Summerfest's Unlisted Renegade Stage Spotlights Unsigned Talent
You could be forgiven for overlooking Summerfest’s Renegade Stage. As the smallest stage at the world’s largest music festival, the stage isn’t even listed in the festival’s official promotional material. And yet, if you know to look for it, the tiny stage nestled beside the lakeshore path can provide a game-changing festival experience. It may be Summerfest’s smallest stage, but it’s also one of the festival’s most inclusive, community-oriented and mission-driven venues.
The Renegade’s history goes back nearly a decade to when co-founder Bibi Adell linked up with fellow Milwaukee musician Coventry Jones to replace a different Summerfest stage that was old and worn out. Left to their own devices, Adell and Jones forged ahead with their vision for a new stage, the Renegade. Over the years, this vision has remained simple: support emerging artists and local talent. “[We try] to create positions for artists that fall out of the main frame of the traditional, larger stages,” Adell explains. “I really want to see more people succeed from this area.”
A musician herself, Adell says she’s motivated by her love for music and her passion to boost her fellow brothers and sisters. Many Renegade performers are unsigned, which adds to the fun; Adell uses the stage to scout promising acts for her talent management company, Artists in Music, and helps the best acts get signed to record labels. Of the potential rising stars in this year’s lineup, Adell names 17-year-old Tallan Latz and 12-year-old Valor Yost of Spiders from Milwaukee (playing at the U.S. Cellular Stage, not the Renegade Stage). “Those are two of the young artists coming out of this region that I’ve got my eye on,” Adell says. Eighteen-year-old Kylar Kuzio is on her radar, too. “Holy smokes,” Adell comments. “[Kylar] decided to become a country star when she was a kid, and I think she’s getting close. I’d love to sign her.”
In addition to industry newcomers, the stage will also host an eclectic mix of seasoned musicians (some now signed to labels, thanks to Adell), including country artist Levi Massie, steampunk band Szilenze and a returning crowd-favorite, Christian hip-hop artist Mr. Aman. Though more prominent Summerfest stages typically have genre niches, such as Johnson Control Sound Stage’s preference for indie rock, the Renegade’s roster is purposefully diverse. “We just have so many cool artists, it’s unbelievable,” Adell says. “I can’t mention enough of them.”
Despite the general lack of publicity, many more artists apply to play at the Renegade each year than Adell can accept. This year’s application process was even more competitive than usual. Adell mentions one disappointed band that has played the Renegade the past five years but didn’t make the lineup this year. (They would’ve traded the last five years just to play this time around, says Adell.)
“Everyone’s excited about the 50th,” she exclaims. “This is a big thing.” The Renegade’s theme this year, Summer of Love, will honor the iconic 1967 San Franciscan revolution that swept the country a half-century ago. Come festival time, this small stage is set to have a substantial presence.
Summerfest runs through Sunday, July 9. For more information about the Renegade Stage, visit facebook.com/emergingartiststage.