snow ball: brite winter fest lights up the night

Coaxing winter-weary Clevelanders from their cozy hibernation caves is a tall order to be sure, but the Brite Winter Festival aims to do just that. Now in its second year, the cold-weather funfest is slated to hit Hart Crane Memorial Park (corner of Columbus and Merwin) in the Flats on February 19.

Billed as an outdoor music and arts festival, Brite Fest is proof that you can indeed have fun in Cleveland, in February, out of doors. This year's dazzling array of temptations includes nine holes of snow mini golf, 24 feet of alfresco skeeball, ski-mounted bicycles, wall-to-wall music and white-hot gourmet food trucks.

All activities are "weather permitting," which in this case means having enough precipitation for things like the snow sculptures that decorate the miniature putt-putt course. And yes, event co-chairs Emily Hornack and Jimmy Harris fully comprehend the implications of Cleveland's notoriously fickle weather.

"We have to plan for a foot of snow or 60 degrees and rain," says Harris.

"We kind of take this Zen approach," adds Hornack regarding the weather. "It's one of the things we decided to embrace instead of fight."

So, why in the devil choose winter in the first place?

Hornack, a 2010 Case Western Reserve University grad and speech pathologist at Metro Health, and Harris, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering, hatched the Brite Winter Fest in response to a particularly presumptuous question constantly being posed by fellow students: "What are you doing when you graduate and leave Cleveland?"

That dreary query struck Hornack as indicative of the invisible divide that exists between university students and the community that surrounds them. While Cleveland had no shortage of family-friendly arts and entertainment events, few specifically targeted the younger, hipper 20- to 35-year-old demographic. So Hornack and Harris decided to brainstorm ideas on ways to introduce their colleagues to the city they loved.

"We were sitting around drinking beer and thinking of things we always wanted to do," says Hornack. "We wanted something to do in winter, particularly after the holidays."

"Nothing much happens between the end of the Browns season and May," adds Harris. (And during Browns season, some might add.)

The not-so-obvious conclusion they landed on was a winter-themed festival. Although Hornack is a Cleveland native, she spent years in the Twin Cities area, where events like the St. Paul Winter Carnival liven up the long, dark, cold months. So Harris and Hornack did what any serious young medical professionals might do: They decided to throw a party that featured ice bocce, musicians in "ice cubes," and a snow ball fight re-enactment of the 1836 Cleveland Bridge War.

To raise the necessary funds they teamed up with Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, K & D Group, Gypsy Beans, and a host of student organizations at Case. Following the magical recipe for stone soup that calls for heaping dose of community cooperation, the first annual Brite Winter Festival was born on Feb. 27, 2010.

"We've been fortunate to get a lot of help from people big and small, from all walks, contributing in big and small ways," says Harris.

For last year's inaugural event, Jack Frost contributed a swirling blizzard, which escalated the creativity and bonhomie. Event coordinators constructed last-minute "ice cubes" out of plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect the bands from the elements. Revelers lobbed snowballs, listened to music, warmed their hands by the fire, and sprang into action when a police car needed a friendly push.

"The coolest thing was this huge skeeball ramp with soccer balls and ball return," recalls Mike Christoff, a volunteer who attended last year's event. "You ran into people you never heard of. You also ran into councilmen. It was a weird crowd mostly, and that's what I considered to be the most fun."

Giant skeeball is returning to this year's Brite Fest, as is the interactive "light jukebox," a video-projection installation that allows folks to design and project onto buildings their own creations.

Hornack says the event targets "professional and graduate students and people who enjoy urban environs," though everyone is welcome to this free event. "By no means are we exclusionary," says Harris. "We're creating a space where people can interact."

Main stage performers will include Living Stereo, Modern Electric, The Wheel, and SunSpots. The list of performing artists is still growing, but will be showcasing performers such as Worried Men and Amy Fishbach.

Food will be provided by two of the area's hottest mobile kitchens, Umami Moto and strEat Mobile Bistro, as will Gypsy Bean and Baking Co. Nearby Sainato's Pizza will open their doors to those in need of a cup of libation, a warm place to nosh, or just the bathroom.

Hornack hopes the event blossoms into a long-standing Cleveland tradition.

"From the beginning we always wanted this to be an annual event. There are a variety of things that make that likely and possible," she says, citing the enthusiasm of volunteers and event partners.

"It's become exactly what we wanted it to be."

To make a donation, click here.

- Photo 1: Co-chairs Emily Hornack and Jimmy Harris - Photo Bob Perkoski
- Photo 2: Brite Winter Festival Planning Committee - Photo Bob Perkoski
- Photos 3 - 8: Brite Winter Festival 2010 - Photos courtesy of Brite Winter Festival

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.