Parkway of Broken Dreams
In recent years, Las Vegas has become known for giant music festivals, trendsetting nightclubs and massive redevelopment efforts. But little known is the story of the organically grown counterculture scene in the University District that set the stage for everything to come more than 25 years ago.
Inclusion StatementThe alternative cultural scene around Las Vegas' University District in the '90s thrived, in large part, because it turned away no one. Black punk rockers, gay skinheads, trans artists, queer poets and feminist activists all found refuge along a parkway that accepted–and celebrated–who you were.
About The Project
In 2006, the powers-that-be at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas launched a master plan for "Midtown UNLV," an effort to revitalize and redevelop the area around UNLV–primarily along its weathered, neglected main drag, Maryland Parkway. The vision was (and is) to create a vibrant University District through private-public partnerships, fostering a mixture of student housing and a lively, pedestrian-friendly street scene that would include dining, entertainment and retail businesses.
What that plan ignores is that, more than decade earlier, Maryland Parkway was a thriving center of cultural activity, where college students and the creative class of Las Vegas came to study, socialize, dine and shop. Independently owned coffee shops filled with academics and intellectuals. Multiple record stores, including a massive Tower Records, served as premier destinations for local musicologists. Bars and clubs buzzed with live music, flowing taps and warm bodies. At night, people casually walked from retail stores to cafes to bars. And UNLV's own student-run radio station, KUNV, provided the soundtrack and connective tissue for the whole scene, through its innovative and award-winning "Rock Avenue" programming.
By the dawn of the 2000s, however, that scene almost entirely disappeared. Coffeehouses shuttered. Record stores went under. Rock Avenue was cancelled. The art and music scene, for the most part, moved downtown, and Maryland Parkway today is, with the exception of official UNLV construction projects, a collection of decades-old shopping centers with little more in common than their aging exteriors. Those walking the sidewalks at night are less likely to be students than derelicts, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods or bus riders biding time between routes.
For many people, that scene that rose up out of the 1980s and blew up in the 1990s–paralleling the national mainstreaming of alternative music and coffeehouse culture–serves not just as a high-point in Las Vegas' cultural history, but as the "big bang" for almost everything to come after that. Nightlife pioneers got their start putting on after-hours events in tiny cafes and bars. Rock Avenue DJs became music industry powerhouses. An Emmy-award winning TV writer honed his skills over cheap cups of coffee. Everyone from future Saturday Night Live stars to members of The Killers owe at least part of their creative lives to the opportunities afforded them from the inclusive, come-as-you-are nature of the Maryland Parkway cultural scene.
In 2006, just as UNLV was unveiling its Midtown UNLV plan, I wrote an oral history of this period as a cover story for the Las Vegas Weekly. Interviewing about a dozen influential participants in the scene–from business owners and artists to DJs and journalists–the article explored the origins, blossoming, and eventual decline of counterculture along Maryland Parkway, and asked whether UNLV's plan to force change could ever reproduce or surpass what came before it, organically. A dozen years later, the jury is still out.
Now, in 2018, there's an entire generation of Las Vegas residents mostly unaware that this amazing concentration of creative energy ever existed. They know nothing of the video jams, the poetry readings, the punk shows, the arts collectives, the "world of choice" that KUNV used to be (before it went all-jazz, to appeal to older, upper-middle class listeners who would actually support the station financially).
And when I tell this story to folks who know nothing about Las Vegas, period, outside of the gambling and nightlife for which the world knows the city best, they're fascinated. Unlike the grunge scene in Seattle, the punk scene in New York City, the hard rock scene in L.A., the Manchester rave scene, or the flower-power scene in San Francisco, no one has told the story of the Maryland Parkway scene in Las Vegas, which was somehow like all of the above, combined into one brief, beautiful–and sometimes tragic–flash of culture, community and diversity that could only exist at that time, in that place.
So, now, 25 years after its heyday, Parkway of Broken Dreams intends to tell that story, using 2006's oral history as a template for an even more expansive survey of the period, relayed through a combination of new interviews with dozens of the people who made it all possible and archival footage that captures the visual expression of the scene–as well as where Maryland Parkway currently stands, and where it may be going.
How can you help? We're raising finishing funds here on Seed&Spark for all of the un-sexy stuff associated with making a film like this: travel, insurance, legal fees, etc. Check out our wishlist for the full run-down. You can also check out our footage and photo needs list on our website.
We're also participating in the Hometown Heroes rally, in which finalists have the chance to be executive produced by Duplass Brothers Productions and gain access to additional production resources. We not only need to hit 80% of our funding goal to qualify, but also earn 1,000 followers. So even if you can't contribute financially to this campaign, clicking "FOLLOW" or encouraging others to do the same is a huge help.
Use the WishList to pledge cash and loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an incentive directly.
About This Team
Parkway of Broken Dreams is the passion project of producer-director Pj Perez, an award-winning journalist, comic book creator, musician, entrepreneur and filmmaker who got his start reading bad poetry and performing middling covers of classic rock songs at open mics along Maryland Parkway in the 1990s.
Using his experience as a "backpack journalist," Perez has served as the one-man camera/sound/lighting/production crew for Parkway of Broken Dreams so far. The film is based on "Days of Future Past," the oral history of Maryland Parkway's cultural highs and lows published in the Las Vegas Weekly in 2006.