Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival Amps Up Downtown Las Vegas

prb 2Written and photography By Rose Watson, Informer Media Group

Rock n’ Rollers, Crash Queens, Rev-Heads and Punks flocked to Downtown Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend to soak in live music, all-star bowling competition and alternative aesthetic at the 18th annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival. Over the 3-day festival, 190 bowling teams competed for the title of champion and 27 different bands shredded the stage, including groups like Flag, THE EXPLOITED, DECENDENTS and one of the biggest names in the punk scene, Flogging Molly. And with a headliner like that, we laced up our Docs, gelled up our hair and strapped in for a wild ride through punk counterculture.

And the counterculture itself is one of the most intoxicating parts of the festival. Punk is often dismissed as a militant subculture. The music is regarded as feeding hotheaded, youthful angst and fostering questionable morality; however, walking the festival, one gets a better sense of the community of punk. The festivalgoers span all age groups: curious preteens with wary parents to grizzled elders who rocked with the classics before they were classic. There are families. Tattooed fathers and mohawked mothers introduce their children to the style that has impacted their lives. And of course plenty of twenty-somethings who have found their niche. More than music and studded jewelry bonds these people.

So what is punk? This counterculture made up of disenfranchised youth known for disrespecting authority and breaking rules is mostly known for being scary. But the real heart of the movement is about taking back control of one’s life from a corporate, plasticized world that doesn’t care about the individual. Punk is about rejecting the life-script in favor of finding what one is truly passionate about and accepting that it may change the way one interacts with the world. Punk as a subculture is an examination of normal society; it breaks the mold to see the mold better. It asks why. Punks are unabashedly devoted to being themselves; no one would wear pounds of canvas, leather and denim in the Las Vegas sun if they weren’t so focused.

prb 3That isn’t to say that the subculture isn’t aggressive in some ways. Punk is high energy and fueled by a lot of raw emotion, often found in the music that shares the same name. Punk isn’t pretty. It’s harsh, crass and uses bad language so often it’s practically an art form. Moshing (a form of violent dancing done at alternative music concerts) is done for pure fun, and plenty of people get hurt in the pit. But even so, Punks are fiercely loyal and protective of each other, creating a community of support. I, myself, a concert newbie, was protected from the tumult of the mosh pit behind me by several stronger, seasoned concert goers (Phil if you’re reading this, thank you!) who were complete strangers when I first entered the crowd. For a moment during Flogging Molly’s set, I turned to look at the crowd behind me. I was jammed up against the fence in the front feeling the buzzing energy of the entire crowd at my back, and I turned to look at the mosh pit behind me. There was a girl, probably in her mid-twenties, with blue hair and tight black tank top. She was right at the edge, being jostled and tossed around, and she shoved right back. It wasn’t her brute force that caught my eye, but the ecstatic look of excitement and joy that dripped off of her like sweat. She had the most infectious grin on her face as complete chaos churned around her. That is Punk.

This is the aesthetic that surrounds festivalgoers at Punk Rock Bowling. Everywhere there are people proud to be alternative. I saw tattooed pin-up queens with perfect ‘50s hair chat with grunge rockers wearing layers of ripped up clothes and feet of chain. Merch stands sell t-shirts with phrases like “Delightfully Inappropriate” and “Tattooed and Employed.” Jackets and vests are emblazoned with more patches than I thought could fit; hair is slicked into physics breaking styles. Entrepreneurs sell everything from art prints to custom clothes to inappropriate buttons. The air is full of smoke, sweat and watered down beer. The sound of guitars shredding from across the lot is constant. It’s like stepping into another world, and let me state it proudly, it rocks.

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