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Punk Rock Bowling 2013 set the bar high for future events

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The band DRI performs during the Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, May 27, 2013.
Photo: Leila Navidi
Chris Bitonti

If you look at the lineup of last weekend’s Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival, almost every one of the top-tier bands could have performed when the event launched in 1999. The main festival alone featured eight bands with more than 30 years of experience each. So how has the festival continued to build momentum without an infusion of new blood to keep it from losing steam? What is it about the punk genre that keeps it perma-fresh for its legions of fans?

Whatever the reason, it must be something special, because this year’s PRB might have been the most successful ever, with all three days fully sold out along with almost every late-night club show. The festival was so packed it felt like it could burst at the seams at any moment. The pits get larger and more numerous, the gigs run later, and there are more club events and pool parties in the days surrounding the main festival to help meet demand. Attendees also seem accepting of the need for punk’s many subgenres to be represented, so fans of hardcore acts like Subhumans and The Casualties mosh happily alongside fans of Tartar Control and Bouncing Souls.

Punk Rock Bowling 2013

Shawn and Mark Stern, the brothers behind Punk Rock Bowling, have created a winning formula, but some of the credit must also go to Las Vegas, which has earned a reputation as a full-on punk destination. PRB exemplifies Downtown’s capacity to host a major music festival, with a space large enough for the main outdoor grounds that’s well within walking distance to hotels, bars and restaurants. Las Vegas has the infrastructure to absorb a massive influx of people without drastically affecting the city’s functionality.

Last weekend, punks filled every bar, street and gutter, yet for the most part everything ran smoothly. The line to get in was one notable problem, particularly on Day 1. (Additional gates might help.) But inside, we rarely waited more than 15 minutes between bands on the main stage, and lines for beer and food were shorter than last year. Communication between clubs and the outdoor fest could be improved to decrease wait time between the headliner on the main stage and the first wave of late-night bands.

If anything big felt missing from this year’s festival, it might have been spontaneity. Some surprise slots in the lineup could help build excitement, if not on the main festival bill then at some of the club shows. And after the successful reunion of Black Flag members for Flag’s PRB-capping Monday night set, it’s tough not to think about other legendary punk bands that could reunite and play Vegas. The Misfits (with Danzig), Hüsker Dü and Minor Threat come to mind, and given Punk Rock Bowling’s recent track record, almost anything seems possible.

My 6 favorite sets at Punk Rock Bowling

Without cloning myself, I couldn’t see every band that played this year’s Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival, but I sure saw a lot …

1. Turbonegro Who knew apocalyptic death metal could be so much fun?

2. Devo They may not be men after all, but some kind of devolved robotic dance-party machine.

3. Flag One of the bands that lit the anti-authority torch for all of the other punk bands to carry. Their reunion show will have fans wondering who PRB can possibly book to top them.

4. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes For the punks who’ve always wanted to sing Barry Manilow songs at the top of their lungs without losing street cred.

5. Suedehead Their danceable mixture of soul, ska and rocksteady might have been the hidden gem in this year’s lineup.

6. Bouncing Souls Good news: They still haven’t grown up. Here’s hoping they never will.

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