Cleveland's Brite Winter outdoor music festival returns to the Flats
For 12 years, Brite Winter has brought music, creativity and entertainment to Cleveland to mark the end of winter and entry into spring.
After taking a year off from in-person programming in 2021, the festival is returning to the West Bank of the Flats Saturday.
In a good year, Brite Winter draws in around 12,000 attendees, despite chilly temperatures.
For the first time, tickets will be required for this year’s event to compensate participating artists and ease some of the financial burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event will also take place entirely outdoors with warming stations and fires pits sprinkled throughout.
Attendees can expect four stages, 30 musical acts, food vendors and art workshops set up throughout the event.
Brite Winter co-founder Emily Hornack said the goal is to create a whole experience for the community.
“Especially in winter, that’s necessary,” Hornack said. “To focus not just on putting a band on a stage, but what does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? What kind of food and drink to you have available? What does it smell like? Because we have bonfires and those kinds of things.”
Planning winter programming in Cleveland
Brite Winter started in 2010 when Hornack and her friends attended Case Western Reserve University as grad students.
They noticed a lack of winter programming in Cleveland and wanted to create a festival during the often quiet time of year.
“At one point, [I] thought we were just going to have a band in my backyard in February and that was going to be it,” Hornack said. “But we ended up having 600 to 800 people show up for our very first festival in the Flats. At that point we thought, ‘This idea has legs, and people liked it. Let’s do it again.’”
Brite Winter has grown not only in attendance over the years, but also how the festival identifies itself through visual art and other programming.
A board of directors, staff, music liaisons, committee members, volunteers and music reviewers participate in planning and running the festival.
As for music, the selection of the performance lineup is very specific and competitive.
Three years ago, the Brite Winter team decided to hire musicians to help recruit new talent to play the event.
“It’s not just one person or a small group of people, it’s actually a group of 50 people that listens to and rates every band that applies to Brite, which is about 400 bands every year, Hornack said.”
Recruiters look at artists across genres and regions and specifically seek out musicians who can perform outdoors.
While there are some repeat names in the lineup, no artist or band performs more than three years in a row.
Hornack said they wanted to give some “new-to-us” bands this year, including national touring band Colony House out of Nashville, who will headline this year’s festival.
Bands get ready to hit the stage
One band returning to the Brite Winter stage is The Buffalo Ryders, a three-piece rock group out of Akron, that formed in 2009.
The band performed at Brite Winter in February 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns and show cancellations across the performing arts industries and beyond.
“We were one of the last events to happen before the pandemic hit, and one of the first to come out of this latest wave, and hopefully one of the last waves of this pandemic,” Hornack said.
Buffalo Ryders played nearly 50 shows from May to December last year and will mark Brite Winter as their first gig of 2022.
“This could be a nice release to people and a nice way to get back to our old ways, to this thing we all love."
During the pandemic, the band released its album, “Where the Liars Go” and recruited a new bass player, Kevin McManus.
“I was in a band that came out [the pandemic] in not so great of a place on the other side of it,” McManus said. “The Buffalo Ryders went into the pandemic a totally different look and personnel and came out of it with me.”
McManus joined the band after they performed Brite Winter 2020, so this will be his first year attending and playing the Cleveland festival.
“This could be a nice release to people and a nice way to get back to our old ways, to this thing we all love,” he said.
He said they’ve been “lucky” during the pandemic because they’ve stayed active not only writing and recording songs but also performing as much as they can.
“We happened to be playing on the night the state lifted the mask mandate. And by the time we released ‘Where the Liars Go’ in July of 2021, that’s when we felt like our little corner of the world had come back,” McManus said. “It was kind of emotional to see and to have people in one room enjoying music and having a good time again.”
McManus said he and his bandmates Joe Risdon and Mike Lupica have been recording new material and plan to debut some unreleased songs at Brite Winter.
These new songs were recorded when COVID cases began to climb again at the end of 2021. McManus said the pandemic has changed the local music scene a lot.
“I think every artist, every group, had some sort of altering experience because of it,” he said. “I don’t know of any groups that came out of it the exact same way and were just like, ‘business as usual.’”
Experiencing music in person
Brite Winter went virtual in 2021, hosting the four-part “TwiBrite Zone” streaming series.
Each episode included performances by local music acts and filmed vignettes that paid homage to “The Twilight Zone.”
Hornack said they were able to stretch their legs creatively after taking a year off from the large-scale, in-person festival.
But coming back to the Flats this year is exciting for artists who have been through a lot of fits and starts, she said.
“Over the last couple of years, it’s really highlighted to me how much we as humans miss these experiences,” Hornack said. “You’re all listening and bopping your head to the same music at the same time. You’re standing next to strangers around a bonfire and just talking about the weather or whatever.”
Some adjustments have been made to the in-person gathering this year as organizers and performers have shifted gears during the pandemic. One indoor stage has been replaced with four outdoor stages, and some regular inside performance spots have been eliminated from the schedule. The festival’s art tents will be replaced with interactive art displays throughout the event.
While the headlining band, Colony House, is based in Tennessee, the remainder of the performers are local and regional, spanning genres and performance styles.
The full performance lineup
Brite Winter’s live music will begin at 3 p.m., and the festival will run until midnight.
Bands will play simultaneously across stages throughout the event.
The full music lineup is below.
3 p.m. School of Rock Headliners – The Stage Under the Bridge
3:20 p.m. Liz Bullock – Ports Petroleum Stage
3:50 p.m. Moises Borges Brazilian Band – Stage on Elm Avenue
3:50 p.m. Angela Perley – The Stage in the Lot
4:20 p.m. Ben Gage Band – The Stage Under the Bridge
4:20 p.m. Swap Meet – Ports Petroleum Stage
4:50 p.m. Taylor Lamborn – Stage on Elm Avenue
4:50 p.m. The Super Babes – The Stage in the Lot
5:20 p.m. Crazy8TheGreat – The Stage Under the Bridge
5:20 p.m. Whiskey Daredevils – Ports Petroleum Stage
5:50 p.m. Grumpy Plum – Stage on Elm Avenue
5:50 p.m. Indré – The Stage in the Lot
6:20 p.m. Free Black! – The Stage Under the Bridge
6:20 p.m. Hallie – Ports Petroleum Stage
6:50 p.m. Parker Louis – Stage on Elm Avenue
6:50 p.m. Corry Michaels – The Stage in the Lot
7:20 p.m. The Cordial Sins – The Stage Under the Bridge
7:20 p.m. Who Saved Who – Ports Petroleum Stage
7:50 p.m. Chanelle Kazadi – Stage on Elm Avenue
7:50 p.m. The Buffalo Ryders – The Stage in the Lot
8:20 p.m. The Rosies – The Stage Under the Bridge
8:20 p.m. Wave Magnetik and Rowanne Atallah – Ports Petroleum Stage
8:50 p.m. Oregon Space Trail of Doom – Stage on Elm Avenue
8:50 p.m. Lilieae – The Stage in the Lot
9:20 p.m. Gumbo Dance Party – The Stage Under the Bridge
9:20 p.m. R The Czar – Ports Petroleum Stage
9:50 p.m. King Buu – The Stage in the Lot
10 p.m. Colony House – Stage on Elm Avenue
10:20 p.m. Heart & Lung – Ports Petroleum Stage
10:50 p.m. MC Tae – The Stage in the Lot
Brite Winter tickets are $5 each and can be purchased at EventBrite.