"Rebel Stage Spotlight" is an OnMilwaukee-exclusive series of interviews with bands that will perform on The Rebel Stage during Summerfest. The Rebel Stage – located along the lakefront, directly to the east of the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage – is a completely independent venue that hosts more than 90 bands during the Big Gig and is staffed entirely by volunteers. Rebel Stage manager, Eoin McCarthy, hand picked the line-up from more than 2,000 submissions.
In 2007, Eoin McCarthy’s band at the time, Poor J, was offered a gig on Summerfest's Tiki Stage, but when the band showed up they were told the time slot was accidentally double booked and it was not going to happen.
Surprised and a bit disgruntled, McCarthy and bandmates decided they were going to play Summerfest regardless, so they wandered the grounds until they found open outlets and plugged in.
The first day, they played for 10 hours. They returned the next day – and every day after – and played for hours without anyone suspecting they weren't hired performers.
Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, Summerfest got wind of this, but wasn’t angry. Instead, they offered McCarthy a stage of his own where he could completely control the music, but without the promotional support of the fest. (To this day, the daily lineups do not appear in Summerfest’s printed or online information, but can be found here.)
Originally, McCarthy named the stage The Refugee Stage, which he has tattooed on his arm, but later changed it to The Rebel Stage, of which he also has a tattoo.
McCarthy, who is originally from Ireland, is the lead singer and songwriter of Whiskey of the Damned. Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the band will perform and launch their new CD, "Here’s to Duffy’s Cut, Bedevil the Railroads," a rowdy, punk rock love story. He will perform a solo set on The Rebel Stage at noon on Sunday.
There is so much more to McCarthy's – and Rebel Stage's – story that can be read here.
OnMilwaukee also chatted with McCarthy earlier this week about how the fest is going so far, what it means to "make a scene" and more.
OnMilwaukee: Is it true The Rebel Stage is staffed entirely by volunteers?
Eoin McCarthy: It is. I wouldn't be able to do this without everyone else. It blows my mind every year.
The bands are volunteers as well, right?
Yes, they are. But The Rebel Stage has led to paid Summerfest gigs for numerous bands that started on it.
What is the submission process for The Rebel Stage?
I am already getting submissions for next year. This year I got between 2,000 and 3,000 and picked 90. I listen to every submission. Every band gets the same chance.
How’s this year going compared to other years?
This has been the best year yet. Everyone’s working really hard and they’re happy and relaxed. Personally, I really need something to go wrong. I thrive on chaos. This is driving me nuts. I’m relaxing, I hate it.
You wrote The Rebel Stage’s tagline "Make A Scene." What does it mean?
I got sick of people saying Milwaukee didn’t have a music scene. If you think this, go out and start a band with friends, go break up with a girl or boy and write a song, go see a live band. If you say there’s not a music scene in your city you’re just being lazy.
What’s your favorite song on the new album and why?
"Pulling Stitches." I wrote it while on a road trip, literally. I was driving with one hand and writing with the other. I was writing and writing and writing in a notebook while staring straight ahead at the road.
Where is your CD available?
It will be available at The Rebel Stage for $15 but also, after tonight, online.
Have you seen any bands beyond the Rebel Stage?
I am mostly here, but I do run out and catch a song or two. I saw a bit of Billy Idol and Rise Against, got a song off them.
Have you been able to eat delicious festival foods?
I did dig the deep fried old fashioned, but other than that I’m living off of chicken strips and cheeseburgers.
Any changes you will make for next year?
Aside from firing Randy (one of Rebel Stage's volunteers) and then rehiring him? I don't know, it's been going so well this year. We can always use more space, it gets really insane in here. But every year we're inching our way outward, taking just a little bit more.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.