VWT+ EIY Press Correspondent Report: Hartford CT w/ Sammy Key

Ah, the Vans Warped Tour. I, like many other kids my age, have been making this yearly summer pilgrimage to the altars of dusty parking lots, one-day-only stages and the God-like musicians who grace them since the ripe young age of thirteen. And I think that’s how many of the tour’s attendees think of the festival that is a huge cornerstone to summer – as a vaguely spirtual experience. On the drive up to Hartford, one of my best friends, Steph, and I joked about our date of the tour being held on a Sunday. “It’s like we’re on our way to church!” I said to Steph as we navigated our way to Hartford. She turned to me and said, “Well…we sort of are!”

hat’s one of the great things about music – it’s healing and it makes you a better person. At least for me that’s how it’s always worked. And so when I heard about EIY, which is all about putting a lot of hard work into the scene so you can continue to get all those jollies out of the scene, I was completely stoked. Needless to say, I was even more stoked to find out I was going to be one of their press correspondents this year. Whoopee!

But as soon as I set foot on the hot, dry asphalt of the Hartford Comcast Theatre, I was quick to realize that it wasn’t going to exactly be smooth sailing from the get-go. I spent about 30 minutes looking for the non-existent guest-list tent (which eventually went up about an hour after I got there) and was one of the unfortunate – and consequently grumpy – people to realize that out of the two lines that had formed at the tent, ours was the one going in the wrong direction. Whoops!

However, despite a few small mishaps, I soon found myself inside the venue and ready to go. There was no EIY band of the day at the Hartford date of Warped Tour, but I did get a chance to meet a member of one band who had played a date of Warped Tour thanks to the EIY Spring Into Action Tour. Kenny Fleetwood, of Nashville, Tennessee pop punk band Farewell Fighter and I spent a few minutes chatting before going backstage for the EIY meet-up. We both observed that even though the music industry is famous for being male-dominated, there were quite a few females at the meet-up. “I think it’s great,” Kenny told me. “I think that’s definitely a good thing.”

And Warped Tour tour manager Lisa Brownlee agreed, as did Kevin Lyman and pretty much everyone else who spoke at the meeting. “There are a lot more women getting involved with the industry as time goes on,” Lisa stated. “A lot more than when I first started out, anyway. A lot of the time I was one of the only girls there.”

Another great thing about the Hartford EIY meet-up was the sheer size of the group. “This is one of the biggest meetings we’ve had yet,” Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman said with a smile. “I think it may be the best turnout of the tour so far!” And the meet-up definitely provided a large amount of information for a large amount of people. Speakers included the aforementioned Lisa Brownlee, Max Weinberg, and Kevin Lyman himself. All three talked about the importance of being able to multitask and take advantage of every opportunity you are given, stressing the fact that all experience is good experience, and will ultimately help in the long run for people trying to get their first big break – whether it is as a touring musician or a tour manager.

“I took every opportunity,” Brownlee explained. “I even created jobs where there weren’t any. I created a job for myself once; bus driver coordinator. It was helpful and a great way to get out there and tour.” Other areas of discussion were covered, including professionalism, college programs, applying for jobs, and the logistics of touring/non-profits. But overall, all the guest speakers stressed the importance of working hard, treating everyone you meet in the industry kindly, forward thinking, and the fine line between cockiness and confidence. “You can’t expect anything to be handed to you,” advised guest speaker Max Weinberg.

After the meet-up, I wanted to talk to my new buddy Kenny to get an idea of how a musician viewed the meet-up. “I came to the EIY meet-up because I think it’s a very, very important thing for anyone who wants to be in the industry, whether it’s tour management, publicity, being in a band, or whatever it may be. I think the EIY psychology is incredibly inspiring, especially for me. I’ve been working at this for 8, no 10, years now and I’m finally finding a group of people who are not only in my town, but across the nation with a really positive attitude for forward movement.”

With the EIY meet-up coming to a close and the sun getting ever-hotter, I decided to complete one interview before using the rest of my time at Warped to straight-up chill and enjoy the bands who were playing. I talked to Rou Reynolds (Vocals, Synth) and Rob Wolfe (Drums) of Enter Shikari, a band from the UK who have played Warped Tour multiple times, about the EIY philosophy and how it’s helped them develop as a band. Neither of them had ever heard of EIY (aw, shucks) but once I explained it to them both of them felt right at home speaking about it.

“As for our touring ethics, certainly, when we were a bit younger we got the choice between going into the studio and recording a CD to send away to record labels, or buying a van and going around the country touring,” Wolfe told me. “We ended up taking the latter, and traveled around the country playing for 2 or 3 years. We started off playing to maybe ten, twenty people at a time, and then each time we came back there would be forty, fifty people, to a hundred, two hundred people, and we just really built it up.”
“We really just did it like that without the help of any label. We toured our asses off and practiced every day.” Wolfe laughed.

Which is really what EIY is all about. At the end of the day, as I walked back to the car; sweaty, dirty, and sore, I remembered something Lisa Brownlee had said earlier in the day at the meet-up. “My success didn’t happen overnight. There was a point in my life where I stopped for a second and said, “This is crazy. I have no money, I can’t pay my rent, I’m in a van with a bunch of stinky boys and it really is crazy.” But I kept going because I knew this was where I’d end up. You gotta have a passion for it to make it in this industry.”

And that passion is something I myself, and everyone else at the EIY meeting can attest to. Despite the fact that at the end of the day we may be sweaty, hot, thirsty, and exhausted, earning it yourself is really quite worth it all. Because it’s music that we love; and we love the industry, the crowds, the ability to dress and look however we want and still be considered a professional, the loud guitar riffs, the extended drum solos, and the soulful singer on stage. It’s why we make the decision to step foot in that van full of stinky boys in the first place.