Punk Rock Bowling is 24 years old now. The DIY bowling tournament-turned festival has many return attendees who’ve been going since the beginning.

“The festival is a meeting place for this community. A lot of these people have been coming to the festival for 23 years,” says founder Shawn Stern.

“There was a big boom in punk rock in the early ‘90s with Green Day and Offspring, and then Rancid and Bad Religion coming back and Social Distortion, NOFX. And that was our sort of bread and butter. … Now, our crowd’s median age is between 30 and 60.”

He knows the importance of bringing revered bands like Devo, Descendents and Suicidal Tendencies to the festival stages year after year. Stern also knows, for longevity’s sake, younger bands need to have a place in the lineup, too. That’s why the festival (and its myriad club shows at Downtown venues) has included fresh local bands like the Dollheads, Detective Frog, Horripilation, Johnny Ruiz and the Escapers, Pure Sport and Twist Off.

“Trying to reach out to younger people means trying to involve younger bands. A lot of these younger bands have been heavily influenced by the bands that have been playing Punk Rock Bowling for many, many years. And so to me, that’s the bridge.”

Katie Overbey cites Bad Religion, Adolescents and T.S.O.L.—all bands that have played the festival before—as some of her biggest punk influences. The 18-year-old’s folk-punk style, “sort of instrumental with folk-y lyrics,” as she describes it, will debut when her band plays the festival’s opening day, May 25 at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.

A classically trained violinist, Overbey made the transition to folk and punk while studying songwriting in high school. She now plays guitar and is lead singer of Katie Overbey and the Backlash.

“I started off with more folk stuff, I would say like Indigo Girls-inspired … big influences like Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce and all the ‘60s and ‘70s folk greats. And then I started to get into punk and I shifted into all of that,” she says.

“There’s so much energy and love. And a lot of times, it’s anger. But no matter what emotion is happening, it’s coming at you full force. … You can’t get much better than that in terms of emotional transmission and music. And that’s what music is for, to make you feel things. I feel like punk does a really good job of that.”

That’s palpable with Punk Rock Bowling. Stern hopes the festival leaves a legacy of altruism and activism. To him, the community gathering of punks both new and seasoned is really an opportunity to spark discussions and engage with music and other like minded people, to ultimately make a difference. 

“In my lifetime, punk rock music has inspired me and a lot of other people to go out and try and make change. And I hope the legacy for what I do … is inspiring people to go out and try and make change in their lives and the lives of other people,” he says.

“Listen to most of the bands, and they’re political. Even if they’re not saying outright political stuff, the music has always been about, think for yourself. Don’t listen to anybody. Question everything.” 

It’s younger bands who will be the ones carrying these tenets for posterity, he adds. 

“Punk rock will not survive if there’s not young new bands carrying the torch forward in the future.”

PUNK ROCK BOWLING May 24-27, Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, $22 for single-day passes, punkrockbowling.com.

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