By Amanda Koehn
Brite Winter will return for its 14th Cleveland music and arts festival Feb. 25, bringing back headliner Welshly Arms – a Cleveland-based band that has built an international reputation.
The festival will again take place on the West Bank of the Flats, shifting slightly closer toward the riverfront this year, said Emily Hornack, Brite Winter’s co-founder and executive director. It will include performances by 20 acts – many of them local – and visual art.
Hornack told Canvas that this year’s theme, anchors away, connects to Cleveland’s history and reliance upon the Great Lakes and the Cuyahoga River, and reflects on the idea of the anchor clearing the bottom of the sea to set off on a new voyage.
“We thought that would be kind of a fun thing to explore after almost three years of pandemic, and this idea of sort of leaving the weight behind and moving forward together,” Hornack said.
Welshly Arms first performed at Brite Winter in about 10-degree weather several years ago – one of the coldest days on record for the festival. The blues rock band took the chilly stage, then along Ohio City’s Market District, Hornack said, calling them “rock stars.”
“They are very popular when they play in Cleveland, but they also bring this international and national flare to the festival that we always see from our headliner, too,” Hornack said. “They’ve got great vocals and a very like Cleveland rock sound.”
Like Welshly Arms, Brite Winter has also increased in popularity over the years. Hornack said while its first iteration attracted between 600 and 800 people in a three-band lineup under the bridge at Hart Crane Memorial Park on the Cuyahoga River’s Irishtown Bend, warmer recent years have attracted up to 15,000.
Each year, the festival aims for a diverse lineup of musical acts, sought both locally and beyond. Bands apply in the summer and committee members review each submission before final decisions are made, based on a range of factors, Hornack said. The festival now also has music liaisons – well-known and experienced musicians and booking agents in the Cleveland area – who work to recruit new and diverse acts to play.
“We go not just for who we like the best overall, but what the best mix is for the festival overall,” Hornack says. “If we can find the best mix using local talent, then we’ll do that. But we also think it’s good to bring in people from out of town.
“You never know what connections can be made. We’ve had Cleveland bands get picked up by nationally touring bands to be an opener – that kind of stuff has happened because of relationships built at Brite. So, we certainly want to spice it up a little bit.”
For the first time, Brite Winter now has its own ticketing system on its website, allowing for new tiers of ticket options. While tickets start at $10, for additional costs attendees can buy access to heated tents, swag, private restrooms and more.
Hornack recommended attendees “dress warmer than you think you need to dress,” as it is an outdoor, winter event. She also encouraged carpooling and taking public transit, noting the Center Street bridge connecting the East and West Bank of the Flats is still closed and those going in that direction will have to find another route.
Brite Winter is also hosting public art workshops at IngenuityLabs in Cleveland Thursdays and Saturdays through Feb. 11, where attendees can help create visual art elements for the festival. For more information on the workshops and to register, visit britewinter.com/art.
And for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, this year Brite Winter will return its visual art tents. A couple other freestanding art installations will also be scattered around festival, Hornack said.
“We’re just really excited to be back to ‘normal,’” she said. “With the ability to have our (art) tent again, having Welshly Arms back with us again, it just feels like … both a return to some old things that we really love, but also anchors away and moving forward, too.”
Canvas and its sister publication Cleveland Jewish News are media partners of Brite Winter.