With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, it only seemed fitting that after five decades punk should be afforded its own home. What better place to tell its story than Sin City itself, Las Vegas.
Not only does the underground culture fit right in to downtown Las Vegas, but with its 20-year history with Punk Rock Bowling, it seemed like the perfect place to set up shop.
The Punk Rock Museum is the brainchild of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords founder “Fat Mike” Burkett, and Warped Tour manager Lisa Brownlee. However, the work of bringing together 50 years of memorabilia comes from the efforts of countless people. Bands and fans alike donated everything from musical instruments, clothing, pictures, flyers – even Kurt Cobain’s old leather couch is available for patrons to sit and take photo ops.
The Museum, which opened in April, features various wings separated by era, genre, country, etc. There is memorabilia from the pioneers of punk rock, such as The Clash and the Ramones, while still featuring more recent acts, like banners and photographs from Bad Cop/Bad Cop.
The Punk Rock Museum is a 12,000-square-foot black building with neon green lettering. The impressive structure features a full bar named The Triple Down, a play on the famous Vegas dive bar, The Double Down. There you can enjoy a Fletcher – a drink named after Pennywise guitarist, Fletcher Dragge, which is a rum and coke served in a Pringles can, how Fletcher is often seen drinking his own booze on stage. There’s also a tattoo shop (simply named The Shop), available for appointments, where just last week CJ Ramone was giving out “1-2-3-4” tattoos. There’s even a wedding chapel, which saw its first wedding ceremony in April.
Inside the museum itself you’ll find setlists from the Misfits, Joe Strummer’s handwritten lyrics to “Tommy Gun,” one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s classic “blue” guitars. My favorite item on display is Clash front-man Joe Strummer’s last bag of weed, which was obtained by Spider Stacy of The Pogues. But this isn’t your parents’ stuffy museums where you can’t look or touch.
At the Punk Rock Museum not only are visitors encouraged to take photos and video, but there’s also The Jam Room, which features instruments used and donated by musicians.
You’ll find Green Day’s road case, Joan Jett’s guitar, Fat Mike’s bass, and a pink Gretsch guitar from Tim Armstrong of Rancid, amongst many more. Guests are welcome to come in and play to their heart’s desire.
There is a small area, not much larger than a toolshed, deemed The Pennywise Garage. It is literally the garage where Pennywise got its start – inside original bassist Jason Thirsk’s garage – and where the band spent over 20 years practicing.
At first, I thought it was an impressive replica, only to read the plaque next to it and find out it is in fact the actual walls, poster, and carpet dismantled by Fletcher himself and relocated to Las Vegas.
While I was there for Punk Rock Bowling, I was treated to a surprise performance on Friday night by Me First & the Gimme Gimmes. The five-piece supergroup managed to squeeze themselves and their equipment into the tight space for an intimate four-song set.
It’s impossible to tell you everything I saw, and in fact I missed so much on my first experience I’m already planning another trip. Even though it just opened, there’s already so much to experience, and there are additional artifacts being donated almost daily; I imagine the museum itself will continue to grow and evolve over time.
The museum is an incredible way to honor the rich history of punk music and give those who were there a chance to relive some of that magic, while educating younger generations.
The Punk Rock Museum is located in the heart of Las Vegas’s Arts District, just a few blocks from Fremont Street. General Admission tickets are $30, while guided tours are $100.
Past tour guides have already included CJ Ramone and Smelly of NOFX. June’s tour guides include Jack Grisham (TSOL), Monkey (The Adicts), Ronnie Barnett (The Muffs), and Marko DeSantis (Sugarcult). July is looking incredible with tour guides Blag Dahlia (Dwarves), Dave Baksh (Sum41), Roy Mayorga (Ministry / Nausea), Karina Denike (NOFX / Dance Hall Crashers), Stacey Dee (Bad Cop/Bad Cop), Jonny Wickersham (Social Distortion), Joe Escalante (The Vandals), and Greg Hetson (Bad Religion / Circle Jerks).
Seriously impressive lineup, so get yourself to the Punk Rock Museum to experience it for yourself!