Vegetarians pass flyers to impressionable teenagers outside the entrance of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Charlotte, North Carolina, in an attempt to persuade them that eating meat is wrong. Once inside the venue, kids line up to display their killer skills on Guitar Hero. Others head to the skate ramp. A plethora of 15-year-old girls hold cardboard signs that offer “FREE HUGS,” some of which parade around in bikini tops and those short-shorts that read “juicy” on the ass. Coincidently, the Trojan soldiers give out condoms to promote safe sex. Between the six stages, various activities, and band tents, concert goers are entertained. Although this is the typical Warped Tour environment, the potential for a mixed martial arts growth looms.
Known as the biggest alternative festival of the summer, Warped Tour is the land of opportunity. Since its creation by Kevin Lyman in 1994, the event has showcased some of the biggest names in music, up-and-coming talents, worthwhile causes, and action sports that complement the punk rock culture. As Bryan Kienlen, bassist of punk quartet The Bouncing Souls, says, “Each year, it’s a snapshot of what the kids are in to. It was always supposed to be set up to be music and lifestyle combined.”
Perhaps, among this sea of humanity, MMA is a perfect lifestyle fit.
Pitching A Tent
Throughout the summer festival, artists,companies, and organizations set up tents to interact with fans and spread brand awareness about their merchandise or causes. Clothing brand Glamour Kills, headphone manufacturer Skull Candy, and suicide prevention/depression nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms all developed a larger presence due to this tour.
With the rise of MMA, which is growing more and more each day, an organization like Bellator FC, Strike force, or even the UFC could benefit by setting up a tent of their own and appealing their product to the younger demographic. “No company can ever have too much exposure,” says Dan Kenny, bassist of metal group Suicide Silence. “It would be smart to possibly have a street team with flyers passing them out to people to watch an upcoming event. UFC could totally benefit with a Spike card or something.”
Andy Williams, guitarist of melodic hardcore act Every Time I Die, agrees and takes the idea a step further. “It needs to be well educated,” he explains. “It can’t be something like a full-on Affliction covered, TapouT head-to-toe guy screaming with face paint on. I think it should be some sort of educated things [and] have videos, almost like a little seminar.”
But as Junior Flores, guitarist of punk band Set Your Goals, is quick to point out, people are there to see bands first and foremost. Lifestyle activities and product promotion are secondary. “Let’s say you’re doing some event at noon on a Warped Tour day, but there is a big headliner playing at the same time,” he explains.“Are kids gonna see what the UFC tent is gonna provide, or are they gonna go see a band they are there to see? It’s the same thing with any sponsors. They got Rock Band and you’ll see some kids hanging out there because they’re there to get entertained and stay in a tent away from the sun. But the minute a band they wanna see comes up, they’re gonna leave. It doesn’t matter what sponsor is there, so it would be a hit or miss.”
Music And MMA Are Cool
Action sports are a key fundamental to the Warped Tour atmosphere. For instance, there is a skate ramp every year where kids can shred, and whenever pro skater/musician Mike Vallely is on the bill, he’ll join in the festivities. In 2007, Mexican luche libre promotion AAA toured with six wrestlers and held matches every two hours. One year, there were even after hours boxing bouts between select band members.
MMA could very well be the next sport showcased on the festival, be it on an amateur or professional level. Greg Kerwin, lead guitarist for chick-led screamo outfit Eyes Set To Kill, likes the sound of it. “That would be badass man,” he says.“You get the half pipe going, and then, some dudes kicking the shit out of each other. And you got great music after that.”
Dan Kenny echoes those sentiments. “I could actually even see amateur cage fights during the day. They already have motocross, tattoo booths, and other random fun shit. If they had fights everyday or every other day, I think it could benefit both sides. People can watch a band and then be all ‘Shit! It’s 3:30 p.m. We need to run to this part of Warped to catch the fights and then go back to watching bands,’” Kenny says. “In all reality, I don’t see any of this coming true. It would take a lot of work and probably a lot of insurance policies. Even some states can’t adjust to MMA yet.”
It might seem difficult to achieve at present time, but if fighters and athletic commissions were to commit, then it could become a reality. Even tour organizer Kevin Lyman has had some preliminary talks about it.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Hard rock, heavy metal, and hip-hop have always been the top musical selections for fight organizations, as many feel the aggression and intense attitude perfectly complements the MMA vibe. While several bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Suicide Silence are performing at this year’s Warped Tour, the festival itself has become a stronghold for lighter music like pop punk, pop rock, and ska—all of which are rarely ever used as theme music or for promotional videos.
Just ask Greg Puciato, vocalist of The Dillinger Escape Plan. “Warped Tour is not the highest on the list when it comes to bands that have balls,” he explains. “I don’t feel much in common with 90% of the bands on that tour [where] 15-year old kids have girl haircuts. That stuff is so foreign to me. When I look at the other 90 bands and they’re all 18 years old, they’re all making music that to me has nothing to do with rock and metal where I’m used to coming from. So I don’t feel it has anything in common with an aggressive sport like the UFC.”
Though a lot of heavier bands share Puciato’s view, Bryce Avary of rock solo project the Rocket Summer, feels very differently. “Music, in general, ignites in people’s souls, and it can create so many different kinds of emotions and really help people through hard times,” the song writer says. “It can get people pumped up, and Warped Tour is definitely a place where there is intense music being played that goes along with the feelings of just getting amped, and I can definitely see how people listen to it. There’s so many different types of music, and it affects and awakens these feelings within us all.”
Despite opposing views, it’s overwhelmingly clear there’s room for MMA’s growth and cross promotional opportunities at the summer festival, and it could only be a matter of time before a fight organization—be it amateur or professional—pitches a tent at Warped Tour.