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Embracing Winter: Brite Winter Fest and Cleveland's First Urban Iditarod

Looking to get outside and enjoy this Cleveland winter? The Brite Winter Festival returns this Saturday 2/18. (photo from britewintercleveland.com)

After the last week of snow, I think we are able to say that winter is finally here.  And just in time for two events that aim to celebrate Cleveland’s snowy season:

This Saturday from 5-10pm, Brite Winter Festival returns for its third year.  The event originally started as the creators’ proactive, grassroots approach to stave off the brain drain they were seeing in Cleveland among their fellow college graduates.

With Brite Winter, they wanted to give Clevelanders a chance to get outside and discover that our winters don’t just need to be tolerated – they can actually be a lot of fun.

For their third annual fest, they’re changing locations and bringing Brite Winter to Bridge Ave. and W.26th in Ohio City.

My favorite game from last year's Brite Winter Festival: Giant Skeeball!

The festival will feature art and games — and sometimes a combination of the two.

Artists from the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art’s Community Arts Department, IngenuityFest and local companies like cyancdesign will take over the main festival grounds as well as some of Ohio City businesses to present their art installations.

One of my favorite games from last year – giant skee-ball – is back, along with other games like a Climbing Race Game, Light Fight and a Catapult Smashdown.

This year's Brite Winter moves to Ohio City. Pictured is last year's festival lighting up The Flats. (photo from britewintercleveland.com)

And for festival-goers’ listening pleasure, Brite Winter has eight venues and over 35 bands performing when I last counted.

Something that’s different this year: the festival will feature one outdoor stage and seven indoor venues like Bon Bon Cafe, Great Lakes Brewery and Joy Machines Bike Shop. So if you do need to take a break and warm up from the cold, you’ll have a lot of options for music.

The festival and all music performances are free and open to the public, though donations are always welcome. You can read my recap of last year’s Brite Winter here.

The Cleveland Urban Iditarod descends on Ohio City in March - part relay race/part street theatre to raise money for Harvest for Hunger.

In March, Ohio City will play host to another unique event when Cleveland’s Yo-Yo Syndicate demonstrates that being out in the cold can be enjoyable and help raise money for a local cause.

The Yo-Yo Syndicate, creators of IngenuityFest’s Doodle Bar as well as Cleveland’s branch of Dr. Sketchy, are helming the first-ever Cleveland Urban Iditarod on March 4th.

What is an urban iditarod?

While the real Iditarod is the famous long-distance race where a team of dogs tow a sled across Alaska’s frozen tundra, the Cleveland Urban Iditarod is almost the same thing. Except that instead of dogs, it’s people; instead of sleds, it’s shopping carts; and instead of Alaska, it’s Cleveland.

Have fun with your Urban Iditarod team -- dress yourselves and your cart up like this team from the Chicago Iditarod did. (photo from theyoyosyndicate.com)

Teams of 5 (4 to pull the cart, 1 “musher” who’s behind steering) must fill their cart with 40 pounds of canned food and race it through the course. The carts can be decorated (it’s even encouraged as long as the decorations don’t violate the guidelines) and racers can wear the craziest costumes they can pull together. All of this will help raise food and money for the Cleveland Foodbank’s Harvest for Hunger.

Urban Iditarods have been held in places such as Portland, Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago (where over $18,000 was raised for their local food bank), but this is the first time Cleveland will be hosting one.   With themed teams and contests at each stop, the Iditarod is part relay race/part street theater and will bring Cleveland’s creative community to the Ohio City neighborhood.

The race starts at 11:30 a.m. and the entire route is about 5.5 miles with 20 minute stops at each local west side location. The Market Garden Brewery, who’s also planning the first Ohio City Ice Carving contest that day, will be hosting the Urban Iditarod after party.

If you register online by Feb. 24th, the team fee is only $45 (it goes up to $65 through March 2nd; $100 the day of). The cart deposit is $35, which each team will get back once they demonstrate the cart has been taken home with them after the race.

The "Epic Epicness" of an urban iditarod! The Chicago Iditarod (pictured here) helped raise over $18,000 for their local food bank. (photo from theyoyosyndicate.com)

Although there’s officially only a month left of winter, with Brite Winter and the Urban Iditarod there are a lot of opportunities left to get out and enjoy it.

What do you have planned for your end-of-winter festivities?


Cleveland Winters May Not Be Warm, But They're Looking Brite-r

Clevelanders gathered in Hart Crane Memorial Park on Saturday to celebrate winter at the Brite Winter Festival

From Sparx City Hop to IngenuityFestival, Clevelanders enjoy celebrating their city outdoors. Of course, most of these festivals happen when it’s warmer outside – the summer and fall see the bulk of them. When winter rolls around, it means it’s usually time to escape inside from the blustery cold.

The organizers behind the Brite Winter Festival wanted to change that when they put the first Brite Winter together last year. With art, music, and games, they wanted to highlight the creativity that abounds in Cleveland and to promote the idea that it is possible to have fun outside in the middle of February.

For more background on how the event got started, there’s an article on Fresh Water Cleveland worth checking out. Personally, I love how the idea came about after one of the founders was asked “What are you doing when you graduate and leave Cleveland.” Fighting brain drain (i.e. keeping college students from leaving post-graduation) is a problem in a lot of cities, but I’ve found it to be the case in Cleveland in particular.  I’m really happy that Brite Winter started as a few students’ proactive approach in encouraging others to stay by giving them something else to do on the weekend.

After being a huge success at last year's Brite Winter Festival, over-sized skeeball was back.

After last year’s successful debut, this year’s Brite Winter Festival took place on Saturday night at Hart Crane Memorial Park. Scott and I headed over for a couple hours to enjoy the festivities.

Scott mastered the giant claw machine enough to win a travel mug. Between the wood, string, levers and pulleys, it was a really fun contraption.

What got me out to the Flats was the promise of mini-golf and over-sized skeeball because I’m a sucker for games. Brite Winter did not disappoint as I got in a round of putt-putt and launched a soccer ball down the skeeball ramp a few times.  Although the mini-golf course was designed to have snow as the turf, players adapted to Saturday’s snowless surface. The obstacles were a fantastic mashup of wood planks, pipes, rocks and other recycled refuse.

While I was able to hold my own with putt-putt (brushing up on my rusty skills from when I actually played golf), my skeeball attempts were not so stellar.  I was able to launch the soccer ball up the ramp a couple times but couldn’t score.  After trying our hand at that, we warmed ourselves by the fire, made smores and Scott mastered the giant claw machine – an interesting contraption of string, levers and pulleys – to win a travel mug.


Uke player Amy Fishbach entertains in an up-close concert in one of the 'Ice Cubes' - inflatable decompression tents scattered throughout the Festival.

Of course, it’s not a festival in Cleveland unless the event features some of our excellent music offerings.  There was the main stage under the bridge which featured a number of bands throughout the evening. In addition to that there was the ‘bubble stage’ in one of the ‘ice cubes’ or inflatable decompression cubes scattered throughout the festival.  The bubble stage hosted a rotation of solo and small group performers.

My favorite part of the evening was being treated to an up-close concert with ukulele player Amy Fish.  She played a few bluegrass tunes and chatted with the handful of people who were in the cube with her.  She also invited any ukulele players to join her and the rest of the Ukulele Club on the last Tuesday of every month at 7:30pm at the Coventry Library. It’s open to players of all skill level to meet up, play and share their love for the instrument.

Although the putt-putt course was designed to have a snowy turf, organizers and festival-goers both adapted to the snowless terrain to have a lot of fun.

Although it was slightly disappointing the snow had all melted earlier in the week, the organizers and volunteers of Brite Winter adapted to the weather and made everything work. While I couldn’t stick around for the whole evening or the Tequilla Ranch afterparty (as a non-native Clevelander I’m still working on improving my resilience against the cold), we had a great time. It was another example of an inventive community coming up with a clever idea and having a good time while they put it into action — my number one reason for loving this city as much as I do.

Brite Winter Festival 411: