With more than 60 bands lighting up the Brite Winter music festival in 2015 — including Maps & Atlases and Welshly Arms in the headlining slots — this year's installment feels bigger than the ones that came before it. "We increased our music budget by 50 percent to allow us to draw bigger talent," program director Justin Markert says. "We're also throwing some new ideas into the mix this year by booking a number of hip-hop and electronic artists to diversify the festival and fill a void from past years." The festival takes place from 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday across eight stages throughout Ohio City. Admission is free. Here's our guide to some of the best acts performing at this year's installment.
Earlier this year, local glam/indie rockers Cobra Verde celebrated their 20th anniversary with a short tour. In 2015, they plan to put out a new album and reissue three of their albums. The band has had its songs featured in TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy, Shameless and Entourage. The touring line-up — singer-guitarist John Petkovic, drummer Mark Klein, singer-guitarist Frank Vazzano, bassist Ed Angel Sotelo and guitarist Tim Parnin — has kept a low profile for the past five years as band leader Petkovic has focused on other projects. "Cobra Verde has always been as much of a road movie as it is a band — we could go on tour without having a show booked," says Petkovic in a press release. "It's always been more about the adventure and the pure joy of wandering and bumming around than the destination, than hustling T-shirts." The new album doesn't yet have a title but Petkovic & Co. have written about 20 songs so far. It's due out in the fall of 2015.
11 p.m. in the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room.
On 2012's Emerald City Blues, the Commonwealth started to experiment in the studio to push the limits of its elegant arrangements and beautiful melodies. With 2013's Urban Soul, an album the band has said is thematically about "being in your mid- to late-20s and trying to start a life," the group experiments even further. A mellow piano-based tune, "The Bright Ones" features hushed vocals, and the title track has a woozy garage blues feel that recalls the Black Keys collaborations with uber-producer Danger Mouse. Using groups such as Bon Iver, the National and Arcade Fire as reference points, the bandcomes into its own on the album.
8 p.m. on the Ice Stage at Festival Village.
Singer-guitarist Dave Taha says that discovering grunge rockers Nirvana led him to other, earlier indie rock bands such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Those influences come across on the band's debut, 2010's self-released Everything Can Change, which it recorded locally at the now defunct Exit Stencil Studios (the studio/record label has relocated to New York). For its new album, last year's terrific Moments of Matter, Taha went on a "country kick during the songwriting process" and the band recorded in Asheville. "I think some of it was just being down South," he says of his songwriting approach. "I had never been to the deep South. As a result, there's been a broadening of our sound." The band recorded the album at Echo Mountain Studio, used by indie rock acts such as Band of Horses and War on Drugs. Songs such as the manic, twangy "Don't You Know" sound like vintage Meat Puppets, while ballads such as "Stuck on Explode" and "Opportunism" are somber and introspective.
4 p.m. at the Ice Stage at Festival Village.
This local band launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 and raised the money to record its debut, which it then cut locally at Dangerhouse. Songs such as the uptempo, vigorous "Ohio" feature terrific pop vocal harmonies. Brendan O'Malley started taking up the mandolin because he literally found one in his attic. "Because of that, our music is a hybrid," says singer-guitarist Adam Reifsnyder. "We recorded more of a live sound and tracked all the instruments at the same time. There was a little bit of editing but we did the vocals in the room at the same time. It captures more of a live performance." The group also does a killer cover of a Kid Cudi song in its live sets.
11 p.m. on the Tri-C JazzFest Stage at Room Service.
Maps & Atlases
Often described as "mathrock," Maps & Atlases is a Chicago-based indie rock band that makes intimate pop music that features splashes of electronica and hushed vocals. Released on Barsuk, the venerated indie imprint based in Seattle, the band's latest offering, 2012's Beware and Be Grateful, veers from jittering, synthesizer-driven tunes such as "Fever" and "Winter" to classic rock sounding tunes such as "Silver Self," a song that starts slow with cooing vocals before snappy percussion kicks in, giving the song a funk feel. The indie rock band should sound right at home with the slew of local bands on the Brite Winter schedule.
9 p.m. at the Ice Stage at Festival Village.
Indie rockers the Modern Electric spent three weeks last year in Austin recording their new album, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon). "We found his name on the back of a Spoon record. We sent him [the song] 'All We Have is Now' and he was into it," says singer/pianist/guitarist Garrett Komyati. "He made all our wildest dreams come true. He took our process to the next level. Where our first record was a little more acoustic guitar based, this one has a fuller sound with piano taking center stage. It's still cinematic pop. On one or two songs, we tried to put some soul into it." The band should receive some national attention for the new album as it's hired a publicist to help with the promotion. The album arrives in June.
8:30 p.m. at the FireStage at Market Square Park.
Most of the band members used to play in the local indie-pop band the Royaltons. That group split up and the guys eventually gravitated back together to form Ottawa. "We kind of broke up, or just ended in cliché band fashion," says singer Dale DeLong when asked about the Royaltons. "I got a call about 18 months ago from [guitarist] Tim [Czajka] who wanted to start a new project. Since that phone call, it's been straight momentum." The band cites acts such as Portugal the Man and the Talking Heads as influences. The band's new EP offers a nice distillation of its influence. "The Good Kind" has a bit of Black Keys-inspired garage blues and a real swagger to it as its beefy bass riff propels the track. "Lie to Me" starts slow and builds in intensity as DeLong sings, "I'm giving up on getting old." Yes, as that lyric implies, there's a certain maturity that comes across in the tunes.
9:15 p.m. in the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room.
New Planet Trampoline
Locals New Planet Trampoline have been a force on the scene for years. They picked up a good head of steam after releasing The Curse of the New Planet Trampoline Blimps & Aeroplanes EP in 2004. They also toured regularly before singer-guitarist Matt Cassidy dropped out of the band because, as he has said, he got "burned out." But after participating in 2013's Lottery League, the semi-annual event that randomly puts local musicians in new bands with one another, he had a change of heart and regrouped with the New Planet Trampoline guys. The Wisconsin Witch House, a four-song EP it had been hawking around town at local shows, got an official release on Jan. 10. It's a trippy mix of music that includes the 17-minute tune "Free Poison." The band is currently working on a double LP that it hopes to finish in 2015.
6 p.m. in the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room.
So Long, Albatross
It's hard to classify this local trio. The songs on last year's self-titled debut alternate between melodic garage rock ("Wolves") and heavy stoner rock ("Flash Around"). Due out in early 2015, the band's new EP commences with the hardrocking "Vultures," a tune that features constipated vocals that recall Motorhead's Lemmy. The band recorded locally at Whiteout Audio. Jim Stewart did the production. "We recorded everything in a day," says singer Keith Vance. "That was the first time we worked with anybody. It was a new experience. We enjoyed it and it was worth the time and energy." He also mixed it and it was mastered at Cauliflower with engineer extraordinaire Adam Boose. "We're a three-piece. We like to keep things simple. We write simple songs that are fun to play. We wanted to transfer our sound and energy to the record. In some ways, we want it be completely new and different." The local label and promotions company Cellar Door Records is again behind the new release.
8:25 p.m. in the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room.
Riding the crest of new-found recognition following Positively Cleveland's "Cleveland Anthem" marketing video, Welshly Arms is eyeing nothing but blue skies. And rightfully so. This is one of those local bands — one among many, sure — that deserves a broader fan base. This year, the band dropped a six-song EP, Covers, that revives classics like Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" and the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today." It's an exciting roundup of tunes, all of which work really well in Welshly Arms' throwback rock style. Check out last year's Welcome EP. "Two Seconds Too Late" and "The Touch" became much-loved singles over the past year, helping to lift Welshly Arms' shows to must-see status. And that song in the "Cleveland Anthem" video? That'd be the newly recorded "Never Meant to Be," which boasts that great, woozy riff we all have stuck in our heads now.
10 p.m. at the Ice Stage at Festival Village.