Sound Check: Brite Winter Festival in Cleveland

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Blues rock guitarist Thaddeus A. Green will perform at The 4th Annual Brite Winter Festival on Saturday. (Eugene M Turner Photography)

Four years ago, a group of friends came up with the, uh, bright idea of having a Cleveland Outdoor Art & Music Winter Festival. For most people, that phrase probably seems oxymoronic, but the team’s goal was to get Northeast Ohioans to embrace and enjoy winter rather than simply endure the season.

The event was a big success with more than 800 brave (and probably layered) music and arts lovers showing up.

This year, the Brite Winter Festival 2013 is happening on Saturday at West 26th Street and Bridge Avenue, and it promises to be bigger and better.

Sure, the last few winters have been relatively benign (Thanks, climate change!), but it’s a balmy 32 degrees as I write this, and though a decade of Ohio winters has toughened my hide, that would surely turn my California relatives into shivering, complaining peoplesicles.

Nevertheless, Northeast Ohioans are of hardy stock and there will be plenty to do to keep everyone warm with more than 40 bands spread across six stages along with a lot of interesting sounding arts activities.

Marvel at the Rust Belt Monster Collective freestyling a large mural using input from the crowd and the environment all done in fluorescent paint and black light (there’s a 1970s stoner joke in there somewhere; have at it). There will also be a community light sculpture, aka the Wall of Light, to which you can add your own lamp, a “cake hunt” scavenging adventure with the grand prize of … cake and Mitchell’s Ice Cream and Angry Birds Cornhole!

As for the music, I can’t list all the bands, so let’s go with fun names instead. Among the musical offerings are AAA singer Misty Gonzales and talented Hendrix-influenced, blues-rock singer/guitarist Thaddeus Anna Greene on the Brite Stage.

Catchy, lo-fi indie rockers Total Babes and Hiram’s own Reverse the Curse will be on the Campbell’s Sweets Factory Stage. Akron pop-punk foursome Worship This!, Tracy Morgan Freeman and World’s Scariest Police Chases will jam on the Joy Machines Bike Shop stage. Finally, the Cleveland Hostel stage will welcome Honeybucket, Unraveler and the smart and funny teenage sister duo ShiSho.

The Brite Winter Festival is free and the music begins at 4 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m. and there are indoor options for those who can’t or won’t stay outside the entire time.

Random Acts of Live Music

On Friday night, a rock and roll hall of famer comes to Cleveland in the still unique form of George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic.

I’ve seen the P-Funk Mob a few times in the past decade or so and it’s been uneven. But when I saw Clinton and crew during the rock hall induction week last year, he had replaced the giant multicolored muumuus (He was often naked under those things, yikes!) he wore for about 20 years with Detroit pimp suits. Also, the platoon of musicians he’s had with him recently strikes the right balance between jamming and moving the show along.

As far as Clinton goes, he told me a few years ago he had to sell his drug habit on eBay because his druggy reputation was messing up his ability to book gigs, so he has been closer to the energetic ringleader he was in the 1970s and ’80s than the guy who makes a few onstage cameos during a three-hour show.

If you’re a fan of the “Quiet Storm” (thunder crack sounds) format and are looking for something romantic to do for Valentine’s Day tonight, Nighttown in Cleveland Heights will play host to jazz/R&B drummer Norman Connors.

He is the man who gave the world You Are My Starship, one of the all-time great R&B slow-jam classics, but he also had a minor hit with the timely, breezy ballad Valentine Love.

Listening to the former song, it’s hard to remember that Connors played with outre jazz artists including saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp and Sam Rivers as well as fellow genre-hopper Herbie Hancock.

These days, Connors’ music leans toward the smooth jazz/R&B genre, so it should be a groovy night getting you and your Valentine suitably primed for whatever your Valentine’s Day endgame might be (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

If you need to extend your Valentine’s Day romance on Friday night, the State Theater at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare will welcome two smooth brothers known for making grown-up love songs — Kem and El Debarge.

I’m just going to break it down for you: the ladies love Kool Kem. He doesn’t get much mainstream press, but he has released three gold-selling albums in a decade, two of which hit the Billboard Top 5.

The bald-pated singer, whose most recent album is Intimacy: Album III, has a clear, malleable tenor that can cozy up to the eardrums like he’s whispering sweet soulful nothings in your ears or do the full-voce pleading thing that seems to always work. Plus he writes velvety-smooth ballads and down-tempo, toe-tapping odes to all things love related.

And, of course, El Debarge, formerly of Debarge, has been doing the smooth thing for 30 years. His most recent album was 2010’s Second Chance, a contemporary R&B collection that was nominated for best R&B album at the 2012 Grammys and contains his trademark still-smooth-at-51-years-old falsetto and professions of undying love.

It’s gonna be a sexy, soulful night.

Grammy congrats

One last kudos to the Black Keys for adding three more statues (best rock album, best rock performance and best rock song — plus one more for Dan Auerbach for producer of the year, nonclassical) to the Grammy shelves in their Nashville homes.

If, as Pat Carney suggested, this is the pinnacle of the band’s 11-year climb, then scoring two platinum-selling albums in a row, a sold-out arena tour and a cameo on Workaholics is certainly something you can tell the grandkids with pride.

Also, kudos to Akron’s other Grammy nominee, jazz musician/arranger Wally Minko, who lost his best-arrangement award to jazz legend the late Gil Evans. I hope Minko and his wife had fun at the ceremony and, hey, there’s always next year.

Apologies will come

Last week, I covered the ceremony hailing Feb. 9, 2013, as Ruby & the Romantics Day in Akron. The ceremony was well packed and very well done and Ruby Nash Garnett really appreciated receiving the praise, acknowledgement and proclamations from her hometown.

But sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain and I neglected to mention the person who spearheaded the whole event, Linda Slider, a friend and longtime fan of the group and its place in Akron music history.

Slider felt Ruby & the Romantics were way overdue to receive some official hometown love, and with help from Billy Soule, assistant to the mayor for community relations, they corralled local organizations such as the Urban League, the NAACP and, of course, the city of Akron to properly honor one of Akron’s big pop music exports.

I apologize for the oversight.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.

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