Mark Stern x Punk Rock Bowling full interview
PRB is a 3 day festival in Downtown Las Vegas created in 1998 by Mark and Shawn Stern of BYO Records and Youth Brigade. The headliners of this 2017 edition are Iggy Pop, Bad Religion and Cock Sparrer! I had such an amazing time two years ago when I went – between shows, bowling, pool parties and lots of drinking, I even won some money! – so I can’t wait to be back this year! If you don’t know the festival yet I hope this interview will make you want to check it out soon. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
Diana Spaghetto: This is PRB 19th year. How did the idea of PRB came about in 1998? Were bowling tournaments something you guys were already doing with friends in other bands and punk rock labels and decided to turn that into a whole festival experience?
Mark Stern: In 1998, we started a small bowling tournament in Santa Monica with a bunch of labels and bands. Epitaph, Hopeless, BYO, I think Nitro had a team and some others, probably about 40 of us. We heard Fat Wreckchords were also doing a league in San Francisco, so we decided to all meet in Vegas for a bowl off. Kind of like a punk rock convention, hanging out with bands and labels that we all worked with and only saw once in a while. We had 28 teams total the first year at The Gold Coast Casino. We all stayed there, bowled, gambled and we threw a few shows. The awards party was at The Double Down Saloon which is a small punk bar near the airport, and I believe it was one of Me First and the Gimme’s first shows. That little bar was packed and everyone had such a great time that we decided to do it again the next year. Well, word spread about this crazy weekend and before you know it, we had sold out the 2nd year with over 60 bowling teams.
Diana: Wow that’s more than double the teams you had the first year!
Mark: Yeah! So after that, we started having waiting lists to get a team. If you were a band or label that had a team from the previous year, you got to keep your spot until a cut off date. If that team didn’t register, then we opened up the spot to the waiting list. Soon the waiting list got so big that we started doing 2 squads of bowling and then 3. We now have over 800 bowlers and use 3 different bowling centers that we shuttle everyone to from downtown. Bowling happens before the festival starts, so it doesn’t conflict with going to any shows.
Diana: I think the idea is so clever. Not only bowling and punk rock go together perfectly but it’s also a very nice way to hang out with your friends and meet new people in a total different environment than a regular music festival. What are the labels that usually take part in the tournament?
Mark: These days we don’t have as many labels taking part since it got bigger and we’ve opened it up to the general public. The festival and the shows are more of the focus now, but we still have the core bowling teams coming back to take part. Epitaph still comes, Fat and BYO still have teams (although I don’t bowl on it anymore because I’m too busy with the fest). We’ve got some newer labels participating as well and a lot of bands too.
Diana: So anyone can participate now.
Mark: Yes, now it is open to everyone to bowl. We do have a screening process to weed out professional bowlers as they like to try to get in on the tournament to win some of the prize money which is somewhere around $10,000. But if you want to bowl, you can just get 4 friends together and sign up on our site. once everyone has been screeened and accepted, then you just register and pay and show up and bowl!
Diana: What’s the team that has won more tournaments in the history of PRB?
Mark: Actually Epitaph has won the most. Originally since none of us are real bowlers, we all just bowled and whoever had the highest team score placed accordingly. The top teams went to a playoff elimintation round the 2nd day until there were 2 teams left for the championship match. We didn’t have a handicap system so it was just scratch bowling. Epitpah were the best bowlers of our whole event, so they would win more often. My label BYO lost to them in the championship one year by 1 pin, that was exciting. After 2 years I believe, the bowling alley told us to implement a handicap system to make it more fair to the bowlers that weren’t as good. After we did that, then it was anyone’s game. It’s much more fair with the handicap system because if you aren’t a good bowler and have a huge handicap, then bowl a fluke of a great game, it really puts you in the position to do well.
Diana: Can you share your favorite memory, crazy moment, funny situation, something memorable that has happened at one of the PRB events?
Mark: Wow, there are so many (and some of those Vegas moments can NEVER be shared). The time the guy who was all fucked up crawled out his hotel window at the El Cortez and ran across the roof above the valet which is made of glass and the whole thing shattered and he fell through into the valet. Went to the hospital to get 26 stitches in his head and was back at the festival in the pit within a few hours. Then there was the time when a guy (not with PRB) had a suite at the hotel and charged it to his grandmother’s credit card. Got drunk and passed out in the tub with the water running. It overflowed and flooded out every suite in the 3 floors below him.
Diana: His grandma must have been very happy!
Mark: Hahah yes I’m sure! And about the bowling… when we used to stay at Sams Town and have all our bowling there, the 3rd squad of the day was always more of the “party” crowd who didn’t take bowling as seriously. A lot of them would dress up in costumes, Davey from Tiltwheel dressed up as a banana, there was a rabbit, guys with trombones that would blow them when you were about to bowl, people sliding down the lanes holding on to the ball, total shit show.
Diana: Is there any band that comes every year to play the club shows or the festival as a tradition?
Mark: We actually try to not repeat bands until 2 or even 3 years so the lineup doesn’t become redundant. Once in a while we do, but it’s my goal to not repeat. After that first year that The Gimme’s played the awards party, we started getting Manic Hispanic to alternate years with The Gimme’s for the awards party and soon it was just Manic Hispanic every year to close things out. Now we’ve been having Punk Rock Karaoke close out the weekend at a club show. It’s usually the only club show we do on the last night so everyone can get together and get up on stage and sing their favorite songs to end the weekend. It gets pretty crazy at those shows and it’s almost like summer camp where no one wants to go home no matter how ruined they are from the weekend festivities.
Diana: Last year a second PRB in Asbury Park was added and this is the second year. What made you decide to add a June date, with a different line-up and why in NJ?
Mark: Well we just knew that a lot of punks that live on the East Coast would never be able to afford to come all the way across the country, get a hotel, buy a ticket, etc. so we wanted to try an East Coast version to give those people a little bit of the experience from Vegas. It will never be exactly the same because of curfews, etc. but Asbury Park has a lot going on and we still do late night club shows. This year we are hoping to do pool parties there as well as movie screenings, art exhibit and some other ideas are in the works. Last year was a huge success so we are trying it again this year with what I think is an awesome and more diverse lineup. If people come out and support the event then we have every intention of coninuing to build on it. We picked Asbury Park because it’s right by the ocean, it’s summer, it’s kind of easy to get to for a lot of people in the surrounding cities.
Diana: Are you guys planning on adding more cities to the festival in the future?
Mark: We did some big club shows in Denver last year and are about to announce Denver in the next few days with some great PRB club shows, but beyond that, we won’t do any more cities.
Diana: How did you guys manage to keep the spirit of the festival so diy and “for the people” during the years? It’s really a festival that for me embodies the spirit of “from the punks to the punks”. It’s accessible, affordable and you see old punks, families, and young punks all together. From hardcore, to punk rock to Oi! it’s really a festival with a perfect line-up that brings all the punks together.
Mark: Well it ain’t easy!! Hahaha! We have a great team that we work with for all aspects of the festival. Everyone is involved with punk rock and it’s a part of their life so we all have the same vision when putting this whole thing together. Obviously our prices are dictated by the cost of the bands and production, so that is something that is always a challenge, but wherever we can control prices, we try to keep them down as best as possible. We aren’t out there to price gouge people and try to get discounted hotel rooms to offer, keep the ticket fees down compared to other festivals and most importantly keep the drink prices down and serve drinks that people actually want. Our bar prices at the festival are probably 1/2 what other festivals charge. We want people to be able to enjoy themselves and it’s a long weekend so we try to be as accommodating to that as possible. We also do quite a few free events and try to reward the people who support the festival (which is what enables us to do all the other events) with priority entrance for the free events, etc. Because without the support of the PRB audience, we would not be able to put this whole thing together for 19 years.
Diana: Thank you Mark for the interview! Anything else you want to add for people who will be attending the festival for the first time?
Mark: If you have never been to PRB in Vegas, I think it’s a great festival to experience. Sign up for a team, come to the festival, the pool parties and just jump in and see what it’s all about. We usually sell out so now is the time to make your arrangements because it’s a holiday weekend and hotels start filling up right around now. If you live on the East Coast, make the trek to Asbury Park. There are some great hotels within walking distance of the festival, it’s right by the beach and is always a good time.
(Txt by Diana Spaghetto x Salad Days Mag – All Rights Reserved)