has been doing this since the tour started. She said things have completely flipped -- in the beginning, there were a ton of female musicians on the tour, but she was the only woman in production. And to see how many women are now working behind the scenes of Warped, is just awesome.”
However, the lack of female artists on the stages, especially this year, is discouraging. Not to mention the problematic men who have played the tour in recent years, and the return of known abusers such as Falling in Reverse’s Ronnie Radke.
Warped Tour has had more than its fair share of drama from men both on and off the stage. Last summer, The Dickies’ frontman called a girl in the crowd a cunt and chanted for her to “BLOW ME! BLOW ME! BLOW ME!” among several other horrendous comments. Why? What did she do to prompt this? She held up a sign that read, “Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men! Punk shouldn't be predatory!" The Dickies issued an empty apology and were “dropped” from the tour - a nearly meaningless rectification, as they were only booked to play the next few shows anyway, rather than the rest of the tour.
Earlier this year, a band called Makeout agreed to train with the nonprofit organization, A Voice For The Innocent. Members of the band were educated by AVFTI about the harmful, misogynistic lyrics in their track, “Secrets.” The band agreed that they shouldn’t play the song, but if they did, they were to leave out the disrespectful lyrics. They went on to play the full summer of Warped this year, ending the summer with a bang by playing the song only on the final day of tour.
But they didn’t stop there. The band quickly followed up their performance with a condescending tweet: “We played Secrets today lolololololol” and much outcry followed on Twitter. Why did they disregard the good work they had done with AVFTI? Why did they take to Twitter to laugh it off? Clearly, as one Twitter user pointed out, the band knew they were doing something wrong here, hence why they only played the song on the final day of tour, so they could not be reprimanded after.
Despite frustrating experiences such as the above, Sydney and the other members of Doll Skin admirably continue to educate patiently whenever they can. “There are also going to be people with good intentions that try to give us a compliment by saying things like they think we’re a ‘good girl band’, but we’ve been trying really hard this tour to educate instead of getting mad. We’ve had people come up to us and say, ‘I’ve never been a fan of girl bands or girls in bands before,’ and we’re like, ‘Why? They’re musicians. You don’t have to see them as girls in bands. You can just see them as musicians.’ And they just honestly hadn’t considered that before and were thankful for the way we approached their comments.”
Lauren of Sharptooth also elaborated on this. When I asked about her experience playing on a male-dominated tour such as Warped, she said, “Well on one hand, I’m just a person touring with other people making music, and at the end of the day that’s all it is. We’re just artists working together. Of course you’ll come across sexist people on the road, but everyone we’ve toured with is great and Warped Tour has been amazing. Almost all of Warped Tour’s production staff are women, so it is a very feminine inclusive space.”
But for most female artists playing distinguished tours like Warped, the good outweighs the bad. Sydney detailed the highlights of Doll Skin’s experience this summer:
“One of the best parts of being here is having girls come up and tell us they’ve been inspired by us to start a band, or to pursue art so they can draw us. It’s so amazing,” she gushed. “And there’s so much room here! If you want to be a part of the industry, there are so many positions out here on top of just performing. Actually, we usually have an all female crew!”
Although at first glance the final run of the Vans Warped Tour appeared to be a prime example of the inequality women face in the music industry, this isn’t entirely true. There are so many powerful women behind the scenes. And the ladies on the stage, although outnumbered by the male performers, are empowering as hell.
We’ll be crossing our fingers that the next tour that arises in place of Warped favors deserving female artists, or at least tries to book an even split. The next generation needs to see more female role models on the stage. But for now, we’re grateful for the inspiring few that have played the Vans Warped Tour, as well as the badass female crew behind the scenes.
Jenna McDougall, vocalist of Tonight Alive, who also played the final year of the Vans Warped Tour
Violet Foulk is a music industry professional, coffee addict, photography junkie and dog lover based in Massachusetts. She manages a bakery by day, while also making time to freelance in music publicity, shoot live shows, and interview badass female musicians and creatives. After growing up in a small beach town near Cape Cod, she moved to NYC for college and stuck around for a couple years to work in music PR, before heading back to Massachusetts where she's currently having a blast. Follow her on Insta: @violetfoulk