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Mitten Fest @ Burnhearts

Feb. 9, 2013

Feb. 11, 2013
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Football - Photo courtesy of Burnhearts Bar
Milwaukee's summer months bustle with so many festivals, block parties and concert series that it's impossible to catch every can't-miss event. It's an enchanting season but also profoundly maddening. With all that excitement packed into such a short period, the remainder of the year, particularly January and February, is usually left with an underwhelming slate as Milwaukeens retreat into a collective hibernation. That’s why Mitten Fest, held at Burnhearts in Bay View Saturday afternoon, posed an intriguing idea: a winter music festival outdoors. It’s not an unrealistic suggestion, but it’s a bold one. The weather plays a huge role in affecting the turnout of a crowd during the summer. It’s pretty simple: Warm days invite bigger crowds; nasty weather brings smaller crowds. Coordinating a festival when the weather’s at its coldest seems like an invitation for failure. However, in this case, the festival’s peculiarity was part of the appeal. How many opportunities does the city get to party outside in sub-freezing temperatures? As luck would have it, though, the weather never hit those extremes on Saturday, which proved to be a mild and pleasant day, snuck in between the biggest snowstorm of the year and freezing rain.

The music was the main draw. Though the bill featured a small, mostly local lineup—how difficult would it be to convince a touring band to play outside a bar in those conditions?—each band delivered an enthused set. Other than the jackets, no one appeared uncomfortable onstage; Jaill’s Vinnie Kirchner was even brazen enough to simply don a baseball tee. Chicago’s Football didn’t kick the event off as much as they did knock its teeth in. Their brash punk rock only lasted 20 minutes, but it made it clear that the afternoon wasn’t going to be filled with anything that sounded dreary. Call Me Lightning followed that tradition, even though 30 seconds into its set drummer Shane Hochstetler broke a kick drum pedal. Frontman Nathan Lilley filled the silence here and a few other times with some straight-faced banter doused in sarcasm. The jokes kept things light between the band’s searing rock songs. Jaill closed with a steady set of jangly guitar-infused power-pop songs, a nice reminder that you didn’t need to be inside to feel warm.

With only one stage, there was a lot of downtime, which was definitely a plus thanks to Mitten Fest’s other attractions. A garage outside Burnhearts (dubbed Brandy Land) offered delicious bourbon-barreled, aged brandy Old Fashioneds; another station dished out specialty brews; and a string of tents sold handmade items like pillows, scarves and, of course, mittens. The only bummer ended up being the cold. While never bitter or blustery, it had a way of seeping into you after several hours. But, I guess, that’s why these things don’t happen every weekend.


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