The recently released documentary “No Room for Rockstars” is an attempt to broadly characterize the Vans Warped Tour by following the adventures of vocalist Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence, Chris Drew of Never Shout Never, Mike Posner, tour founder Kevin Lyman, and Joe Candelaria of Forever Came Calling during the summer of 2010. As the documentary’s website claims, “a historical retrospective or concert film this is not.” So if it is not that, what is it?
During the summer of 2010, the Warped Tour hosted 600,000 fans and featured 200 bands. They reached 43 different cities across America in only 52 days, claims “No Room for Rockstars,” travelling close to an astounding 17,000 miles. The tour has been a career stepping-stone for everyone from Sublime to Pennywise to Blink 182 and is in many ways America’s summer home for misfits and outsiders. The tour is not for the faint of heart.
The documentary weaves several lives together by following their divergent paths during the Warped Tour. Vocalist Mitch of Suicide Silence and Chris of Never Shout Never are intentionally juxtaposed. The doc begins on the first day of the tour where Mitch walks onto the stage and screams “get violent!” It shortly after cuts to Chris of Never Shout Never in which he states, “now this first song is about everybody in the whole wide world falling in love with each other. I hope to see some peace signs out there.” The crowd immediately throws their two fingers into the air.
The self-aware Mike Posner is the odd man out as a pop singer on an otherwise countercultural tour. We watch his quick rise in popularity as the summer progresses. Posner is juxtaposed with Forever Came Calling – an independent band following the Warped Tour trying to make a name for themselves by selling CDs to the people in line outside the gates. While Posner quickly rises to fame, singer Chris and his group spiral into the increasingly grim reality of being a band on the road with no money and little support.
The legendary Kevin Lyman, the leader and creator of the tour, is also profiled in the doc. He is mythically known as the egalitarian blue-collar leader who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He will listen to anyone’s demo and is always giving jobs to hard working people. He is a man’s man who barbeques and drinks beer. But during one date midway through the tour, the show gets delayed by storms. When a manager confronts Lyman about why his band is not playing that day, Lyman tries to fix the problem. But when he can’t fix it, he gets frustrated, curses, and storms out of the makeshift office. It is a rare glimpse into a moment of a man’s life that goes against his myth.
“No Room for Rockstars” takes on the momentous task of following several different artists and individuals, while trying to tell their stories within a two hour run time. This is where the documentary struggles; instead of complete characterizations, we only get incomplete snippets of life on the road. There are many moments where the doc appears to set up a theme or tension, only for it to go unexplored. In one case, the documentary introduces that the bands Anarbor and Fake Problems have to share a bus with Mike Posner in order to save costs while touring. The idea is set: what happens when two bands and a pop star with contrasting lifestyles are forced to live together on a cramped bus? This is never answered. We never see Anarbor or Posner interact; we never see footage of them trying to live together or the struggles of living with people they don’t know. We are only presented with the idea of it.
But despite this, there are pleasurable moments in the film as well. When getting to understand Mitch of Suicide Silence, we learn why he works so hard; he is a family man. As a tatted up metal vocalist who writes songs about aggression and inciting violence, Mitch is also a father of a young daughter. He explains that touring is his way of putting food on the table for his family, creating the heart wrenching dichotomy that to be away from his family is the best way to help them. But even this wonderful characterization falls prey to the documentary trying to take on too much. We never see Mitch struggle with not seeing his family; we only get a sense of it through a quick interview, a photo, and some footage of his daughter on stage. It is all tell and no show.
With this in mind, it is difficult to pinpoint who this film is for. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it to the Warped Tour crowd simply because most of the themes that the documentary discusses are already widely known. It is not a secret that Kevin Lyman is a blue-collar iconoclast, or that it gets hot on tour, or that it is all about the DIY and EIY ethic. Anyone that has gone to the tour knows these things; it is all on display when you get there. And it does not go far enough behind the scenes to offer up anything new.
And despite the website’s claims “No Room for Rockstars is meaningful insight into current state of rock and roll and the zeitgeist of youth culture,” the film does not provide enough depth to be engaging to someone unfamiliar with the Warped Tour. Hype! – a documentary that discussed the grunge scene – appealed to a broader audience because it discussed political economy and commercialization of grunge, broadening the scope beyond being just a rock doc. In “No Room for Rockstars,” Chris of Never Shout Never comes to the conclusion near the end that the Warped Tour is just as commercial a tour as any other, despite its roots in a punk scene. It is a counter to the other sentiments of the doc that present the tour as an amazing unforgettable experience. But this sentiment does not come into the film until well after an hour. If “No Room for Rockstars” were to discuss throughout the commoditization of the tour versus the opportunities it provides, it could appeal to broader interests. But it doesn’t; it falls in the cracks between being for fans and for people interested in the “zeitgeist of youth culture.”
With that said, it is still a well-crafted documentary. Sure, there is no Altamont-style incident, but it does provide different perspectives on the same subject. Forever Came Calling’s narrative arc is rewarding and the characterization of Mike Posner is dynamic and evolves throughout the film. If you have a passing interest in Rock and Roll or the Vans Warped Tour, than “No Room for Rockstars” is for you.