COI013: I can't be honest with even myself

Did you ever wish you were somebody else?

“We’ve been on tour for a month, and this is the most fun we’ve had by far. By far. By a thousand miles.”

Anthony Green is standing onstage at Lakewood, Ohio’s Phantasy Nite Club, right outside of Cleveland city limits, three songs into a Circa Survive headlining set in front of a few hundred diehard fans, each paying $20 a ticket to see an emo legend in an unusually intimate space on about 48 hours’ notice. It’s currently 90 degrees and humid as hell outside, meaning it’s at least 100 degrees inside this old sweatbox of a venue desperately in need of updates. (Case in point: Mere seconds after he makes these remarks, the PA blows and the band has to take a 10-minute break as the system is fixed.)

Green’s calculations are a little bit off, though: He’s actually 1,174 miles from the Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas, Texas. That is where his band embarked on the inaugural Rockstar Energy Disrupt Festival, one of a handful of scene-centric traveling roadshows that popped up in the wake of Kevin Lyman reducing Warped Tour to a few destination-festival dates for the foreseeable future. Disrupt was booked in the same type of amphitheaters that used to house Warped, though production would be scaled back to one parking lot stage which would run in the afternoon, then the actual amphitheater opening in the evening for the headliners. Various vendor booths would be scattered throughout, because you can’t have a summer festival without someone selling bold-print T-shirts with awful phrases on them.

The bill for Disrupt looked good on paper: Circa Survive, Thrice and the Used were the headliners, with a fourth headliner slot being rotated between Sum 41 and the Story So Far depending on the date. These are all bands that regularly sell out House Of Blues-sized venues or larger, depending on the tour package, and more importantly, they were all veterans of Warped Tour, alongside most of the rest of Disrupt’s bill, furthering that pseudo-nostalgic feeling. Padding out each day were mall-screamo also-rans like Memphis May Fire, Sleeping With Sirens and Atreyu, each presumably still with a fanbase that was willing to stand outside in the heat all day to see a truncated set.

That, clearly, has not been the case.

Since kicking off on June 21, Disrupt has been plagued with low attendance, with some shows reportedly having as little as 1,000 people in attendance for the final sets of the night. Tickets have been blown out via Groupon. They have canceled two dates the week of the show — Bristow, Virginia and Thornville, Ohio, the latter of which led to the last-minute Circa headlining gig in Cleveland — as well as given away thousands of free tickets to dates in major markets such as Chicago:

The tour has been performing so badly that multiple sources have confirmed to me that tour producers asked various bands to take pay cuts, with some accepting and others refusing.

“I think most bands are in good spirits about [the tour] after the initial shock of seeing the crowd sizes,” says a crew member for one of the artists on the tour who we’ll call Zeke. “4,500 people in a 20,000 seat amphitheater is a bit of downer. But we’re mostly making the best of it.”

Zeke, like other crew members I spoke to, asked to have their name changed to avoid their comments affecting future gigs. (“Someone just got in big trouble for posting about canceled shows outside of the official channels,” another crew member tells me. “It’s definitely the elephant in the room.”)

“It was awkward watching Atreyu and Circa open the amphitheater stage in front of a sea of empty seats,” says journalist James Shotwell, who supplied the crowd shots for today’s newsletter. “Even the parking lot stage looks woefully under attended. The crowd was able to fit in front of the sound board.”

“The venue sizes were too big for the ticket sales and they knew it beforehand they had a chance to scale back but they didn’t,” says Zeke. “You should never have to ask bands to take pay cuts, but they have. Also, John Reese hasn’t made an appearance once.”

John Reese is the CEO of Synergy Global Entertainment, the company responsible for putting on such events as Slipknot’s Knotfest, Travis Barker and John Feldmann’s Back To The Beach and the Offspring’s Sabroso — all destination festivals geared around one band and/or subculture. He’s also the guy who lifted Fat Mike’s Camp Punk In Drublic and turned it into Camp Anarchy. Reese previously dabbled in scene culture with Taste Of Chaos, the “Winter Warped” he co-created with Kevin Lyman. From 2010 to 2014, Reese also ran the Rockstar Uproar Festival, an outdoor festival tour geared around the persistent wet cough that is nü-metal and butt rock, which reportedly also underperformed to the point where bands were once again asked to take pay cuts. The fact that Reese hasn’t been onsite for a single date is telling — he knew the Titanic was headed for an iceberg before it even left port.

So where did the tour go wrong? One culprit seems to be lack of social media presence. The tour has less than 1,000 followers on Twitter, less than 8,000 likes on Facebook and less than 11,000 followers on Instagram. For comparison’s sake, the Sad Summer Festival — the Pepsi to Disrupt’s Coke, featuring the likes of Mayday Parade, the Wonder Years, State Champs and more — has more than 9,000 followers on Twitter and 24,000 followers on Instagram. Promoters can’t just go by the “If you book it, they will come” mantra anymore. Disrupt has zero engagement with fans, and it’s clearly hurting their bottom line.

Whatever the future is for a scene without Warped Tour, it seems destined to be without Disrupt as well, as many sources on the tour believe it to be a one-and-done. With only seven dates left, the tour is limping to the finish line — frankly, given some of the softer markets it has left (Boise and Albuquerque, to name a few), it will be surprising if no more dates are canceled. Ticket prices, initially starting at $30 and running to $80 or more for pit access — not to mention VIP meet & greet upgrades pushed constantly — have been slashed to as low as $9.99 in some markets.

“It’s the worst tour I’ve ever done in my life,” remarks a tour manager for one of the Disrupt bands who asked to remain anonymous. “ I literally am counting down the days to this being done so my guys can just go home.”

Home. It’s where the bands want to be and, apparently, where their fans currently are. Maybe next summer.

Today’s subject line is a lyric from the song “The Difference Between Medicine And Poison Is In The Dose” by Circa Survive, which still sounds as good in a small, sweaty club in 2019 as it did in 2007. Listen to the song below, and if you dig it, you can buy the record it’s from on Amazon (and by clicking that link, there’s a chance I may make a few cents):

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