Punk rock has always been a counter culture for kids that were uninterested in the common recreational activities of youth. Something real and raw compared to the politically correct phoniness of the traditional adolescent social scene. It was a place where you could release all your anger and frustration at the farce the American dream was becoming along with other like-minded individuals. At least that’s what it used to be. As Ian McKaye sang as a member of Fugazi, “You can’t be what you were…”. In it’s 16 years of existence, Punk Rock Bowling has evolved into a senior prom for young punkers and a reunion for it’s OG’s and elder statesmen. It’s a playground for punks.
It’s not just the festival shows. It’s the bowling tournament, the three nights of club shows at four great Downtown Vegas venues like the Freemont Country Club and Backstage Bar and Billiards. It’s pool parties all day, every day and just when you think that the whirlwind weekend is over, it’s Punk Rock Karaoke where punk legends like Greg Hetson and Eric Melvin are the backing band for wannabe’s and posers like YOU. Kook.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that punk is dead like so many others told me when I was a youth. As long as Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye and Johnny Rotten are alive, so is punk. Even Green Day and the record industry couldn’t kill what punk really is. In fact, the record industry died before punk did. Punk rock HAS grown up though. Its early denizens and settlers have started families, business’ and see chiropractors on a regular basis. At least the ones that didn’t die of heroin overdoses. Nowhere was this more obvious than at the bowling tournament where the organizers of the event, Shawn and Mark Stern of BYO Records/Youth Brigade bowled along side of old and new friends alike including the cutest of event mascots, their little niece Fauna. It was a family affair.
“Slam Pit Politics” have become more friendly and unified, as well. By no means have pits at shows like this become soft, but the old battles between Nazi Skins, S.H.A.R.P.’s/Unity, Suicidals and Two Tones were not as obvious as they used to be. This was most apparent to me on Saturday, Day 1 of the festival. It featured vintage Oi bands like Cock Sparrer, Angelic Upstarts and Peter and the Test Tube Babies. When I saw that day’s lineup I thought it was a riot waiting to happen. I had flashbacks of stomping skinheads in a melee of elbows and red suspenders. No riot though. Just thousands of stoked punks. Maybe it was hard to see from my perch in the VIP lounge but the existence of the VIP lounge itself speaks to the evolution of the art form as well. Day 1 featured Anti Nowhere League, The Slackers and The Generators as well.
That same night when the festival was over, we walked down Fremont and were able to see All, Gang Green, H20, Judge, Stalag 13, the Briefs and Final Conflict. There was so much to see that it was impossible not to miss something. From hardcore to nardcore — straight edge, gutter punk, skate punk, ska, and rockabilly — I loved it all. My friends Dr. Buzz, Tony Miller and I even went and sang some Karaoke at the janky ass El Cortez hotel. I broke off some Johnny Cash and called it a night.
I woke up Sunday morning with a crazy scratch in my throat and an ache in my bones. By the time the festival was midway through the lineup, I was buzzed enough not to notice that I had the full blown flu, but was able to power through The Dwarves, The Adicts and Descendents at the festival, and The Meatmen with Manic Hispanic at Country Saloon. I did not have the health or the youth to drag myself to see The Reverend Horton Heat or Old Man Markley and felt like a failure as I jumped into a cab back to my hotel on the strip.
I woke up on Monday with a 102 temperature and a hangover. Maturity prevented me from drinking myself through another day at the festival. I missed two up and coming bands that I was REALLY excited to see live for the first time. Young bands like Clepto and Cerebral Ballzy almost got me out the door even when the thought of motivating to go see NOFX for the 238th time couldn’t. I was equally bummed at the thought of missing Off! and Leftover Crack but really didn’t give a shit about bands like Good Riddance and Against Me! Sorry guys. I stayed in my hotel room and watched the Kings dominate the ChickenHawks instead and ordered room service.
I love music, all kinds of music, but Punk Rock and hardcore are the first music that literally saved me from some really tough and confusing times. I will never outgrow it or denounce it. It’s kind of like that old friend who had your back when you were a kid so you overlook every stupid thing he’s done since then. Big thanks to BYO Records and the Stern brothers for taking great care in crafting an amazing lineup year-after-year. It’s guys like them that carry the torch to illuminate what we were all fighting for or against when this whole thing started.
Review by Danny Baraz