What started as a showcase for skaters and their skate punk, has evolved to include other extreme sports and has grown more diverse musically to embrace pop punk and metalcore bands, as well. The Casualties, The Unseen, Anti-Flag, and Bad Religion are representative examples of the tour's musical scope.
Founder Kevin Lyman started the Warped Tour in 1994 after working on various other skating events that included music. Hosted by parking lots and open fields, the Warped team builds up to 10 stages and several other structures – including a half pipe and vendor booths – to support the event.
In 1998, Warped went global touring to Australia, Japan, Europe, and Canada, in addition to the United States. The following year, it kicked off Down Under and wound its way around the globe concluding in Europe.
Going green in 2006 via the Warped Eco Initiative meant that buses were fueled by biodiesel, stages were powered by solar panels, and dishes were converted to either washable or compostable wares.
Up to 100 bands play at each show, rotating across the many platforms, including two main stages for headliners, and playing short, 30-minute sets overlapping, but never interfering, with each other. As of 2009, only one main stage existed and the sets were lengthened to 40 minutes.
Every tour's line up also includes a BBQ Band who is allowed to perform in exchange for preparing food for the other bands and crew on the evening of the gig. Past recipients of this dubious award include the Dropkick Murphys and Madina Lake.
Beginning in 1998, each festival has also been turned into a compilation CD while Rhapsody.com releases the annual Warped Tour Bootleg Series.
The Warped Tour has not grown without criticism, particularly focusing on the commercialism that comes with having a corporate sponsor such as Vans. Still, defenders step up to downplay the negatives. “Warped Tour is a place for teenage kids to go and hear all their favourite bands in one day,” says Rob Pasalic, guitarist for the Saint Alvia Cartel. “It wouldn’t make sense for it to be the same tour in as it was in 1997. These are the bands that kids like, and the tour is smart enough to grow and adapt to that. You still get bands like Bad Religion playing, so it’s not like it’s lost all its roots.”
Inter-band disputes have also plagued the festival over the years including criticism of the overly Christian slate of performers that don't jive very well with the punk rockers. Lyman himself acknowledged the cross-genre controversy in while also recognizing the oversized egos of some upstart bands as a problem.