Header photo credit: Jacob Shepherd
Here on Sound of Mind we want debunk myths and get to the truth and reality of things – however difficult – and offer, hope, support, and where possible, solutions. One important aspect we want to cover in depth is tour life, for bands but also those grafting behind the scenes – all integral parts to the functioning and mechanism of travelling live music. Having been part of the most notoriously challenging (but legendary) tours, we wanted to hear honestly from Tori Kravitz, the talented Interviewer and journalist who has been part of Van’s Warped Tour for the last few years. To coincide with the last ever line-up announcement find out how through trial and error she found out how to look after her mental health while on the road….
I still remember my first day of work on the 2015 Vans Warped Tour like it was yesterday. I was a fresh 19-year-old pit reporter and I naively believed that I was entering a music fan’s playground where all of my problems would vanish. That’s the case when you’re a fan attending the show but working on the tour is a completely different ballgame.
It is infamously known as one of the most grueling tours in the music industry and that is multiplied times ten for a touring rookie like me. A few months prior I had never been on an airplane alone. I was living comfortably at home with my mom and then I was thrown into the madness of my first Warped Tour a few months later.
I used to glamorize life on the road but the wakeup call happened immediately when I arrived. I was confined to a bus with 12 strangers, waking up in a new city ever day (which is even more disorienting when you walk out of the bus every morning and don’t know where you are), and I was in a completely different world. Being on Warped Tour is a lifestyle that no one can prepare you for, you just have to do it. Don’t get me wrong – it is the best experience I’ve ever had, but it doesn’t come without its hurdles.
There are so many challenges that roadies on Warped Tour face every day but I will narrow it down to a few of the most prominent.
First and foremost – the heat is grueling. We wake up in a different climate every day and adjusting to the weather and altitude can take a serious toll on your body.
Every job requires extensive physical labor. As the pit reporter, I walked at least 10 miles every day. When I sold merchandise I lifted 50lb bins at least 20 times every day. No matter what you do on the tour, you’ll either break your body or be in the best shape of your life.
Living in close quarters with complete strangers. Some buses can have up to 17 people in them. Explaining that situation would require an entirely separate blog post. Imagine dirty shoes everywhere, weird smells in the bunks, a lot of clashing personalities, random socks falling in your bed, etc. You get the idea.
The rockstar life is real and it is unhealthy. If you get involved with the wrong crowd you could end up drowning in alcohol and debauchery every night. Adding that into the mix is a recipe for disasters and hangovers.
The hours are long. Working on Warped Tour means you’re awake by 7am for breakfast, load in at 8am, then you’re in the sun until you tear down your tent at 7pm. That’s when you can eat dinner, find a shower, and go to the barbecue until 10pm. It’s a cycle that repeats itself every day until a day off (which are few and far between). There’s usually a day off every 4-5 shows but sometimes there are 12+ shows in a row without a break.
Most people won’t admit this but Warped Tour is like high school. Rumors spread quick, everyone knows everyone, and there’s very little privacy.
Luckily, this blog post is about finding solutions for these challenges and after three years on the tour, I figured out a few survival tips for life on Warped Tour.
The first thing that I can’t emphasize enough is to practice self love every single day. Go out of your way to do things that make you feel good even if it means missing out on something else. I used to be paranoid about skipping a barbecue because I didn’t want to miss something fun. I would skip showers, dinners, sleep, and quiet time so I could be social instead. Neglecting myself caught up quickly and resulted in a breakdown of tears mid-way through the tour. Put yourself first and take care of yourself. Go to sleep early, listen to quiet music, do a face mask, or watch a movie. Rest can make the demanding lifestyle less hazardous in the long run. Having fun isn’t worth risking your mental or physical health.
The beautiful thing about Warped Tour is that it really is a family and they work really hard to make the parking lots feel as comfortable as they can. People on the crew usually have access to massage chairs, yoga, workout groups, healthy catering, barbers, AA meetings, and other resources for self-care. After a couple years on the tour I learned how vital these resources were for my sanity. Listen to your body and give yourself a break when you need it.
Warped Tour is a punk rock summer camp until something goes wrong and then it is an isolating, confined bubble with no way out. It is challenging and sometimes impossible to leave the venue so it is important to make yourself feel comfortable and secure in that environment as often as possible. I remember having a nervous breakdown after feeling betrayed by someone on my bus in 2016 and I felt like I was in a prison that I couldn’t escape. I almost wanted to quit the tour. Having a few core friends that I could trust in a safe space was invaluable in that moment. Being connected with friends and family from home made it more bearable in difficult moments too; talking to them helped me mentally escape and ground myself again.
I know I make the tour sound scary but it’s also the best learning and growing opportunity I’ve been given. I always end the summer feeling stronger, wiser, and more kick-ass than before it started. If you have the chance to be on the last Warped Tour: do it. You’ll do things you didn’t even know you were capable of and it will change your life.
The bonds I’ve built with other people from Warped Tour are unparalleled because we have a mutual understanding and respect that we survived something that no one else can understand except us; it’s like an exclusive club…kind of. Sometimes you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to have the most profound growth and “ah ha” moments. Warped Tour is ending but the impact it had on our lives will live on for many generations to come.