A Night at the Museum: Vegas’ Punk Rock Museum is open for business
This month, the annual Punk Rock Bowling event returns to Downtown Las Vegas, with the likes of Rancid, Bad Religion, Suicidal Tendencies, the Damned, GBH, the Exploited, Fear and many more performing.
For punks who reside outside of Vegas, it’s a good excuse to take a trip to “adult Disneyland.” And depending on how they structure that trip, there’s clearly plenty to do in the days and hours between sets. As of very recently, and appropriately enough, those activities can include a visit to the Punk Rock Museum.
After a couple of years of planning, the Punk Rock Museum finally opened its doors on April 1. There are both temporary and permanent exhibitions, and it hosted its first wedding on April 15. Two of the brains behind the institution are Lisa Brownlee, who has a background in tour/festival management, and Vinnie Fiorello, best known for co-founding ska-punks Less Than Jake.
“At a moment of not being on tour and looking for something creative, Mike (Fat Mike of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords) had reached out and said, ‘Hey, this idea of starting a Las Vegas Punk Shop – maybe you can do some merch. ‘I was like, ‘OK, cool,’” Fiorello says. “A few days later, he goes, ‘Hey, I was talking to Lisa Brownlee and she was thinking that the Las Vegas Punk Shop could have artifacts. So don’t worry about the punk shop, we’re going to do the Punk Rock Museum. Are you in? I was totally in, and that started my involvement.”
This was the tail end of 2020, when it looked like we might be through the worst of the pandemic but before variants made things shitty again. So with the idea firmed up and the team in place, artifacts for display had to be collected.
“Between us all, being in the industry for as long as we have, for me in particular working as the point person at massive festivals – I did 24 years of the Vans Warped Tour – we had this really huge rolodex,” Brownlee says. “This group is going to do something and get it done. It was a matter of people trust-falling on us without a proof of concept. Also, the timing was really right because we were nearing the end of a pandemic so everybody had been home for some period of time and a lot of these people started going through their own personal archives going, ‘what am I going to do with all this shit’?”
At the very beginning, they didn’t know what they were looking for. None of them had ever created and/or curated a museum before. They just knew that the items had to have a good story.
“We’d have our meeting, and discuss our must-have bands,” says Fiorello. “We would break and then a list would come in. We have to have theBouncing Souls and Descendents. Black Flag. You form this list of, these are to us the most important gets that have to be in the museum. From that point, you stumble onto, ‘Hey, these are the other three branches to the tree. We have to get that’.”
Both have their favorite artifacts; for Brownlee, it’s anything relating to the early years of British punk. Fiorella adores the Operation Ivy guitar donated by Tim Armstrong.
“To me is the start of my own journey, not necessarily my brother’s journey,” he says. “That was ground zero for my punk rock music, so to have that is awesome.”
The parameters of what is and isn’t punk has long been up for debate. When did it start, who was the first band, etc., etc.? For the most part, honestly, who gives a shit. But still, it’s something that the Punk Rock Museum had to consider.
“What we are able to get is what dictates how far we go back,” says Brownlee. “We did a nod to proto-punk, to the Stooges and that sort of stuff. But it’s not as easy to gather those things to tell that story. For me, a band called Los Saicos from Peru is the original punk rock band and that’s from the sixties. Some may argue Elvis Presley or whatever the case may be, but we intended to start this museum around ‘74. But because we know the story goes further back than that, we say you have to give a nod to the New York Dolls and everything that came before the Ramones and the Sex Pistols to make it authentic.”
On a similar note, the same gatekeepers that will try to decide what is allowed to be called punk will aim criticism at the Punk Rock Museum, claiming that the simple existence of such an institution is anti-punk. They’ll complain about the prices and the corporate nature, because that’s what they do.
“Someone might say that having punk artifacts in a punk museum is anti-punk, but for me it’s amplifying what punk’s message was, which for me was about diversity, welcoming everybody,” says Fiorello. “That’s what drew me into punk rock music to begin with – when I felt like an outsider, the other outsiders welcomed me into the fold. Any time that I can look and go, ‘Hey, are we doing the right thing for the passion and the love of it, then cool. Why are we doing this? We love punk rock music. We’re passionate about it. Why not build this church and be able to show everybody the history of punk rock. Five decades worth of it. People say punk rock was rebelling, and I agree. But being able to show the roots, the tree and the leaves of punk rock music, that to me outweighs any concept of ‘punk rock is meant to be anti-establishment’ or whatever.”
As they look to a bright future, the Punk Rock Museum is planning programmed events – perhaps Q&As followed by short performances similar to what we see at the Grammy Museum – but they don’t want to become a regular ticketed concert venue.
“If somebody has a book out and they want to come talk about their book,” says Brownlee. “Or a film/documentary. A Q&A. That’s the thrill of it, that you never know what’s going to happen. We obviously want to continue to have our permanent exhibits but this is a living museum so everything will rotate and expand. We want to expand our international section.”
“For me, the hope is that you have a dad come in and his thing is the ‘80s or ‘90s,” adds Fiorello in conclusion. “But they have a son or daughter that would go up to the second floor and the 2000s and go, ‘Hey, look at My Chemical Romance.’ That’s their music, and they trade that. ‘This is my punk rock, this is your punk rock.’ Punk rock music is such a personal thing, and that definition is such a personal thing. I love to be able to show the depth of it. The look and sound of My Chemical Romance is different to Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, but the spirit is the same thing. I love that it all shares the same building.”
A Night at the Museum: Visit thepunkrockmuseum.com for more info.
Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.