Most any young band would jump at the opportunity to play a major tour like Warped, a well-established summer package with a devoted fan base and a history of artists including Bad Religion, No Doubt, Sublime, Blink-182 and Pennywise.
Yet playing the main stage this year may mean more to Falling In Reverse frontman Ronnie Radke than anyone can fathom. "My first actual playing [Warped] was 2006, and 2007 was the whole thing. It was in the midst of fighting a case of going to prison, so I [was] flying back to court and back to Warped tour to play. I ended up going to prison anyway," Radke tells Rolling Stone.
The former frontman of Escape the Fate, Radke spent two and a half years in prison. While living in Las Vegas he was present during an altercation in May of 2006 that ultimately led to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Cook. While Radke didn't fire the gun, he was indicted on battery charges, sentenced to five years probation and sent to jail in 2008 for missing an appointment with his parole officer, a probation violation.
Between his court case, drugs and other issues, Radke admits he was a troublemaker during his early stints on Warped with Escape the Fate. But he was welcomed back last year by Warped founder and promoter Kevin Lyman, who let Radke know that was in the past. "He walked right up to me and he said, 'Congratulations on your first Warped tour,'" Radke recalls. "I said, 'Huh? What do you mean? I've done it before.' 'No, congratulations on your first Warped tour.'" In other words, here's your second chance.
Lyman views himself as a mentor for performers like Radke. "I don't judge what these kids are doing. I think I can guide them a little, help them miss some of the mistakes that maybe killed a few of my friends," he tells Rolling Stone.
For the faith Lyman and others have shown in him, Radke promises he's a new man on tour. "I stick to myself now on tours. I don't go out party, drink, smoke, do drugs. It's a dry bus. No one is allowed to bring drinks on the bus," he says. "That's when you really tend to get in trouble – you're in trouble 'cause you're wasted and you do something stupid. Preventing that, I can think clearly in situations that might be stressful and get me in trouble."
Lyman has been honored in the past by MusiCares for his help to the organization, which is dedicated, among other things, to musicians' sobriety. So Radke should have a good support system in place on Warped. And he's aware there are a lot of sober musicians out there these days. "I think sober is the new black. That's the cool thing now. I'm trying to make it the cool thing," he says. "I used to believe in getting wasted and going on stage. I thought that was cool because my idols did it. But I found out the hard way that is not the way to do it. It's better to have a voice without alcohol in my system from the night before. I want to try to lead by example. I'm not Mr. Goody-Good or anything, but I'm not stupid."
The graduation to the main stage, where Falling In Reverse will play alongside the Used, Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, Anti-Flag, Yellowcard and more, culminates a remarkable debut year for the band. Their first album, The Drug In Me Is You, debuted at number 19 on the charts, and they've toured extensively for the last year.
"The album took off, and we're selling out every venue we go to now," Radke says. After all he's been through, it's a comeback even he has a hard time believing. "I got out of prison a year ago. For this to happen – I just bought a new Escalade and a house, all in a year's time," he says. "This is everything I ever wanted, ever."