By Casey Rafter
It was Irishpalooza and Harlow’s dark curtain was lit green as the jaunty sounds of a tin whistle cut the air. The players of Stout Rebellion were striking up their rendition of “South Australia.”
As the Pogues classic rang out, the band’s percussionist and “minister of fun,” Linda Easton-Waller, knelt down to motion towards a member of the crowd. A few mandolin strums later and 10-year-old Lincoln Christman was coming up from the audience to join the performance with his tambourine.
“He went back to school the next day and went and found all his teachers and said, ‘I played Harlow’s on Saturday,’” Easton-Waller beamed. “He drags his parents to a bar every Thursday night. Sometimes grandma comes along, too.”
Stout Rebellion, both the five-piece band and the cultural podcast hosted by lead singer and guitarist Bobby Waller, equal an ongoing celebration of Celtic pub life with a heavy emphasis on crowd participation.
The band’s next big gig is a three-parter for St. Patrick’s Day, starting at Father Paddy’s Pub in Woodland at noon, followed by two sets at Fox and Goose Pub in Sacramento at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
The name Stout Rebellion is inspired not only by the popular libation enjoyed by hibernophiles and Irish natives the world over, but also by Waller’s mother’s maiden name: Stout. Initially, Waller had toyed with a nod to another popular drink, but then decided that not only was “Whiskey Rebellion” culturally inappropriate, it wasn’t very original.
“There are probably 20 bands in the world named Whiskey Rebellion, so we went with Stout because that sounded more Irish,” Waller explained. “So, it’s a little tribute to my mom.”
Completing the lineup of Stout Rebellion, after Waller, Easton-Waller and mandolinist James Wilson, is Trevor Miller on winds and reeds — mostly flute and whistle — and bassist Adrian Baxmeyer. Waller acknowledges that Irish bands in the area are very incestuous, which is proven by Miller and Baxmeyer’s ties with fellow four-leafed jammers, the Pint Thieves.
Waller is mainly solo when hosting the Stout Rebellion podcast, though he does try to feature a guest each episode. Those guests have included Phelim Drew, son to legendary Dubliners frontman Ronnie Drew, as well as singers and songwriters from Brian Flynn to Frankie McLaughlin. The first 10 episodes of his encyclopedic audio journey through Irish tunes are out now. Waller hopes to hammer-out a second season as time allows this year.
The purpose of Waller’s show is to define and analyze a song, digging into the meaning behind its lyrics and connecting its music to the broader history of Irish pop-culture.
“For me, who has been singing the songs for 14 years in public, it’s not knowing what I am saying every week at a gig – ‘What does that mean?’” Waller ventured. “Where does this song come from? I kind of want it to serve a purpose of promoting the band a little.”
At their live shows, like the weekly Thursday singalongs at Father Paddy’s Pub, Waller looks to continue a tradition that was started with the first iteration of Stout Rebellion. Back then, the band’s standing gig was a three-hour set on the Delta King, which led to a floating weekly residence.
“This sounds braggy, but we filled the place every week — it’s really tiny,” Waller chuckled. “We wanted to do something like that again and we have a good relationship with Father Paddy’s. We intentionally want to build community.”
On the heels of a hiatus for Stout Rebellion in 2012, Waller and Easton-Waller played as “Bobby and the Kennedys” in a similar style, often hitting spots like Shady Lady, Boxing Donkey and, in 2016, landing their gig at Father Paddy’s Pub. Pat Redmond, the pub’s owner, said he considers Waller and the band friends. He also admires their commitment to connecting with their audience directly, giving patrons a place to enjoy the music and enjoy themselves.
“They’ve got some songs that Americans will consider traditional Irish drinking songs — Bobby and Linda love to play that kind of stuff,” Redmond said. “The concept is … people aren’t coming to see the band, they’re coming to join the band, including myself. I’ll get up there and join and play.”
Miller said that, with whistles or flutes, boosting the sound on stage is quite a challenge. He encountered that dynamic first with the Pikeys (now playing under less controversial name the Pint Thieves), learning that a loud guitar plugged directly into an amp provides quite the competition. According to Miller, breath control on a whistle only aids in controlling notes played, not volume.
“You have to try and convince sound people to go ahead and turn it up,” he went on. “It’s a struggle because nobody plays this instrument. All the Irish bands in town, I’m really the only dedicated wind person.”
Stout Rebellion’s two projects — podcast and band — are the result of 14 years of practice, according to Waller. He considers himself a late bloomer, though he was a part of punk and rockabilly bands in the 80s. When the time came to raise a family, Waller put down the guitar for 20 years. When he and Easton-Waller’s second child moved out, he found time to tune back into his musical muse.
Once Waller was ready to pick the guitar up again, he knew right away what music he wanted to play: It was inspired by being led into a St. Petersburg bar by his former drummer Vincent Salafia. Painting a picture from memory, Waller recalled that, upon entering the Florida Irish pub, the crowd was lively and readily joining in with the choruses of drinking songs that filled the air.
“He and his mom started taking me to this tiny little Irish pub,” Waller remembered. “Everybody who showed up seemed to know every word to every song, or at least the chorus. I loved it, so when my kids started leaving and we had a little more time, I’m like, ‘Can I do that?’ So, that’s what we do.”
Though the members of Stout Rebellion pride themselves on connecting with the crowd and building community, they still find joy and humility in recognition. In 2012, the band booked Thunder Valley Casino’s St. Patrick’s Day Beer & Music Fest. They were wowed by hearing their name on the radio and seeing it in lights on the marquees.
“Our favorite was that we were on the placements,” Easton Waller said, laughing. “We thought, ‘We’ve made the big time: we are on the placemat.’”
Like many who watch Stout Rebellion, young super-fan Christman found it easy to jibe with the band’s constant efforts to connect — sometimes through the songs they choose or write — and sometimes by handing people an instrument and encouraging them to get involved.
Christman has been hooked on Stout Rebellion since he was eight. He told SN&R, excitedly, that when Easton Waller was offering instruments to the crowd at Jack Rabbit Brewery, he was handed a “very special” pair of clappers.
“I bring my special clappers every time to play,” Christman confirmed. “My favorite thing is getting on stage and playing with them. Also, every once in a while, someone comes up to me and gives me like a dollar or two.”
Stout rebellion!! I enjoy happy stories! Thnx for sharing your entry for this group🎶