Memorial Day weekend was never particularly memorable until the last five or six years. If I think back to the years prior to going to Punk Rock Bowling (PRB), I can’t think of many memorable Memorial Days (zero puns intended). For much of my adult life, this weekend has meant that my time in a classroom was either over for a few months or almost done.
But then, in 2016, Rhondi and I decided to take a chance on going to Vegas and seeing FLAG play at PRB. We went for two nights and went to the main festival the first afternoon and caught JFA, Subhumans, Exploited, and FLAG. I think Youth Brigade played, too, actually. I hadn’t seen them in a long time.
It was really weird seeing JFA on such a big stage in a huge place. Being far away from those guys at a show felt strange, indeed, and I didn’t think the sound translated as well as it could have. Subhumans were great, though, as always and blew Exploited off the stage that night. It was FLAG that I wanted to see, and they didn’t disappoint.
The coolest thing about the experience, though, was just being immersed in all things punk rock and seeing people truly celebrating the music. For me, that’s what it has always been about. I like the uniform, too, for sure and the fun of being different back in the day, but truthfully, I love the music. To be among a crowd of over 5000 people digging on the same vibe was great.
The feeling of PRB extends beyond the festival itself. I’d heard from lots of friends that it was a good time, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of Vegas. As a tourist, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a really good time there. Luckily, most of my adult trips to Las Vegas have been music centered, either to play a show or see a band.
PRB, for those of you who haven’t been or know nothing about it, happens in the old section of Vegas just off the Fremont strip. This area has a much different vibe than the main (or new) strip. In some ways that’s a good thing, but in others it isn’t. There aren’t any rollercoasters on Fremont, for example, which would make it perfect.
During Memorial Day weekends when PRB was happening, the strip is full of punks. There is all the other folks, too, but there are usually around 10,000 or so punk rock enthusiasts. A good chunk of the Phoenix scene shows up, so there are tons of friends and familiar faces, and having done a lot of shows over the years, I always run into fellow musicians from around the world that I know, too.
That first year we went, we were just taking it all in. We hung out with friends at the bar for a lot of the show I was mentioning earlier and met some new friends, as well. It mostly just felt good. There was no drama and Rhondi and I had a blast. Plus, it is always nice when she and I get to do things on our own.
We didn’t go to the festival on the second day we were there, but there was plenty to do. We ate and drank and laughed. That night, we went to see Dayglo Abortions, DOA, and Asexuals at one of the afterparty club shows. It was a lot of fun. We got to rub some famous punk rock shoulders and while there should have been more people there, it was still great. I love seeing Dayglo Abortions. DOA never disappoints either.
We were hooked. The next year, I helped orchestrate a Slope Records presence at Punk Rock Bowling and that was a lot of fun, too. We went for more days and got to see the one and only Iggy Pop which was so great. We were setting up the Slope booth during soundchecks and even though Iggy wasn’t there singing, his band was running through a bunch of songs, and it sounded great.
OFF! played, too, on that first night and they were killer, as usual. The best set we saw, though, was Alice Bag’s set at one of the club shows. Oh, wow was she and her band amazing. It was in this little, hot, sweaty room packed to the gills and I loved every minute of it. Got to stand next to one of my teenage idols during the set and converse about how amazing it was.
I wish I could say that the Slope experience was all positive, but like much of what happened with that label, the work I put in was either in vain due to other decisions that were made or largely unnoticed. It was fun, still, to be part of the festival in a different way. One of the cool things that did happen, though, was our friend Don using our DJ gear at one of the daytime parties. Don plays the best music and is an awesome DJ as well as being a punk rock legend.
It was also fun that more friends came for the weekend, so we had a chance to see our tribe up close and personal. I love those moments where my brothers and sisters from other mothers can all get together. We had a seriously good time, although some of the fun is a bit hazy. My brothers like to party a lot and I’m kind of a light weight these days.
Much to Rhondi’s chagrin, though, I forget I am a lightweight when I get around my guys. I’m very fortunate that she is willing to watch out for me.
One particularly funny thing happened the first night. We met up in one of the groups hotel rooms for some drinks and partying. My brother Mark handed me what I thought was a regular vape pen, so I took a puff thinking it would be no big deal. I’m a lightweight there, too, but one puff or two is usually still fine and I can hold a conversation.
This wasn’t a run of the mill pen, though, and was a bit more potent than I expected. I was high as a Georgia pine, but I didn’t think twice about it because we were going to go out and have some fun. I had to stop off at a show where one of the Slope bands was playing to make sure everything was okay on our way out.
As you may have surmised, everything was not okay, and I had to deal with something I was way too high to deal with at the moment. Luckily, I think all the parties involved in solving the problem were also way too high, so in the end it worked out, but everyone was laughing at me as I struggled to make sense of the punk rock nonsense. Our band got their dough, and all was well. They probably wish they could have kept the other band’s check, which I was originally handed. It was for about 10 times more.
I’ll tell the story of the 2018 PRB experience another time. That one is a good one.
See you tomorrow.
Rhondi took this picture of Don and I. He's playing one of his killer 7" records.