For the past 20 years, no music festival has carved out as distinct a niche as Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival. Started in 1999 by Shawn and Mark Stern, the brothers behind BYO Records, as well as founding members of the legendary Los Angeles punk band Youth Brigade, Punk Rock Bowling is one of the few events where the music is just as important as camaraderie—and a little friendly competition. And for its 20th anniversary celebration, Punk Rock Bowling is going for broke.
"We never even thought about it going two years," says Mark Stern about the festival's longevity. "We just set up a party for all our friends in bands and labels, and since everyone had such a great time the first year, more people wanted to come out, so we did it again next year." That spirit has been carried into each year of Punk Rock Bowling, and the 2018 iteration, which takes place in Las Vegas from May 25-28, shows that it'll be bigger, better, and a bit more eccentric than years past. Starting on Friday, May 25, Punk Rock Bowling kicks off the weekend with intimate late night club shows that also run all weekend long after the festival stage lets out which runs Sat. May 26 through Monday May 28.
But what would Punk Rock Bowling be without its adopted sport of choice? In addition to all the bands, there will be an amateur bowling tournament with over 800 participants on Saturday, May 26, offering a series of cash prizes and other assorted goodies before the finals on Sunday, May 27. And if bowling isn't your thing, on Friday, May 25, there will be a winner-take-all Texas Hold 'em poker tournament at the Golden Nugget. Never mind the fact there will be pool parties, free comedy shows, punk rock movie screenings, and punk rock lounge acts all scattered throughout the four-day weekend. "I think a lot of the reason that it has continued to grow is because it's a lot different from a normal festival," says Mark. "Plus, it's in Vegas, where there is no curfew. So it just never ends if you don't want it to."
The 20th anniversary of Punk Rock Bowling will feature a who's who of punk bands from all eras of the genre's storied history. Headlining this year will be Chicago's Rise Against, a band that's taken melodic hardcore to new heights with every one of their albums. This is the band's first time at Punk Rock Bowling, but they're not the only band new to the festival. In 2018, a an entire wave of first-timers will be taking the stage at Punk Rock Bowling, with a very rare appearance from the elusive At The Drive In, L7, Steve Ignorant performing early CRASS songs, The Marked Men, The Partisans, and British sensation, Slaves (UK) all getting in on the action. "I'm constantly looking for new bands to add to the older reunion type lineups to give young bands a chance and introduce them to our audience," says Mark. And while Punk Rock Bowling does a bang-up job in that regard, they've invited some old friends back to Vegas, with bands such as one of PRB's main staples, NOFX, along with Against Me!, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Turbonegro returning this year.
It's a cavalcade that's befitting of the Sterns' initial vision, which was to make an event that was less of a music festival and more of a social gathering. Built on the DIY ethos that has informed every part of the Stern brothers' careers, Punk Rock Bowling is pulling out all the stops for its 20th anniversary, making it the kind of punk rock cornucopia that has a little something for everyone. "Our goal is to make people want to come back. We want them to have a great time and not feel like they've been had," says Stern. "After all, if it wasn't for the fans, this weekend would never exist."
Three-day tickets for Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival are $150 and are on sale now.
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