No Room for Rockstars (2012) Review

There’s a good reason for why people idolize rock stars. Sure, there’s the talent and the music that makes them famous and gives them their legions of fans. Beyond the talent and the music though, there’s something else that fascinates people about musicians. It’s the lifestyle. No Room For Rockstars is an unflinching, upfront film that tells it how it really is. Real rock stars are borne from hard work, dedication, and a genuine love for what they do. No Room for Rockstars is a solid documentary that uses compelling storytelling and honest portrayals to give fans a look behind the curtain at what really makes a music festival tick, and the lives and personalities that make it all possible.

No Room for Rockstars centers on the Warped Tour, an annual summer music festival that originated as a showcase for punk rock. In recent years, the Warped Tour has expanded its lineup to include other genres of music, such as hip-hop, contemporary rock, and pop. With these different styles of music coming together, the Warped Tour has become a constant showcase for both established acts and scrappy up-and-comers. Thus sets the stage of No Room for Rockstars.  The film follows four bands and the Warped Tour’s dedicated crew through the entire summer of 2010. What comes is a fascinating portrayal of all the true-to-life drama you’d expect from a music tour full of people who give it their all in every single show. Clashing egos, bad weather, homesickness, and the constant threat of utter disillusionment continually assault both the bands and crew themselves.

What makes the film so interesting is the diverse group of people the filmmakers chose to focus on. Immediately the audience is introduced to pop singer Mike Posner, an artist whose radio success and different genre of music immediately alienates him from the majority of his fellow tour-mates. There’s also Never Shout Never, a rock band led by front man Christofer Drew. The tour is more their style, and Drew is just looking forward to spreading his positivity and playing music for his (many, many, many) fans. But one of the most interesting stories to emerge from the summer of ’10 is that of band Forever Came Calling, who sets out on a mission to make it onto the tour on their own, with nothing but determination and self promotion to get them from city to city. Literally following the tour from town to town, the juxtaposition between a band like Forever Came Calling and the established acts is fascinating. It’s a harsh, crystal-clear portrayal of how hard bands really do have to work to just get a chance to be noticed.  It’s some of the best drama in the film, and offers an unglamorous perspective some might not have expected to see so much of.

It’s not just the bands that contribute to the film’s strength, either. Interludes from seasoned crewmembers, bus drivers, and roadies offer insight into the nuts and bolts of the tour as well. They’re the sort of unsung heroes that fans can’t help but love. One in particular has a truly harrowing life story, and audiences will appreciate the unfiltered approach the film takes to sharing it. Even the tour’s originator Kevin Lyman spends some time under scrutiny as well. He’s clearly not afraid to be shown in a bad light. If his fuse is short, there’s not a lot of sugar coating you can expect. However, what shines through is Kevin’s genuine affection for his bands. The honest portrayal of every aspect of the Warped Tour is what No Room for Rockstars continuously gets right. By the end of the tour attitudes and personalities have changed, and not always for the better. Posner has embraced what the music and lifestyle of being on the road offers more than ever. Drew has become so disillusioned by the experience and contemptuous of the commercial aspects of the tour, he actually appears bitter. His condemnation of the enterprise is made all the more powerful by the constant reminder that bands like Forever Came Calling would kill for the opportunity that others have so easily rejected.

Even though the Warped Tour’s lineup may not appeal to every audience member’s musical tastes, it tells a story interesting enough to capture their attention regardless. A sincere, sometimes brutal portrayal that’s never afraid of censorship keeps this documentary consistently engaging. Oozing sincerity and genuinely thought provoking, No Room for Rockstars is for anyone who is fascinated by the inner workings of a hugely important aspect of the modern music industry.