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Summer School celebrates the future leaders of emo and pop punk

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The founders of Warped Tour, Hopeless Records, and KMGMT have set out to give back to the scene — once again — this summer. Summer School, their new traveling festival, sees the same pop-punk and emo ingredients but has been reconfigured to fit today’s musical landscape and audience. With a bill featuring Stand Atlantic, Magnolia Park, the Home Team, Scene Queen, and more, the founders’ brainchild boldly ventures to highlight the diversity of music and culture in the contemporary alternative space.

Much like Warped Tour was for many of us, the tour is an opportunity to dig into the scene and discover new acts, live. Seeing a drummer thrashing with urgency or a sweaty vocalist headbanging in real time — ingesting and moving to the music as fast as they’re pushing it out — there’s nothing like it. 

Read more: 9 bands commonly mistaken as emo who really aren’t

This festival, founders Eric Tobin (Hopeless), Mike Kaminsky (KMGMT), and Kevin Lyman (Warped Tour) say, showcases “the headliners of the future.” With a rap sheet that includes taking Avenged Sevenfold, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance out of indie and into the spotlight, we’d suggest trusting their word. They’ve found and supported some of our favorite acts, from the start, and offered them on a silver platter through touring festivals that provided much-needed access to all. One fact about music fans of any genre — we’re all desperate to claim we were early to a band. Here’s your shot.

In addition to a notable lineup and multi-state run, the tour focuses on reaching wider audiences, and expanding the idea of accessibility. While tickets to shows and festivals are at an all-time high, Summer School has set an intention to make sure the cost of tickets remains affordable — while also working exclusively with independent artists, labels, venues, and promoters. Sponsorship money of any kind goes to paying bands reasonable rates, and maintaining the ticket pricing — $35.50, with the added $.50 going directly to Save The Music, raising funds for musical instruments and education at public schools. Thus far, they have raised $10,000. 

AP spoke with two of Summer School’s founders, Eric Tobin of Hopeless Records and Mike Kaminsky of KMGMT, about their vision, where it came from, and what it’s ultimately turned into. 

What was the process for selecting artists for the festival? What were you looking for? 

MIKE KAMINSKY: We wanted to create that pathway of helping artists who already had some momentum breakthrough — this weird glass ceiling that is existing for a lot of young, developing rock bands right now. Warped Tour was great for this. Once you were able to build some momentum, you could jump on two main stages, Warped Tour, and finish the summer worth nearly twice as many tickets as before. So we looked to bands that were doing exciting things within our scene and were also already selling enough tickets on their own.

ERIC TOBIN: The goal was to find some artists that have some momentum, a growing fandom, and a point of view. We were especially interested in those artists that want to celebrate this new growing community in our scene and collaborate to help grow this world that so many fans are part of. The hope is that the artists we choose will soon be headlining the same venues they are currently sharing the stage on. 

What makes a “headliner of the future”?

KAMINSKY: This is such an exciting time for artists. There’s a lot of space to create music that blends a lot of genres that would not have generally been accepted before. We think all of the artists on this tour are doing something unique in their own space. There’s finally that lane again to create the next Fall Out Boy, Paramore, etc.

TOBIN: A headliner of the future sounds so Space Age — I like it. The idea here is similar to what I mentioned in the selection process — an artist that has some current momentum, a growing fanbase, a point of view that their fandom and new fans can understand and share in; be a part of and grow their own community like the one we remember from our own youth. I think each of the bands on this tour has this and will continue to grow through the summer and beyond. 

How is that similar or different from your ethos in your other work in the industry? 

KAMINSKY: I think Eric and myself are always attracted to working with artists that don’t just create great music, but are proud to be doing something different. And of course, they are great partners in that they are working their asses off. I think that applies whether you are putting together a tour, running a label, or mapping out a vision as a manager. It all has to start with an artist who is unafraid to create something that’s exciting to them even, especially if it hasn’t been done before.

TOBIN: That is the beauty of this tour. We have extended our ethos from our day jobs — find great artists and people and help them find their way to success, work hard, and collaborate with great managers, agents, promoters, publicists, outside outlets, and focus on a project and idea that helps, in a sense, all ships to rise. There is no difference between the work ethic and the effort we put in here. We want everyone to win. 

How has your perspective on music, artists, live shows, and especially festivals changed since you started out?

KAMINSKY: Live shows and festivals used to be a great place to discover new bands for cheap. It wasn’t that difficult to spend a few bucks and take a chance on something. I remember really learning about some of my favorite artists by watching the opening act or by having a band like Coheed and Cambria perform the songs, in a way that recorded music could never capture. I think with COVID and the nature of the industry, it has been a little bit more about the headliners we are used to, so we set out to design something that was specifically about the development and discovery of new artists.

TOBIN: I think in 25 years of being in music as a fan and industry professional, my perspective hasn’t changed a whole lot. The live show is more than just the music — it’s about community, finding friends, seeing and understanding who you want to be. I think this still happens. The only hangup, I believe, is prohibitive costs. Discovery tools have changed, but the underlying feeling — to be part of something — is still so important to kids of all ages. We as a collective have to find ways to continue to make that feeling accessible. 

Throughout your careers, there are undoubtedly great examples of other artists who were indie that you saw and supported, and helped find reasonable pay and opportunity. Who are they? 

KAMINSKY: One of my very first jobs was to go on Warped Tour at the request of Kevin Lyman that year the tour had My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and the All-American Rejects. Can you imagine how exciting it was to have these as your secret, favorite little indie bands, and then they do the tour, and a year or so later they are all over pop radio? It’s so funny to think about pop culture. It is really just whatever everyone thinks is cool at the time. And things like live music and festivals can actually influence that pretty regularly when there is a strong focus and community behind it.

TOBIN: I am celebrating my 19th year at Hopeless Records, and the label itself is 30 years old! I have had the privilege of working with amazing artists the entire time I have been at the label. Part of the creation of this tour was to better serve all the artists in this community, including the great ones we are developing right now. Just look at Hopeless history for some of the great stories — Avenged Sevenfold, All Time Low, Neck Deep, the Wonder Years, Destroy Boys, Scene Queen, and many more. At the risk of being redundant: Find great artists with great teams, listen to them when they express their needs, and work as hard as you can to help them grow. 

Worst festival memory and best?

TOBIN: One of my best festival memories — and there are many best fest memories — but seeing the Wonder Years take the stage at Riot Fest pre-pandemic — 12-15,000 people just screaming every word. What a feeling. Worst experience? Rain. Anytime there is rain, there is mud. I like my shoes to be dry. Summer School is inside this year. Mission accomplished. 

Can you speak to the low ticket pricing for this festival? It’s not a secret that ticket prices are a global issue right now. How are you attacking that issue and offering a solution?

KAMINSKY: We tried something very progressive, which I am actually surprised we have not seen before. There were a lot of sponsors, eager to support the mission of developing and supporting young artists who are on their way up, and building a community of youth culture around it. So, we weren’t really sure anyone would want to support us, but we ended up getting way more support than we expected, and we are so grateful to our sponsors for taking a chance on this. But the interesting thing is, all of us founders said we wanted to put 100% of the money toward lowering the ticket price and working on interesting marketing initiatives with the labels and artists. So, we are not putting a single dollar into our pocket, and we’re actively using the sponsor money to reduce the ticket price. We wanted every sponsor to contribute to the benefit of the tour by either supporting the fans or the artists on the tour in some way

TOBIN: I think Michael said it best here — we want kids to feel excited to experience their favorite new artists and not worry about the price. Have enough money to buy some great merch and go back and show it to their friends who missed out and say, “Where were you?” We believe that this grows the community, and there is enough room for all of us to be profitable in that endeavor in the long term. 

Summer School 2024 tour dates

07/10 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom
07/11 – Cincinnati, OH @ Andrew J Brady Theater
07/12 – Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works
07/13 – Sauget, IL @ Pop’s Nightclub
07/16 – Austin, TX @ The Far Out Lounge
07/17 – Dallas, TX @ South Side Music Hall
07/18 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
07/20 – Orlando, FL @ The Vanguard
07/21 – St. Petersburg, FL @ Jannus Live
07/22 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade Heaven
07/23 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore
07/25 – Philadelphia, PA @ Franklin Music Hall
07/26 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
07/27 – Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
07/28 – Worcester, MA @ The Palladium
07/30 – Chicago, IL @ Concord Music Hall
07/31 – Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre
08/02 – Omaha, NE @ The Admiral
08/03 – Kansas City, MO @ Uptown Theater
08/04 – Oklahoma City, OK @ Diamond Ballroom
08/06 – Denver, CO @ The Fillmore Auditorium
08/07 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
08/09 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox SoDo
08/10 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
08/13 – Sacramento, CA @ The Backyard
08/15 – Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee
08/16 – San Diego, CA @ SOMA
08/17 – Anaheim, CA @ City National Grove

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