lyman Kevin Lyman, founder/producer of the Vans Warped Tour, surrounded by the artists who will be heading out on the road. (Photo: Chelsea Lauren)

Kevin Lyman still employs an "old-school" method when it comes to picking bands for the Vans Warped Tour.

"I stand outside the gate and watch to see what shirts the kids are wearing as they come in," Warped's founder and producer told Billboard.biz at Thursday's kick-off event at Club Nokia (LA Live) in Los Angeles. "I saw a lot of Memphis May Fire and Sleeping With Sirens shirts last year."

Accordingly, Memphis May Fire and Sleeping With Sirens were among the first few bands he booked for 2012, before he had secured a single main stage act. And while those bands weren't in the house at this year's kick-off event, plenty of other acts were. This included surprise sets from Yellowcard (who played acoustically) and The Used, as well as performances by Falling In Reverse, Matt Toka and Dead Sara. The bands were preceded by a short press conference and a screening of the Warped Tour doc " No Room for Rockstars." The VIP area was filled with a handful of veterans from the tour, which launched in 1995, as well as newer acts like Vampires Everywhere! and a myriad of industry people.

danielle Danielle Fidelity, product manager at Hollywood Waste. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

youngman (L-R): John Youngman and Marc Mercado, partners at Fly South Music Group, and Dave Shapiro, agent at The Agency Group. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

Attendees included The Used manager Sean Akhavan of Anger Management Group; Epitaph Records Director of Publicity Jessica Giordano; Memphis May Fire manager Jerry Clubb of Richochet Managment; Every Time I Die and Blessthefall manager Nick "Biggie" Grimaldi of Good Fight Entertainment and Crush Sports; Hollywood Waste / Century Media A&R and marketing team members Kyle Parsons and Danielle Thompson; Warped Tour accountant Matt Malles of Star Business Management; former Hole and Motley Crüe drummer Samantha Maloney; professional BMX rider and musician Rick Thorne; Vandals bassist, Kung Fu Records founder, attorney and radio host Joe Escalante; Fly South Music Group partners John Youngman and Marc Mercado, whose clients include Paramore and A Day To Remember and Agency Group booking agent Dave Shapiro.

biggie Nick "Biggie" Grimaldi, manager for bands such as Every Time I Die and Blessthefall for Good Fight Entertainment. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

"This is year 18. Kevin started it and Vans got involved after the first year," explained Steve Van Doren, whose late father Paul co-founded the Vans shoe company. Steve is VP of Events and Promotion. "My dad started Vans in 1966. We were really well known in Southern California. When Kevin got us involved with the tour, I wanted to get a skateboard contest in 50 states and Kevin wanted to have concerts around the United States. He needed money and I needed a place to perform skateboarding stuff. So it merged together and here we are, eighteen years later. It really helped Vans get going in places like Texas, Florida, Ohio and Illinois. It's our number one marketing thing for Vans every summer for 18 years."

tats Jessica Giordano, director of publicity at Epitaph, and Ronnie Radke, singer for Falling in Reverse. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

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grubb Jerry Clubb, manager/owner of Ricochet Management. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

This year's main stage lineup will include Pierce the Veil, Of Mice & Men, Streetlight Manifesto, Yellowcard and Falling In Reverse, whose frontman very much appreciates the personal focus Lyman puts in curating. "I was an underdog for literally years. And all of a sudden it feels like it turned over night," said Ronnie Radke, whose previous stint on Warped Tour as singer for Escape The Fate was marred by his legal troubles. (Radke spent nearly two-and-a-half-years in prison for probation violation, stemming from a battery with substantial bodily harm conviction for his role in a 2006 fight in which an associate of his killed an 18-year-old man. )

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"[Epitaph owner] Brett Gurewitz and Kevin Lyman have given me more chances than anybody else. I'm pretty lucky. I guess Brett saw a lot in me. He wanted me to get clean and I did that and now he stands behind me. Kevin Lyman is the same way. He's been doing this shit for so long, man. He's seen people much worse than me. I've heard that out of his mouth. He's given me a couple of chances and this time I'm not going to let him down."

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Jerry Clubb, who manages metal bands like Suicide Silence and Chimaira as well as the more melodic Memphis May Fire, was thrilled to have one of his clients be among the first two bands selected for the 2012 outing and chalks it up to persistence and consistency on the part of the band and their camp. He credited Pantheon Agency, Merchnow and other partners alongside his company's efforts with getting the band to where they were able to secure the Warped spot. "It's been a long road with Memphis May Fire," Clubb said. "They are in the studio now making their sophomore record, which will be out on Rise Records in time for Warped. I'm excited to see what we'll be able to do after building the momentum from Warped."

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Steve Van Doren, vice president of events at Vans. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)

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Kevin Lyman and Libby Coffey of MSO PR. (Photo: Chelsea Lauren)