Moving Mountains - Photos by Keyana Stevens

“You know, everyone’s always asking me, ‘What is punk?’ But I almost think that term should be retired and left to the greats.” These words came from Warped Tour creator Kevin Lyman at the Vans Warped Tour kickoff at the House Of Vans last Friday. It’s a bold statement, particularly coming from the man who is responsible for founding the holy grail of punk-rock festivals. Then again, the Warped Tour has come a long way—now in its 17th year, the tour’s organizers have moved to expand the musical offerings to include more than the typical breed of alternative music (full lineup here).

The Warped Tour is definitely aiming for a different audience than its spring/summer festival counterparts Bonnaroo, SXSW and Lollapalooza. If you’re not a fan of shoegaze bands with emo singers, ska and reggae, you probably won’t be too enthusiastic about its offerings. But it’s nice that a showcase for these musical genres still exists, given the near-total domination of indie rock at other festivals. At the conference, Lyman also announced several new initiatives designed to make the tour more accommodating for young teens, including pre-paid meal plans, reduced water prices and a Warped radio station on Sirius.

If, as Lyman says, the term punk is dead, the new focus of the tour is on “warped” music in general. The kickoff party that followed the press conference was a testament to that idea. The concert portion opened with a performance by students from the School Of Rock, who gave rousing renditions of “Ring Of Fire” (no one expected a voice that deep to come out of such a small kid) and “Bro Hymn.” Then came Lionize, a solid band that plays a hybrid of rock-reggae, followed by MC Lars, Moving Mountains and the Wonder Years. Skaters from the Vans Skate Team also made an appearance, and there was a live graffiti art installation by artist Kaves.

The House Of Vans itself is a fantastic venue. Housed in an old warehouse in Greenpoint, it’s huge, versatile and sponsored by one of the biggest counter-culture brands in the country. With a stage on one end and a skateboard rink on the other, it’s essentially every 13-year-old boy’s wet dream, and on Friday, it attracted one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen at a music event. Young and old skaters milled side by side with middle-aged moms, the Williamsburg hipster set and high school kids from the School Of Rock.

Perhaps because it only opened last October, the venue experienced a couple of production mishaps involving the sound system, and the food offerings were unorganized. At one point, Steve Van Doren, the CEO of Vans, could be seen cooking waffles for the guests. On one hand, you have to admire his determination to stick to the punk/DIY ethic by getting down in the trenches. On the other, Van Doren is not necessarily a waffle-making expert (he is really nice, though). In a couple of months all of these things will probably work themselves out. If you find out that the House Of Vans is hosting a band or event you like, definitely go—it’s worth the trip on the G train, promise.