If you’ve attended the Vans Warped Tour at any point in the last 19 years, you’ve probably seen the familiar bright orange of the truth truck. For almost two decades, the tobacco-awareness campaign has been bringing their message of prevention and positivity to excited Warped-goers across the country. Atlas was fortunate enough to catch up with the truth tour riders at the Phoenix, AZ, stop of the final Warped Tour to talk about the campaign, memories from all that time on the road and what truth means to them.
Currently, the truth truck is staffed by eight tour riders from all over the country and DJ Athenz spinning tracks from classic Warped bands at every stop. Every day, these tour riders set up games and activities for attendees while providing educational material for young people to learn more about the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine. Their mission is to allow the next generation to make more informed decisions in the hopes of ending tobacco smoking completely.
Atlas spent the day with the truth truck and we spoke with Ricky Pinela and Shakon Fleming, two truth riders who’ve dedicated their last few summers to the campaign.
Pinela has only been with the truth campaign for a year, but his enthusiasm is that of a veteran. Like many others, he became interested after seeing the provocative commercials about smoking on TV and got involved as soon as he could.
“When I turned 21, I saw the job opening for the position I’m doing now (Tour Rider). I love the campaign, love everything it stands for, so I applied, got the job and I’ve been out here since,” he said.
Like Pinela, Fleming’s first exposure to truth was through their advertising.
“Honestly, early on, it was the commercials. I remember being young and seeing the body bag commercial on MTV and seeing the ruckus they were causing in Times Square. That was a program that I really wanted to be part of, it drew me in. I’m not a smoker and I never was. My mom is so when I saw those ads, it made me want to tell her about it so that way she could be aware of what was going on,” he said.
Both staffers described their love for being out on Warped Tour and getting to interact with people from many different locations and backgrounds.
“I get some really interesting stories from people, like personal stories about tobacco use and how it’s affected themselves or their families,” Pinela said of his favorite part of going on tour.
Hanging out with the truth riders is an exercise in infectious positivity. The whole crew helps out with the games and activities, keeping energy levels high in often record-breaking summer heat. The games are silly, fun and surprisingly competitive (watching two friends fight over a plastic skull for a free shirt was a highlight). Best of all, the music never stops as DJ Athenz plays Warped Tour classics all day long as fans move between sets. There’s also a booth where fans can leave messages about what the campaign and Warped Tour mean to them right next to a merch tent bursting with color.
Having been a truth rider for three Warped Tours, Fleming has seen it all.
“Just this year, we had a guy show up to San Diego with all the merch that he had gotten from truth since 2012. So he had brought shirts that I hadn’t even seen. He brought everything from 2012 up until this year; he wore and brought it just to show off. To me, that was insane because our merch is free. I could see if it was a band shirt but the fact that he brought the truth shirts to show off, I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.
Pinela and Fleming also remember some of the epic dance parties they’ve thrown over the years.
“For me, the craziest [memory was] Mountain View 2015. We threw a huge dance party. There were so many people, they let me get on top of the truck and throw out t-shirts. The San Francisco Tribune took some awesome photos. They had me rocking out, throwing t-shirts, just having fun,” Fleming reminisced.
While the first thought may be that awareness campaigns are cheesy and ineffective, that is definitely not the case with truth. Their tour riders are genuine, dedicated people who truly believe in a brighter tomorrow.
Fleming’s passion for tobacco awareness is evident, commenting, “Truth to me is a better generation. We’re trying to be the generation that ends tobacco smoking so it’s maybe not the generation that came before me but I think truth means that I can help that next generation end tobacco smoking for good.”
Pinela agrees, adding, “I feel like I hold them really close to my heart, not only because I’ve been working with them for over a year now, but because I grew up as like an advocate [against] tobacco use. My dad smoked, my uncle smoked and he ended up getting lung cancer and he lost a lung because of it. Just little stories like that that affected me when I was growing up make me more passionate about truth as a brand and I just have this sense of pride because what we’re doing is so amazing.”
The truth truck closes out 19 amazing years as a partner of Vans Warped Tour this summer. Make sure to stop by, share your stories and even play a game or two. Tickets are still available for the rest of the dates so don’t miss out.