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Brite Winter Fest 2014

Fifth year of festival extremely successful, thousands once again celebrate in Ohio City with music, art and food

By Jordan Gonzalez and Mara Biggs

February 27, 2014

What began in 2010 as a graduate student project from Case Western Reserve University that attracted around 800 people and three local bands has expanded into a rocking festival that attracts thousands (an estimated 20,000 last year and similar numbers this year) of attendees and over 70 bands from all over the U.S.

The 2014 Brite Winter Festival took place on Feb. 15 in Ohio City. The festival attracted a diverse crowd of all ages and ethnicities.
For each group of beer-toting students rocking skinny jeans and hipster sweaters there was an older couple or a family.

Every bar and restaurant on West 25th Street was packed. Without a seat left in a single establishment, bodies stood wedged together, and even spilled into the street outside of Great Lakes Brewing Company and Bier Markt.

Thousands of attendees participated in the outdoor activities, playing games, watching the concerts and waiting in line for $5 beers courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company and Willoughby Brewing Company.

The crowds in Market Square Park and the main stage area in the parking lot of West 26th and Market Avenue grew larger as the night rolled on. People danced and huddled around a number of roaring fire pits to keep from freezing in the continually dropping temperature of the evening, which peaked at 9 degrees (with around -7 degree wind chill).

“Dance with us to get warm,” bassist and back-up singer Casey Sullivan from Boston-based indie-pop band Air Traffic Controller said to the crowd.

“Cleveland is more used to cold weather, so they get enough people to come because we’re used to it,” said Rachel Murar, a Cleveland State student. “We’re used to freezing our ass off all the time. We go to Browns games and sit through it and they lose all the time. This has at least more incentive.”

It was a little more challenging for some musicians to stay warm. Almost all musicians at Brite reported numb fingers, but none let the cold affect their energy and performance.

“I thought it would be a lot worse, and for the first three songs I couldn’t really feel my fingers,” said Michael LoPresti, lead singer from Cleveland-based indie-folk band The Lighthouse and the Whaler. “I kept having to blow on them and try and keep them warm. I thought it would affect my voice a lot more, but it didn’t really.”

Dave Munro, lead singer-songwriter from Boston-based indie-pop band Air Traffic Controller, said it was the coldest outdoor performance they’ve ever played.

“You actually have to look and make sure [your fingers are] doing what you normally just think they’re doing,” Munro said. “You actually have to make sure that’s happening. All that muscle memory just goes away.”

Despite the challenging cold, he praised the fans for their energy.
“I don’t know if it’s the weather or what, but people were just going crazy out here tonight,” Munro said. “I think having this festival seems crazy but I think there is something brilliant about it, because it gives some people something to look forward to in the wintertime. It’s kind of unheard of.”

Case Western Reserve student Andrew Gerst enjoyed the festival for its unique treatment of winter.

“It is fantastic,” Gerst said. “I really like the idea of a festival that says you know what, the winter sucks, but we’re going to have fun anyway. [It is] kind of like a screw you to winter, you can’t stop us.”

Gerst, who is from California, also praised the refreshments at Brite, which included many local gourmet food trucks and of course, lots of beer.

“Cleveland spoils me in beer,” Gerst said. “I go back home and it’s all IPAs. Great Lakes is one of the few breweries I’ve encountered where nearly ever beer they do is fantastic.”

The Lighthouse and the Whaler’s performance, which was second to last at the Brite Winter Stage, drew the biggest crowd, filling most of the parking lot outside of Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Their fans were very responsive, dancing, singing and waving their hands throughout the entire concert – something which LoPresti said is a huge benefit of performing at festivals (especially when they are at home).

“I think that festivals like this just help to build your confidence because you’re in front of a hometown crowd, so it’s like a little less pressure,” LoPresti said. “You can just do more, experiment more, play new songs.”

Air Traffic Controller, who was the last band to play on the Brite Winter Stage, drew a large crowd that also featured constant dancing and singing. Their fans braved the cold until the last song – incidentally a song about playing one last song called “Bad Axe, Mi” – and then scattered back to their cars or to the toasty but overcrowded bars on West 25th.

Several bars held music stages well past 1 a.m., but the crowds left the outdoors immediately after the last outdoor concerts, and food trucks and games were closed down.