For the sixth year in a row, Percussion Marketing Council (PMC) sponsored FREE DRUM LESSON Lab Tents at Vans Warped Tour (VWT) sites across the country. This year, retailers at six of the national VWT tour dates participated, connecting with huge youth-oriented markets in local communities by providing free beginner drum lessons. This grass-roots approach exemplifies PMC’s mission to create and expand the next generation of drummers.

Billy Cuthrell is a PMC member through Progressive Music, Raleigh, NC, and program director for the PMC VWT initiative. He introduced the idea eight years ago at an all-members PMC meeting. “I had been pushing to get outside the normal channels—for finding and growing new drummers,” he says, explaining that the idea is to target young, active music lovers who attend concerts and inspire them to become active music participants—specifically, drummers.

“VWT attendees matched our target demographic perfectly,” says Cuthrell. “Vans Warped Tour has a whole nonprofit arm. They provide space for a certain number of nonprofits to be onsite for each tour. They provide a 10 X 10-foot space and often they will even help you set up,” says Cuthrell. PMC loans tents, which are shipped directly to designated VWT locations from PMC headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio.

Each year the PMC Board reaches out to retailers offering them the opportunity to manage a PMC FREE LESSON Tent by providing drum lessons to the local area youth market that attends VWT events. It’s a win-win for the retailers as they get to connect with potential new customers in their market with very little investment. “That’s a big draw for retailers,” says Cuthrell. “The booth space is valued at $2,000. And since PMC provides the tents as a nonprofit participant, it’s a free, high-visibility space in front of 30,000 captive music lovers.”

For young VWT fans, it’s a rare opportunity to sit behind a real kit. “The Vans Warped Tour is a fun atmosphere and neutral ground for participants, so the intimidation factor disappears,” says Cuthrell. “It’s the perfect alternative to the retail setting, where all drum sets are for sale and the stores can’t just let people sit down and play.”

“Drums are one of the few instruments that can offer beginners instant satisfaction,” says Cuthrell. “We can get them playing a straight beat, or something like Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’—boom-boom-tap. When they sit behind a drum kit for the first time, hit the drums, and feel the rattle in their chest, it’s a moving experience. They are hooked on drums just like that.”

“For the retailer, they have opened the door to build a relationship with potential new customers,” says Cuthrell, who is a successful music retailer and drummer himself. “It makes sense to be physically in front of customers, collecting names and contact information, so you can stay in touch.”

Rupps Drums, hosted a tent at a late June tour stop in Denver, Colorado. “Each student at their event filled out a contact card,” says Josh Beyers. “We used the card to follow up and possibly develop new students for our studio. I met a lot of people! Great people and fun vibes.”

Drummer and educator Mark Powers worked with Rhythm Traders of Portland, Oregon, to provide drum lessons. “I had a blast teaching lessons at the Vans Warped Tour in Salem, Oregon,” says Powers, who estimated they taught around 100 lessons on that Saturday in June. “Another 20 to 30 existing players dropped by to rock out for a few minutes. “We found that allowing a player to jam for a moment attracted even more attention from passersby.”

PMC member Hal Leonard Corporation, represented by Brad Smith, was on-hand at the tent at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stop hosted by Cascio Music Super Store. “It still amazes me—every year,” says Smith. “A new crop of young people wants to play drums, and more than half of them are ladies. These are our people.”

Plans are already developing for the 2018 PMC-VWT summer tour with dates and locations appearing on the PMC website in early spring. Interested percussion retailers are encouraged to contact the Percussion Marketing Council at or by calling 440-582-7006.