“I see a lot of old people in the audience, which is awesome because we’re old. so we’re going to play some old songs for you!” Trever Keith, the guitarist of Face To Face told the Punk Rock Bowling crowd.
It was Day 2 in downtown Las Vegas and pushing 100 degrees on an asphalt parking lot where two massive stages would hold more than 40 bands across the three-day festival –not counting over 20 club shows and daily pool parties at The Grand Casino.
At this point — 23 years in — Punk Rock Bowling has established itself as the largest punk festival in the western United States. With a lineup spanning the eras and sub styles of the music, the event has become an annual party attracting an international crowd, where for a weekend, mohawks and leather vests take over Fremont Street, casino gambling floors, hotel swimming pools, and a handful of notoriously punk-friendly drinking establishments throughout town, such as Frankie’s Tiki Room and the new Punk Rock Museum.
While this year’s headliners Bad Religion, Rancid and Dropkick Murphys can easily pack venues worldwide with their singalong, high-energy shows, the care going into the overall lineup can’t go without mention. Organizers brought bands long overdue to the West Coast shows such as Georgia’s The Anti Heros, Mexico City’s Alice Bag, and Florida’s Against All Authority. While styles varied from the speedy chaos punk of The Casualties and GBH to the tongue in cheek Me First & The Gimme Gimmes and Manic Hispanic, to the hardened street punk sound of Agnostic Front and Lion’s Law to the reggae influenced Fishbone and the Aggrolites, the thread running through each band playing was the absence of any type of hateful themes or exclusionary politics.
Making the move this year to a larger space allowed the Main Stage and Monster Side Stage to both stand even larger than during previous years when the daytime fest took place at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, some growing pains were noticeable. The lack of turf covering the black asphalt parking easily being the most apparent, as the brutal sun and high 90s tempteratures during the day sent most people off wandering for the limited shade or filling up the covered bar area. The asphalt ground seemed to absorb all of the heat. One other issue was the water station running out of water on Day 1.
However the two stages set at a 90 degree angle from each other alternating between bands with only about 5 minutes of downtime between sets meant that those there for the music could easily walk between stages in no more than two minutes if they wanted. Those willing to brave the shade-less bleachers could grab an elevated seat and never even need to move but just adjust where they were looking to have a view of both stages.
Stalls with a variety of food trucks and vendors lined the back of the grounds, giving those attending a chance to check out some different record shops from the likes of Alternative Tentacles and Dr. Strange Records, or to look through the Punk Rock & Paintbrushes Gallery featuring artwork by and of prominent musicians.
While three days of concerts provided far too many moments to capture here – and judging by the number of napping and passed out punks lying in the shade of the VIP canopy (so many that it has fueled its own @passedoutpunx Instagram account) may have been overwhelming before the end of Day 1 – the moments that stuck out of this year’s fest were the bands leaving the stage and interacting with the crowd. The Casualties vocalist David Rodriguez leapt from the stage and performed a couple songs from the middle of a raging pit area, or rocker Suzi Moon being seen hanging out in the crowd talking with those who caught her performance. Maybe most notably were Tim Armstrong, guitar player and vocalist from Rancid, returning to the stage area after the band’s headlining set had ended to personally pull the set lists from being taped to the stage to hand to people in the crowd, or Roger Miret or New York hardcore band Agnostic Front thanking the crowd for supporting the band for 42 years, and mentioning that he would be at the band’s merch booth after the set to say hello to everyone who stopped by. When we walked past the merch booth a couple hours later on our way out following the headlining set, Miret was still at the merch booth greeting and talking with visitors.
And while Face To Face’s Keith may have touched on something that was clearly visible – the average age of the crowd falling strongly into the “mid-“ to “advanced” groups – Punk Rock Bowling is also an environment where pretensions seem to have no place. The friendliness of all those there, the smiles at the rare opportunity to see several of these bands, the musicians whose work has had a major impact on those here walking around the crowd and interacting with those same people, parents of children with mohawks and punk tee shirts watching their kids interact and play with each other in between bands onstage – it all combines to make the annual Punk Rock Bowling Festival a destination, regardless of what names are on the bill.
Head to PunkRockBowling.com and sign up for the email list or to follow their social media accounts for future fest announcements and events!
– Shaun Astor