Punk Rock Bowling 2023 - The Good, The Bad, and The Holy Hell It Was Hot

Dropkick Murphys at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - Over the Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas this year, Punk Rock Bowling made its return after about a year and a half to downtown Las Vegas with 3 days of outdoor music with headliners Bad Religion, Rancid and Dropkick Murphys.

Of course, those who are familiar with the festival know that the festival itself is not the only attraction in town during this weekend as there are pre-fest shows, club shows, pool parties and more throughout the weekend to keep fans busy.

Madam Bombs at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

I wanted to cover as much of the scene as I can without running too long with this article, but just enough to highlight the best things and to point out some possible changes that could make the festival even better.

Chaser at Punk Rock Hoedown in Las Vegas in 2023

The first thing that should be noted is that there actually was a 4-day late-night festival at Hogs N Heifers downtown to benefit Punk Rock Saves Lives which is a charity that helps register people for the bone marrow donor list, gives away free lifesaving products such as fentanyl testing strips, condoms, and they also work to empower people to take control of their mental health.

Skipjack at Punk Rock Hoedown in Las Vegas in 2023

This festival had bands from all over the country who are either emerging in the punk scene or who have been active for years without mainstream acclaim. Some of my favorite bands that played over the four days were Counterpunch, Urethane, Jughead’s Revenge, Chaser, Skipjack, and Second Self, but seriously, there were so many good bands, and I missed a few too like Middle Aged Queers, Let Me Downs, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, and all of Thursday’s set.

Counterpunch at Punk Rock Hoedown in Las Vegas in 2023

I personally know Rob and Tina Rushing the co-founders of Punk Rock Saves Lives, and have a lot of good things to say about them. They create a fun and loving environment for all the fans and the musicians to be involved in. So, this was a great way to kick off the weekend as I got to hang out with great people and meet tons of new faces along the way.

Punk Rock Saves Lives - Rob Rushing introducing Jughead's Revenge at Punk Rock Hoedown in Las Vegas in 2023

It should be mentioned that on Friday night (May 26th, 2023), the band Cliffdiver from Oklahoma was supposed to play, but the band was struck with an incredibly freak accident on their way to Las Vegas where their tour van was struck by flying debris from a passing semi that shot through their window and almost killed their bass player, Tyler Rogers, was struck in the throat and almost killing him while the van was traveling at 80 miles an hour.

You can read the full story on this harrowing accident here.

Rogers has since recovered to the point of being released from the hospital, but the band and Rogers will have some trauma that will need time to heal.

The Las Vegas punk band Franks N Deans filled in for Cliffdiver to help out with the festival as well.

As far as the music went, holy crap, the bands rocked. Rob Rushing mentioned stories off and on about how he got to know the bands and how some of them he has known for years. He personally picked the bands based on their music and their support, and not one of them disappointed.

After having left the Friday night show there at about 2am, the next day was the first day of the Punk Rock Bowling festival which kicked off with some hiccups.

The line to get in was confusing, and none of the security around the perimeter were given any knowledge of where anybody was supposed to go.

The doors were set to open at 1pm which is when a couple hundred people were lined up along with VIPs, press and guests of the festival/guests of bands.

The gate to get to the ticketing booth wasn’t even open until around 1:40 which meant everyone was standing out in the open sun baking and wondering what was going on which made for some very disgruntled conversations.

The “doors” didn’t actually open until about 1:55 which was about 3 minutes AFTER the first band started playing.

The Dollheads at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

That band was Las Vegas’s own pop-punk band The Dollheads who started their set playing for about 3 people, but once people got into the fest, they were playing to about 200-300 people by the end of the set.

The ticketing debacle aside, it was a great way to start the day.

Some of the other cool bands to play on Day 1 included The Venomous Pinks, Suzi Moon, The Slackers and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. I really enjoyed all of the sets by each of these groups.

Bad Religion at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

The big highlights of Day 1 of Punk Rock Bowling definitely came from the two main attractions of The Interrupters and Bad Religion.

The Interrupters, who arguably should have been a headliner as they are probably the most relevant and most popular band at CURRENT on the festival, put on a great show that was incredibly family friendly as lots of young kids were going crazy for the set as well as the 50+ male demographic.

Bad Religion came out to possibly the biggest crowd of any day as the mass of people stretched back further for them than at any point in the weekend. It’s also probably a perk of being the headliner of Day 1 where everyone is still only tired from that day as opposed to being dead from multiple days of being in the sun and rocking out.

In a cool moment, Bad Religion brought out Aimee Interrupter (as she is known) from The Interrupters to sing a duo with lead singer Greg Graffin on one of their most popular songs, “Sorrow” which delighted the crowd immensely.

After Bad Religion ended their set, the after parties (a.k.a. Club Shows) began, and I chose to cover the show that had Strung Out, The Copyrights, Western Addiction and local Vegas band Washed playing their first show ever.

I only caught the last song by Washed, but they sounded pretty good.

Western Addiction at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

Western Addiction came on and went bananas as they had people crowd surfing and stage diving even though the crowd wasn’t that tightly packed together which made for some awkward drunken lifting and dropping of fans.

I personally was most excited to see The Copyrights as they very rarely travel out West, and they are a stellar band.

The Copyrights at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

They did not disappoint. I would put their set (and this show) as probably my favorite of the whole fest for me as far as the music goes.

I actually left right as Strung Out was coming on. Not because I don’t like them. I definitely do. I had just seen them about 3-4 months ago though, and I also wanted to go check out Counterpunch and Urethane at Hogs N Heifers. I think I made the right choice there as Counterpunch is awesome, and Urethane is always a lot of fun.

Urethane at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

That all ended around 3am which meant that I wasn’t home and asleep until about 3:45am (how I fell asleep immediately is only due to the sheer exhaustion from the night before and long day in the heat).

While tourists got their morning fix with some cool pool parties that were coordinated by the festival, I headed back down to the main festival at the start of the day again to catch L.A.’s teen band Madam Bombs open up the day with some really good Joan Jett-like punk rock.

A couple other really good up and coming bands played that early afternoon as well, Rough Kids and Speed of Light.

Speed of Light at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

Day 2 for me was just okay until Face to Face came on at 6:25pm which is always a good show.

Face to Face at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

This was followed by The Casualties putting on the best mosh pit of the whole weekend right afterwards with frontman David Tejas getting a huge circle pit and TWO walls of death going for their set. It was the most engaging act of the weekend.

The Casualties at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

Rancid came on at the end of the evening to a MASSIVE crowd with a ton of energy, and immediately started ripping through their setlist. Unfortunately, at some point during the second or third song, the barricade that holds the fans away from the stage was coming apart.

Tim Armstrong of Rancid at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

The bolts that hold the railing into its base had come off about 6 or 7 barriers all at once, and a single stage hand was trying to push back the barrier to knock the railing back in place and push the bolts back in.

Tim Armstrong of Rancid at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

I was in the photo pit at the time, and as the press was being ushered out (due to the 3 song limit of photographers), I was trying to help this stage hand push the railing back in place with absolutely no result.

I mentioned to the security team that they need to fix that on my way out, because other than this one stage crew guy, no one else seemed to be aware of the issue, and security kinda brushed it off.

Lars Frederiksen of Rancid at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

About 2 songs later, the band was made aware of the situation and had to stop playing. Initially guitarist Lars Frederiksen tried to kill time by telling jokes, talking to the audience and even singing the song “The War’s End” on his own to try to make use of the time, but once it became clear that the crew needed more time to fix the stage, the band walked off and told the crowd to be patient while it got repaired.

It took around 30 minutes to fix the issue, and at that point, the crowd definitely lost steam. Rancid came out and still put on a great show, but it’s hard to have that much time elapse after already starting and keep people highly engaged.

It was another logistical stain on the weekend unfortunately.

I believe that had they not stopped Rancid from playing, that barricade would have flipped over, and the front rows of people would have either fallen over the railing with it, or they would have been crushed under/into the bottom side of the railing which could have absolutely caused serious injuries and possible deaths.

So, yeah, it was an absolute MUST to stop the band from playing at that time.

One thing I did notice though was that the bolts had threading on one end which usually implies there is a nut to screw the bolt into. However, of all the bolts laying on the ground, and even in the ones that were still in place on the rest of the railing, there did not seem to be any nuts to screw the bolts into to secure them in place.

I don’t know if that is an industry standard or a coincidence or what, but it seems like just tightening them and securing them with a nut would have ensured that the bolts didn’t pop out of the railing.

After Rancid finished their set, I went over to Hogs N Heifers again to watch Jughead’s Revenge perform, and I ended up talking with the band Hans Gruber and the Die Hards for about 30 minutes who were set to go on stage around 2am.

Jughead's Revenge at Punk Rock Hoedown in Las Vegas in 2023

I think their band is incredible, but there was just no way that I could keep going that late for 3 straight days after being bombarded by the heat and walking around/standing for 12+ hours each day.

That night I got home around 1:30am.

All to do it again for a third and final day of the main festival which was Memorial Day.

I arrived JUST as local Las Vegas band Desert Island Boys were finishing their set. They are an awesome local band that I have seen before, and had I not had some other work to do in the morning, I would have loved to see them again on the Monster Stage at Punk Rock Bowling.

To be honest, most of Day 3 was not that impressive musically to me. It’s not that the bands were bad, but I think a lot of them were bands that I just don’t listen to much anymore. Infamous Stiffs, Svetlanas, L7, and Hepcat were all there, but I was either mentally incapable of really getting into the music or just kinda didn’t care anymore.

UltraBomb at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

I will say, I actually did enjoy UltraBomb who I hadn’t seen before nor even heard of somehow. Their set was pretty good.\

Agnostic Front put on a good show during the latter part of the day, but my legs and back were destroyed by this point. So I had to find some shade and have a seat after about 4 songs.

Baxter from The Punk Rock Museum and Gaby Kaos from The Venemous Pinks at Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

I actually missed Suicidal Tendencies as I was having a conversation with a member of the Punk Rock Museum’s staff because the talk was incredibly interesting and insightful, and that may lead to a further discussion on a podcast or something soon. Stay tuned.

Dropkick Murphys ended the official festival with a pretty ripping set with a pretty excited crowd. It was good to see the party end with a proper send off from a high energy band like them.

At the end of all of that, I STILL had another show to go to that night, because local tiki bar Red Dwarf put together a show just a week or so before that had Escape From the Zoo (Houston punk band signed to Fat Wreck Chords), Doom Scroll and local band Gob Patrol playing.

The bar was packed, the energy was good, and it was a definite top memory of the weekend as well.

Doom Scroll playing Red Dwarf during Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

There were a handful of locals there to have a great time with the swarm of tourists who came for a good time.

It was probably the happiest show I had seen all weekend, and the bands absolutely killed it. I highly encourage you to check out those bands as well.

Escape From The Zoo playing Red Dwarf during Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas

So, that’s pretty much the entire weekend from my perspective. My favorite parts aside from the music were usually the conversations I had with incredibly interesting people who either play in local or indie bands or who help support the punk ecosystem in some way. Basically, the people who the rest of the festival didn’t get to hear from.

I will be looking to share their stories soon via The Powered By Rock Podcast though. That way I am not the only one who hears tall the cool stories.


I want to give props where they are due, but I also want to speak to some of the areas that could definitely use improvement during the festival.

What was done well…

The festival did a good job of bringing on some young bands onto the earlier parts of the day to highlight the fact that there are still punk bands rising through the ranks.

While I can’t say The Interrupters are “young” exactly, they are definitely one of the most popular punk bands on Earth right now, and if the festival didn’t have them as one of the main attractions, I am not sure how hopeful I would have been for the future of this festival, to be honest.

A couple of technical things the festival did well was to have water refill stations around that seemed to last throughout most of the day, and even when purchasing a bottle of water, the costs were only $2-3 which is cheaper than you would pay at any concert venue in town or any movie theater. So, that was nice.

The various vendors were also cool to see with merch and music from regional and even local businesses like Asteroid M Records. The festival didn’t make the vending spaces cost an outrageous price (sure, they aren’t cheap, but they were reasonable). So, it was possible to have some “non-corporate” vendors out there unlike some of the bigger, mainstream festivals.

Where they need to improve…

I will say that by about 4pm on Day 2, things started to become obvious that it was impossible to watch all the bands for every set on every day. The sun is too hot to be standing in an unshaded parking lot, and all the other late night activities just means it becomes more of an endurance test than a weekend of fun and leisure.

Not to mention that about 60% of the bands that play on the actual festival are bands that are not active unless called upon for a festival gig to roll out and play songs from 30+ years ago.

So, to this end, I am not sure why the festival is even 3 days long when the best bands could easily fit on a one or two day bill.

Sure, the retirees who come out to watch a band they haven’t seen since the early 90’s make up a chunk of the crowd, but even at 41 years old, I never got into most of the bands on the lineup, and I didn’t think they were good in their prime. My personal opinion, obviously.

What I think would be a BETTER way to run the festival in a desert city would be to have it be either 2 days max OR have it be all 3 days, but start the event later and make the run time shorter. It could easily run from 5pm-10:30pm and focus on pool parties during the daytime to keep more people from getting exhausted early on.

Even the vendors and food/bar staff seemed bored before 5pm each day as there were no lines and seemingly no real patrons to attend to until things started to kick off later in the evening.

Also, get more well known rising bands on the fest. Obviously, there is only one Turnstile out there, and they can’t be everywhere, but there are a ton of cool bands out in the U.S. and world that would have loved to be part of the festival instead of pushing out only old bands like Fear, Ch. 3, The Damned, GBH, etc…

I think nostalgia is ruinous to the music industry.

If people care that much about all these old bands, then I would say, the festival should have them come on EARLY in the day as opposed to later. That way the festival can be focused on the FUTURE of punk rock (which if nothing changes, will be dead in a couple of years when none of these bands can physically keep playing).

The communication of the festival between employees and fans (and even bands) seemed to be confusing, limited or non-existent on things like, “Where do I go for my tickets?” or “What line do I get into?” or even “When can we go in?”

Pile that on top of the safety issue with the barricade on Day 2, and it starts to look a bit more like the budget and planning were haphazard and staff was stretched too thin.

To make it a better experience AND make for a better budget, make the amount of bands or the amount of days LESS would probably serve BOTH of those results better. Better for the fan, better for the company.

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