Roughly 12 years ago, the south Minneapolis bowling alley with the decidedly retro vibe started hosting live music, eventually settling on shows every Friday and Saturday, and with Monday as the dedicated Punk Rock Bowling Night. Although the weekend shows faded away in the past few years, the institution that was Punk Rock Bowling—a haven for many loud bands that had few other options in town—evolved over the years while remaining a focal point of the Twin Cities scene.
But those who like drinking beer in parking lots should fear not. While the end of Punk Rock Bowling means no more regularly scheduled live music, the annual Memory Lanes Block Party will continue as usual, according to Tom Burt, the sound engineer for almost all of Punk Rock Bowling’s history.
“The whole thing started with this person Alyssum Latham,” says Burt, who also booked Punk Rock Bowling for several years. “She was a cook there and she knew a ton of people in punk bands, and she connected people together.” Latham wasn’t a booker, but she sparked the idea; various bookers brought their own perspective and point of view to the night, ultimately creating a diverse mix of sub-genres and styles that rivaled any above-ground or underground venue in town while remaining firmly rooted in loud, aggressive music.
There’s a simple reason for this: Bands that weren’t loud risked getting drowned out by the crash of balls and pins. “A solo acoustic act, or two people with a keyboard and a guy running noise through a pedal—that kind of show just didn’t translate in the space,” says Burt. “People wanted to see bands, live rock music, drums, loud guitars. That’s what people were coming for, and people who came out for those shows drank.”
Punk Rock Bowling’s packed shows featured both local and touring groups. Swedish hardcore band Wolfbrigade could play one week, the Blind Shake the next, Off With Their Heads the following Monday, and Kitten Forever and Bruise Violet the week after that. Burt also made an effort to connect with other bookers in town, to ensure shows weren’t overlapping and avoid dividing the attention of the Twin Cities punk fan base.
Still, it’s the space Punk Rock Bowling created for benefits that stands out the most for Burt. The night hosted a variety of fundraising shows throughout its history, most notoriously Mock The Garden, an annual multi-stage event that drew attention—and funds—to transgender rights organizations, Syrian refugee organizations, and opiate harm reduction programs.
So why the end of Punk Rock Mondays? Burt cites a number of reasons– an overall change in how people approach music, a decrease in louder rock bands, the increased popularity of bowling among younger people, turnover in bookers, and simple economics. “Unfortunately, the bowling alley figured out that they could make way more money selling bowling than live music.”
Still, Punk Rock Bowling is going to go out with a bang, not a whimper: Burt is once again taking the booking reigns for the last show, which also happens to be his birthday. Citric Dummies, Hive, Lutheran Heat, and the Police Are Fucking Rad are already confirmed for the December 17 bill, with more to come. Burt wants to make the final night a celebration of all the people who made Punk Rock Bowling happen.
“The staff of Memory Lanes has always been really great and really supportive,” says Burt. “A lot of the people who worked there really got to meet people in the punk scene because of Punk Rock Bowling, and really fell in love with it. That’s definitely a reason it’s held on for so long. Everyone liked the connection and the way people came together in that space, and make it something different one day a week.”