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Lighting up Cleveland: Third Annual Brite Winter Festival comes to Cleveland

Winter traditions for the average Clevelander revolve around trying to sneak your suburban neighbor’s snow blower out of their garage, letting the kids make igloos on days off from school, and drinking perhaps a little too much Christmas Ale at the bar with friends. Only a month into 2012, many Clevelanders have lost hope of performing some of these less-than-novel activities. With very little snow on the horizon, temperatures at a sweltering 30 degrees, and most Christmas ale already consumed… What the hell is everyone in the Midwest supposed to do this year?

Cleveland can thank James Harris, Emily Hornack, and a group of other recent university grads for sitting down three years ago to devise a plan for what to do with their snow days now that mandatory winter vacations are over. Instead of thinking up something that only benefitted a few friends, they decided to give back to the community in the form of a giant, free, outdoor festival. This year, Brite Winter Festival will turn three years old when it kicks off Saturday, Feb. 18 at 5 p.m.

During their first year, Harris and Hornack found themselves with 800 participants gathered together to listen to music, play in the snow, meet new friends, and party by a large bonfire in Hart Crane Park. Last year the festival grew to include art, games, and interactive displays.

One of the major focuses of Brite Winter is on light. Winter in the Midwest can be bleak: the skies are gray and the sun rises and sets way before bedtime. However, the festival’s light-up bongos, illuminated and inflated music cubes, fire pits, and lighting installments seek to reverse the darkness in our lives during the winter months.

This year, General Electric graciously donated thousands of lights to local artists, each of whom have been assigned to create light sculptures with the provided materials. “Light is not only something you literally go after, especially in the wintertime, but something you seek metaphorically in your life as well,” says Thomas Fox, one of the festival’s co-chairs. Hot cocoa, coffee, and beer have always played a big part in keeping attendees warm, almost as much as the bonfires. This year is no exception; Buckeye Brewing Company was just named the festival’s official brewers, and Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. will provide warm non-alcoholic treats.

In its third year, Brite Winter will become easier to find and take part in than ever. Not only will there be literally more light to guide the way, but a move to Ohio City will now make the festival accessible to a broad audience. However, the fun of finding a new part of Cleveland will not be lost. The festival’s outdoor component will be taking place behind Old Angle Tavern near Bridge Ave. and W. 26th Streets. “You’re going to still be finding a place that no one really knows about or utilizes because it is off the main drag of W. 25th street,” says Fox. “It still has some mystery to it.”

“Whenever I’m making anything at all, I want it to be consistent with reality,” says Fox, a Cleveland native and an owner of Bad Racket Recording Studio. “We discussed as a group how Brite was actually experienced over the last two years, including music and playing in the park, but a big part of the celebration was also going inside to eat and get warm. By moving up to Ohio City, we are going to be able to make what Brite Winter is really about better.”

One way in which the Brite Winter team plans to do this is to make Ohio City restaurants and businesses a big part of the event. The Garage Bar, Dragonfly Lounge, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Joy Machines, Bon Bon Bakery, Market Avenue Wine Bar, and Touch Supper Club will be hosting bands indoors until 10 p.m. from a variety of genres, ranging from cinematic rock’n’roll to folk to hip hop DJs. Featured musicians include Bad Veins, who will be playing on the main stage outdoors, The Modern Electric, Lighthouse and the Whaler, Bethesda, and Humble Home.

Fox was inspired to expand Brite’s inclusion of live music to several venues this year after attending the SXSW Festival in Austin, Tex. Fans of each band will have to actively seek out different venues in order to not miss the art installations, bands, and food that they’re craving. At any given time, multiple activities will be taking place throughout the Ohio City corridor.

Attendance is free, but if you choose to donate to Brite Winter Festival, you can receive a Brite Winter travel mug or a hand-crafted Glass Bubble pint glass as a thank-you for a variety of sizes of donation. Donors also receive two tickets good for food and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at surrounding Ohio City bars.

More information is available at the festival’s website. Winter in Cleveland is an amazing time to celebrate with friends, but as one committed team of individuals has proven, it’s an even better time to spend with an entire neighborhood.

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