Shawn and Mark Stern (Punk Rock Bowling, Youth Brigade)

Milk and cookies. Spaghetti and meatballs. Punk rock and bowling. All of these are natural pairings, but unlike the first two, the third relationship was only formalized recently thanks to Shawn and Mark Stern.

The same brothers who brought you Youth Brigade and BYO Records founded the Punk Rock Bowling tournament 16 years ago, but in the last five they’ve turned a weekend of friendly competition between bands and labels into a huge three-day festival with a lineup that spans decades and oceans, and this year includes Cock Sparrer, Angelic Upstarts, Descendents, Against Me!, SNFU and Off!, just to name a few.

Punknews editor Adam Eisenberg caught up with the Sterns to talk about what it takes to put together a roster of this magnitude, how they’ve fared in the bowling competition over the years and what Las Vegas record Punk Rock Bowling is known for breaking.

Every year Punk Rock Bowling has a diverse, generation-spanning lineup. How do you put it together?
Mark Stern: I do all the booking. We’re fans of all these bands and we grew up with them. We brainstorm on who we’d like to see - we’re already thinking about next year. A lot of it is who’s available. Obviously we come up with our ideas first, what bands work with that headliner. We try to make each day cohesive. We come up with an idea and we go after that. Sometimes it morphs into something completely different than what we originally started with because the bands aren’t available, or money, that’s always an issue because there’s so many festivals now with huge sponsors, so they throw crazy money around. For us it’s a little different, we’re more home grown.

These are bands we grew up with, and also we go to shows all the time, and Youth Brigade tours, so we see what’s up and coming, and what we like. There’s a lot of new bands too, and we try to pair them, try to fit them in as best we can.

Shawn Stern: Like Mark said, he books the bands, but we sit down and discuss what we like. It’s availability and because we’re not trying to be an ever-expanding rock festival, we’re specifically punk rock, that’s all we’re interested in. We don’t want to become a Coachella, not that there will ever be another Coachella, but people have come to us and tried to get us to put in other kinds of bands. We only have one stage, that’s all we want to have. We’re not trying to mimic Warped Tour or any of these other festivals. We just want to have a punk rock festival. We don’t want to put up those big screens. We’ve both talked about this. If you go to see a band live and it’s so massive and big that the only way to you can actually see the band is by looking at the screen, how is that a live show? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Who came up with the brilliant idea to fuse a bowling tournament with a punk rock festival?
Shawn: Well, it sort of morphed into the festival part. This is our 16th year, but it’ll be the fifth year we have the actual festival. We started out, we wanted to just throw a party. We had a bowling league and we heard Fat Wreck Chords was doing a bowling thing up in San Francisco, so we did one down here. One of the guys who worked at BYO way back in the late ‘90s, this guy Andre Duguay, who used to run a fanzine out in Dalton back in the ‘80s, he was the one who mentioned we should do this bowling league. It turned out he’s a really good bowler, which we didn’t know. After we did that, it was six weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks later, Mark and I started talking and we thought "this bowling thing is kind of fun, we should make a tournament," and we love going to Vegas, so we thought "why not?"

Mark: We got all of them to come down, then we could all bowl together.

Shawn: Originally our thing down here was Epitaph, BYO, Hopeless. Who else?

Mark: Hopeless, Fearless, some bands. I don’t remember who, it was years ago. The idea was to bring it all together, and who doesn’t like to bowl and drink beer and go to Las Vegas?

Who’s the best bowler to ever bowl at Punk Rock Bowling?
Shawn: Hmmm. Andre’s one of the best. Epitaph had a really good team for a while with Dave Hansen and Mike Dunn. There’s four guys there. I think Dave Hansen was always a pretty good bowler and the other guys practiced. They’ve won three times. We’ve won twice, they’ve won three times. They beat us heads up once by one pin in the finals.

The bowling thing was the main part of it for all those years, and we’d do a show on Friday night to kick things off, then we’d have a party for the awards for the bowlers on Sunday night, and we just had an opportunity fours years ago, this guy approached us from Sunset Station and said "you gotta come check out my new bowling alley, and oh by the way, we got this space out here where you can do concerts."

That was always one of the issues - we were trying to find places to do shows. Doing them in casinos was kind of a pain, they never really had a good space, usually banquet rooms or ballrooms, it was like doing a sock hop in a school. Once we had the opportunity with the outdoor venue we thought "wow, this is pretty cool," and it worked out really well.

Mark: Well, that’s also when we changed the dates. Originally it was in January and February, and it was cold, and those outdoor shows were not an option. But it’s cheap then, so that’s when we did it, because travel was cheap. It’s dead time in Vegas.

Shawn: It was also dead time for bands.

Mark: Yeah, that got difficult too, not a lot of touring bands. The idea was if we go outside, we go outdoors, we move to a different month, we could utilize that. There’s more touring bands, that made it a bit easier so there’s more bands, so that’s how we moved it to May.

What are you looking most forward to at this year’s Punk Rock Bowling?
Mark: I’m really interested in seeing some of the new bands, Cerebral Ballzy and Radkey, stuff like that. Some of these young kids are pretty interesting.

Shawn: I’m looking forward to seeing Noi!se, A Global Threat getting back together, of course Cock Sparrer, Angelic Upstarts, which we grew up listening to. We actually promoted their first LA show. The first LA show they played was at the Whiskey and Youth Brigade opened, and that was our first band, one of them, and so we opened and then three or four days later we promoted at this venue that held 1,000 people and it was Angelic Upstarts, Social Distortion, Bad Religion and someone opened. It sold out, 1,000 people. I actually just saw the flyer this morning - it was $8.

That was 1982. Now we’ve got Upstarts coming back, Anti-Nowhere League, Test Tube Babies, so that’s a good English line up. There’s a lot of great bands playing.

I know you mentioned that you’re happy with the size of Punk Rock Bowling as it currently stands. Are there are any other things you’d consider adding to the weekend?
Shawn: We’re rolling out a few more things now that the shows are sold out, we just haven’t had the chance to roll them out yet. We’re definitely doing more stuff this year, for sure. There’s a lot. We have pool parties, those start at noon, bowling’s at noon. The festival starts at 3 p.m., that goes to 11 p.m., then the club shows go ‘til 3 a.m., then there’s the casino, the parties, that goes ‘til five or six in the morning. It just doesn’t stop, so we want to do more stuff, but there’s only so many hours in the day.

Mark: That area of downtown Vegas, we go out there for meetings every three or four months, and every time we go there’s always new stuff - new places, new restaurants, new bars. We were just there yesterday and we had a meeting with a couple of bars out there that want to get involved. It’s just a matter of what more can we do? There’s not enough time in the day to fit anything else.

Shawn: We have a good comedy show this year, but that we do on Friday night because we couldn’t compete comedy with all these shows during the weekend. We tried before to do comedy in a club with the bands playing, it just doesn’t work. Now we have a comedy venue at this hotel so that should be great. We got Kyle Kinane, Joe Sib so that should be really good.

Mark: And it’s free. The pool parties are free, so we do a ton of free stuff too. You go to shows and then there’s all these extra things that are happening. It’s all in walking distance too. If you want to go to the pool party, gamble, see comedy, be a tourist in downtown Las Vegas… But the number one thing people do besides of course the music and if you’re a bowler, there’s 1,000 bowlers but there’s 7,000 or 8,000 people at any one time between the festival and the club shows, the number one thing people are doing is drinking. We break records for alcohol consumption down there and everybody knows it.