Rain, shine, snow, sleet, or hail, Clevelanders embrace the unpredictable winter we have come to know and love. Case in point: Brite Winter, a free music and arts festival that defies even the coldest temperatures and invites people of all ages to brave the elements. Slated for this Saturday, February 24, this year’s event features more than 45 bands and is projected to attract 20,000 attendees to the West Bank of the Flats.
“It’s exciting seeing folks who would otherwise not be doing anything outside embracing the cold and getting to see local bands and just having a good time in general,” says Brian Horsburgh, the festival’s executive director. “Really, nothing like this happens in other cities.”
Brite Winter started in the summer of 2009, when a couple of friends decided that Clevelanders deserve to celebrate their city all year round. The days of winter hibernation were numbered as these Cleveland enthusiasts hit Facebook to promote the first-ever Brite Winter event. Beer, bands, and blizzards faced the 500 people who showed up in a complete whiteout that year, encouraging the founders to believe that this would be a tradition for many winters to come.
And they were right: this year marks the festival’s ninth installment, as well as what Horsburgh calls its “biggest headliner” yet, Atlas Genius. Since that first event with 500 people, Brite Winter has grown exponentially—necessitating its move from its original Flats East Bank location to Ohio City and now to the West Bank of the Flats. “Being right by the river, that location really speaks to Cleveland,” says Horsburgh.
Though Horsburgh is excited to feature Atlas Genius, he hopes their presence can help promote all the local bands and artists that will be featured at Brite Winter as well. The lineup spans genres from folk to R&B to indie rock, with acts like Herzog, Punch Drunk Tagalongs, Seafair, and Holden Laurence sharing space on the bill. Curating the lineup is a community effort, with submissions accepted throughout the summer and fall and a board of 35 individuals who make selections from the Brite Winter hopefuls.
Along with live music, heated art tents with themed experiences will find revelers trekking across the red sands of Mars, weaving through jungle vines, and admiring the dazzle of cold crystals. Food trucks and family-friendly activities like Angry Birds cornhole, bowling, or S’mores making round out the frigid fun. Says Horsburgh, “We strive to have something for everyone, especially earlier in the day when lots of kids and their families come out.”
Brite Winter happens this Saturday, February 24, from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Though the event is free, attendees are encouraged to contribute a $5 donation to help cover event costs. And be sure to mark your calendars for the 2019 installment, which Horsburgh says holds something “really big” in store to fete the fest’s 10th anniversary.