As massive crowds flock to Las Vegas to celebrate Memorial Day each year, the punk rockers know that the real summer kickoff party happens just off of Fremont Street rather than anywhere on the Strip. From pool parties and club shows to bowling nights and a massive three-day music festival, Punk Rock Bowling is the only event of its kind — and it just so happens to be a damn good time year after year. Between the diverse lineup representing almost every punk pedigree, to the packed club shows, the official bowling competition and the priceless people watching there’s more than enough ways for festival goers to get their kicks.
With dozens more acts than anyone would actually be able to see over a long weekend the biggest struggle for most Punk Rock Bowlers isn’t battling hangovers and sunburns but rather choosing which bands to see at any given time. To make life easier, here are 10 acts you should see at the festival portion of Punk Rock Bowling no matter what kind of punk you are.
If you find yourself at the festival grounds early one day, Monday is probably the day to do it (although you can’t go wrong with Swingin’ Utters in the same time slot on Sunday either). While the English duo might not necessarily sound like the generic punk rock you expect to hear while the sun is still up, it’s hard to believe that anyone’s walked away from Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman without at least being heavily amused. From the simplified song compositions and unforgettable lyrics to Vincent’s insane storytelling capabilities, Slaves are a very unique twist on the classic charm that made us all fall in love with the genre in the first place.
9. Rise Against
Of all the main acts at Punk Rock Bowling this year, Rise Against seems like the strangest choice for a headliner. That’s why it’s important to remember that before their radio hits and massive stage show, Tim McIlrath and his band were just some young punks from Chicago who Fat Mike liked enough to sign to Fat Wreck Chords for their first album. With a distinctly different band closing out each of the three nights, Saturday’s main event will likely be a younger and more polite crowd than either of the following days, but that’s no excuse to leave early (unless you have to get dinner before a club show).
8. Mighty Mighty Bosstones
As the dorky and peppy cousin of punk rock, ska has always had a bit of a home at Punk Rock Bowling. This year will be no different, as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have been awarded the premium slot on Sunday night right before NOFX. Even if you’re not a massive fan of horn sections or bands wearing suits, it’ll still be one of the best opportunities to dance all weekend — and to watch thousands of drunk thirtysomethings scream along to the chorus of “The Impression That I Get.”
You’re not really going to go to an event like Punk Rock Bowling and not see punk rock legends like GBH, are you? Even the mohawked toddlers in the crowd would be calling you a poseur for missing that one.
If you’ve never been to a Turbonegro show, there’s really no way to explain a Turbonegro show. There’s going to be a lot of sweat, costumes, face-melting rock, and general Norwegian silliness, and it’ll probably be a spectacle that you’ll never forget. The Turbojugend has long been one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of rock, so don’t be surprised when thousands of people in denim vests and jackets show up on Sunday evening and then disappear straight to the bar (or maybe a BDSM club) right afterwards. What’s normal for a night with Turbonegro often falls into the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” category for most bands.
5. Suicidal Tendencies
There are few thrash punk bands that have aged as gracefully over the last four decades as Suicidal Tendencies. Despite only ever having one major hit, Mike Muir and the rotating cast of musicians he’s kept around him have maintained relevant with an endless barrage of angry and relatable records — and enough flip-up hats to cover the receding hairlines of an army. While their hardcore fans may be aging alongside the band, new middle schoolers discover “Institutionalized” everyday, and thus the legend of “Cyco Miko” and the guys continues to grow.
Aside from being one of the most underrated grunge bands of all time, it also seems only appropriate to point out that the ladies of L7 were about three decades ahead of the current resistance movement when it came to shattering glass ceilings and proving that women could rock just as hard as their male counterparts. Beyond the possibility of looking sexist if you skip out on the only penisless band of the weekend, no one should be missing an L7 festival set after their infamous performance at the Reading Festival 26 years ago.
3. Against Me!
Although they might be a little “modern” for some of the old punks in the crowd this weekend, Against Me!’s ability to create immediately catchy songs without sacrificing any of their punk rock integrity will likely win them over some new aging fans at Punk Rock Bowling. Laura Jane Grace continues her reign as one of the greatest songwriting frontwomen of the last 20 years, and all-star drummer Atom Willard has finally found a permanent home for himself for the first time since leaving Rocket from the Crypt (for the first time) in 2000. Against Me! may be the most broadly appealing band on the bill this year, as their fusion of styles should provide at least a little something for almost everyone in attendance.
When people think of the people at a festival like Punk Rock Bowling, Fat Mike is probably the first face that comes to mind. While NOFX’s legendary leader only appeared for a few guest spots last year (including one involving a baseball bat and a Donald Trump statue), he’ll be out in full force this weekend. Anyone spending the time and money to go to Las Vegas for a punk rock festival is probably already planning to see NOFX on Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean their set will be any less great as it walks the line between comedy show and classic punk.
1. At the Drive-In
Whether you consider them punk rock or not, At the Drive-In is arguably one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and certainly among the best of the last 25 years. Purists will argue that their current incarnation isn’t the same without Jim Ward, but considering that Keeley Davis played with Ward in his other project, Sparta, it seems like about as close of a replacement guitarist as you can get. With over two years under their belt on this latest run, it finally feels like the best thing to ever come out of El Paso might be back for good — and that’s more exciting than any single festival set ever could be.