For seventeen straight years Punk Rock Bowling has been one of the most anticipated summer music festivals in the country. Founded in 1999 by Shawn and Mark Stern (who are also founding members of punk rock band Youth Brigade) it has grown from a simple idea of a bowling tournament with a punk rock show attached, to a three-day festival that includes both up and coming bands as well as powerhouse legends of the last 35+ years; not to mention a bowling tournament. The inaugural PBR festival had just 20 to 30 bowling teams but in 2015, the bowling tournament has expanded so that there are now 232 teams allowed.
At various corners of the Internet, punk rock purists often scoff at the idea of traveling to downtown Las Vegas to attend such a giant spectacle of punk rock celebration due to the price tag of a plane ticket, hotel accommodations and daily amenities; and they have every right. As is with any other situation, until you know, you have no idea; people fear what they don’t truly understand. This year TUBE. made the trek to the Nevada desert to see if Punk Rock Bowling lived up to the hype, and it did with abundance.
If you’ve ever been to Downtown Las Vegas you know about the strange street performers, or plain beggars, that occupy various points of Freemont Street. Performers ranging from an elderly gentlemen leaving nothing to the imagination wearing a mankini, beautiful burlesque dancers, even scantily clad KISS impersonators are there to take photos with tourists. With the invasion of Punk Rock Bowling, roughly 7000 punk rockers take over the streets and casinos and blend with everyday tourists; the sight alone is an experience but the vibe is one of total inclusion. It almost feels like a punk rock gated community.
If you happen to be an early bird there is an official pool party every day at noon featuring a variety of bands and a flood of booze. A great consideration, obviously by punk rockers that know their audience well, rather than beginning at 10am like other Festivals, PBR gives you the option to sleep in and still participate in the morning activities.
The live music starts in the afternoon and runs late into the evening, usually around 11pm. By far one of the best things about Punk Rock Bowling is that there is one main stage where the bands perform each day so there is no need to pick and choose who to see and who to miss. The stage manager deserves a special award because in the pamphlet given upon entry are lineups with set times from first band to last; and each day was spot on; sans a delay during Murder City Devils due to lightning.
Some of this year’s most talked bands were Rancid performing their 1995 album Out Come The Wolves, and Dropkick Murphy’s performing 1998s Do or Die; both in their entirety. Other bands that commanded a large amount of people into the midday sun were east coast acts Sick of it All, Agnostic Front and Anti Flag. Audiences responded more than kindly to lesser known bands such as PEARS, Success!, and Get Dead. Jello Biafra & Guantanamo School of Medicine worked the crowd into a frenzy with their own blend of punk rock, which included a few Dead Kennedys songs. Die hard fans of Turbonegro, dubbed Turbojugend, showed up in droves and flooded the pit during an incredible performance. From the very front to the very back of the festival were people singing and hardcore dancing to Refused. A very special and memorable moment took place during The Muffs set as one of the members of Pears proposed to his girlfriend, stating, “A long time ago this girl here introduced me to her favorite band, The Muffs; and now their one of my favorite bands too.” In case you’re wondering, she said yes.
At the conclusion of each day, if you aren’t already exhausted, there are 5 late-night club shows each night where bands perform in more intimate surroundings; often with special guests or reunions. This year The Mighty Mighty Bosstones headlined a small venue, the night after their festival spot, with The English Beat. Other anticipated acts included The Unseen, Icons of Filth, and Frank Turner; all in very small settings. In all there are around 90 bands performing throughout the weekend.
If there were any doubt that saving up and spending the money to attend such a behemoth of an event could have a disastrous letdown, we here at TUBE. can confirm: if you miss the original vibe and lineup of early years Warped Tour or simply to be engulfed in punk rock bands, records, photo galleries, clothing, food, people and more, get your ass to Punk Rock Bowling; it lives up to the hype and then some.
Words Jordan Wolfe Photos Melissa Uroff