After 24 years, it’s the end of an era for the longest-running North American festival concert tour; and the biggest venue for distribution of Prabhupada’s books on the continent.
Every year since 1995, The Vans Warped Tour saw 70 metal, punk and ska bands playing in about 50 cities for some 750,000 young people. The heavy music was an outlet for many frustrated, emotionally dissatisfied youth – often of high school age – to express themselves.
But it also served as the draw for an educational component that introduced youth to alternative ways of life, and helped them make more positive choices. Animal rights groups like PETA, environmental activists like EarthEcho, and organizations that help young people suffering from abuse, addiction, and depression all had an official presence on the Tour.
And then there were the Warped Tour Monks – ISKCON devotees who distributed Srila Prabhupada’s books and introduced youth to spiritual life.
How did devotees end up an authorized part of such a major music event? It all began when sankirtan veteran Atmanivedanam Das was distributing books outside the entrance of the very first Warped Tour in 1995.
When approached by official 'Warped Tour monks' young concert-goers usually responded positively
After receiving a book from Atma, one man told him, “Hey, I really like what you’re presenting. Would you like to do it inside?”
The man, it turned out, was Kevin Lyman, founder and director of the Warped Tour. From then on, he provided devotees with all access passes and made them one of the tour’s activist groups, giving a positive message to the youth of America. In the process, he facilitated North America’s biggest sankirtana yajna and the distribution of an estimated one million of Prabhupada’s books over the next 24 years.
“It just goes to show that you never know who you’re talking to,” says Advaita Acharya Das from Croatia, who joined The Warped Tour in 2002. “So we should always be at our very best when we’re representing Prabhupada’s movement. Over the years, Kevin has become a friend and done so much service in facilitating sankirtana – he’s no ordinary person.”
Life on The Warped Tour was intense. Usually starting in California and traveling all the way across the U.S. and Canada to the East coast, the Tour hit 50 cities in two months. A team of about five devotees from Rupanuga Vedic College, led first by Anandavidya Das and later by Paramesvara Das, would follow in a van, driving eight or nine hours a day.
Devotees on The Warped Tour showering out of the back of their van
“We’d get up and start driving at 4:30am,” says Advaita. “We’d break at a truck stop, shower in our gamchas from a water tank in the back of the van, and then chant our japa on the way to the venue.”
The “venue” was usually a massive parking lot outside a football stadium. As The Warped Tour convoy of around seventy semi-trucks set up giant stages and sound equipment, devotees began distributing books at 8:00am to the youth just arriving.
When the gates opened at 10 or 11am, they’d make their way into the concert. As the hot sun baked the tarmac, and soon-to-be-famous bands like Blink-182, Avenged Sevenfold, and Fall Out Boy rocked a crowd of up to fifteen thousand youth, the “monks” would flash their Tour passes and introduce them to Prabhupada’s books.
Bands like Blink-182, Avenged Sevenfold, and Fall Out Boy have built a name playing on The Warped Tour
“Many were thirteen year-old kids, whose parents were bringing them to see their favorite band, so we’d approach the parents first,” says Advaita. “Fans were generally between 13 and 25 – a perfect age group, because that’s when they’re inquiring and molding their identities. Most were amazed to be meeting real-life monks that were part of the Tour.”
Devotees tried to be as personal and friendly as possible, explaining what this philosophy could do to improve lives and make the world a better place. Often they’d include an extra small book for free, to leave a good impression.
Young festivalgoers seem happy about delving into Prabhupada's books
Each day, one devotee could approach 500 to 1,000 people, and distribute 100 to 300 books. Legendary book distributors like Brighupati Das, Navina Nirada Das and Paramesvara Das often did more. This year alone, 37,000 books were distributed.
Achieving this was not easy. “You’re in the hot sun all day, drinking tons of water to try to stay hydrated, and meeting thousands of people,” says Brajananda Das, who joined the Warped Tour in 2013 and managed the sankirtana this year. “It takes all your attention and energy to survive. Then you pack up, drive to the next show, and start it all over again.”
But the results were worth it. Over the years, many people have told devotees that the book they received made them start chanting, become vegetarian, or live a more conscious lifestyle. Local temples have called book distributors to say that people came to them based on initial contact on the Warped Tour.
(left) Brajananda Das with another happy customer; (right) festivalgoers wear "punk rock temporary face tattoos", which just happen to look very much like tilak
Some distributors have had bhaktas or bhaktins, now doing service at temples and aspiring for initiation, call them with voices full of gratitude, to thank them for the book they received on the Warped Tour. Brajananda Das himself, now a sankirtana manager at Rupanuga Vedic College, came to Krishna consciousness after receiving a Bhagavad-gita on the Tour.
There were other magical incidents, too. In 2012 and 2013, devotees set up a Mantra Booth, which saw people try a thirty-second “mantra experience,” or call and response chant of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
“It would light everyone up like a spark in a haystack, and often would turn into an exhuberant kirtan,” laughs Advaita Acharya. “That showed me that when the maha-mantra enters the ear of the conditioned soul, it doesn’t take much time to have a genuine experience of upliftment.”
Meanwhile, devotees would give maha garlands from the ISKCON Dallas and Houston Deities and maha prasadam cookies to Warped Tour organizer Kevin Lyman every year, as well as to the whole production team and some of the major bands.
Kevin, in particular, was deeply appreciative of all the gifts he received.
“Once I remembered that Prabhupada approved of distributing Gaura Nitai from household to household because They were so merciful,” says Advaita. “He said we could call them ‘Hare Krishna dolls.’ So I bought Gaura Nitai dolls from Krishna Culture, and gave them to Kevin. He was particularly exhausted from managing at that point, and said ‘Thank you so much, we’re going to need extra blessings this year.’”
“A few days later, I saw his bus leading the whole Warped Tour convoy. And smiling from the dashboard were Sri Sri Gaura Nitai! I was so happy to see his faith, and to know that Gaura Nitai were leading The Warped Tour.”
This year, with Kevin Lyman wanting to move on and focus on other things at this stage of his life, The Warped Tour has finally wrapped for good – and with it, a golden sankirtana opportunity.
But the book distributors of Rupanauga Vedic College, who have long topped sankirtana score lists, are not discouraged.
“The Warped Tour was something truly special -- we’re grateful that we got to distribute books there for so many years, and impact so many people in a positive way,” Brajananda says. “And we’re open to the next opportunity Lord Chaitanya presents to us.”[ bbt ] [ book ] [ book-distribution ]