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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summerfest's Secret Refugee Stage

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Along with the 12 billed stages at Summerfest there's a much smaller stage that you won't find listed on any official festival programming. Nestled on the festival's lake walk behind the Venice Club, The Refugee Stage has been quietly booking independent musicians for years, working with no official sponsorship and virtually no financial support from the festival save for a modest stipend for its organizers.

Summerfest Associate Entertainment Director Vic Thomas discovered those organizers six years ago when they were busking outside the festival's gates. He liked what he heard, and invited them to perform inside. Two years later they were given a small platform to perform on, and they began inviting acts from around the state to share that space, which they've dubbed “the smallest stage at the world's largest music festival.”

“A bunch of us guys get together each year and put a lot of time and energy and money from our own pockets to make this happen,” says Kerry Bloedorn, who manages the stage with his friends J Danger Wolf and Eoin McCarthy. “We have Summerfest's support, but we maintain complete independence over the stage and get to book it entirely on our own.”

Though it isn't published on Summerfest's website, The Refugee Stage's complete schedule is posted on www.therefugeestage.com. Among the performers are Uncle Larry, The Brimley's, Honest Monday, Poor J, Baywood Park, Roxie Beane, Mathew Haeffel, Tony Memmel, Dangerfield and Whiskey of the Damned. On Friday, July 8, the stage dedicates its entire lineup to DJs, and on July 10 a grab bag of the stage's performers will return to close the festival with an all-star jam.

“The stage has really developed a cult following,” Bloedorn says. “I think people enjoy getting away from the main stage to take in a more intimate performance. The smaller stage really allows the headliners to make a connection with the crowd.”