Mitten Fest Is Back!

After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the popular Bay View winter street festival will return.

Mitten Fest,  put on by neighborhood tap Burnhearts, makes its comeback on Feb. 12, running from noon to 8 p.m. along Potter Avenue. Hundreds of warmly dressed partyers are expected to flock to the event, which began eight years ago as an idea by BJ Seidel, who owns Burnhearts with his wife, Jessica.

Mitten Fest will once again feature an eclectic live music lineup. Here’s the schedule:

  • 1 p.m.: NilexNile
  • 2:15 p.m.: No Seatbelts
  • 3:30 p.m.: Telethon
  • 4:45 p.m.: Guerrilla Ghost
  • 6 p.m.: Gego Y Nony

Chris Schulist, co-owner of Bay View eatery The Vanguard, will show off his DJ skills.

“He’ll be out there blasting all the fun dance music at the end of the night, like he always does,” Seidel said.


 

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There will also be plenty of food and drinks available.

Photo by Visit Milwaukee

“We’ll still have the great Brandyland Old Fashioneds that we always make. We age them in a big barrel,” Seidel said. “We’re going to be doing ginger brandy hot toddies again. We’ll have our same brewery sponsors with Central Waters and Bell’s, so you can expect some good sessionable ales from them and also some big-hitter stouts and stuff like that.”

Seidel said he’s also working on a cocktail that will feature Tito’s vodka infused with tea from Milwaukee’s very own Rishi Tea & Botanicals. A goal, Seidel said, is to feature locally produced products and businesses. The signature old fashioneds will feature bitters produced by Milwaukee’s Bittercube.

“They make their own special blend for this and it’s delicious,” Seidel said.

Coffee from Valentine Coffee Roasters – served with or without whiskey – will be available and several food trucks will be on site, although details are still being worked out.

“A lot of the usual suspects from year’s past will be there, like Iron Grate, Huế and a couple others,” he said.

There will also be an art and craft fair and a stand operated by volunteers from Hunger Task Force, who will be collecting donations of food and money.

“We’re having a meeting with Hunger Task Force to dial in what their specific needs are this year,” Seidel said. “Because of some of the COVID restrictions, we may have to limit certain items. Most importantly, though, you can directly give them cash and that’s going to go really far for the organization, too.”

Finally, St. Francis-based Compost Crusader will be on hand to separate compostable materials and recyclables to keep them from ending up in area landfills.

Seidel described last year’s cancelation of Mitten Fest as “heartbreaking.”

“When everything shut down in March, we were still freshly off Mitten Fest. It felt like we had just had Mitten Fest and then the world shut down, that’s the way it feels in my brain,” Seidel said. “But we were closed completely through the winter months last year. We weren’t open for any kind of service. It didn’t really make sense during some of the dark moments of winter in a pandemic.”

Mitten Fest 2020; Photo by Visit Milwaukee

Seidel said he’s comfortable bringing back Mitten Fest this year, even with the recent surge in COVID-19 brought on by the Omicron variant.

“We did push Mitten Fest back a week this year,” he said. “I’ve been keeping a really close eye on the data predictions for COVID cases and hospitalizations. We wanted to make sure we were on a downward trending forecast. After this week it looks like its going low, so I feel comfortable. It is an outdoor event, but we are still going to be asking people to be respectful of space and to wear masks if they can. We’re trying to take a step in the right direction for this post-pandemic festival world.”

Seidel sees Mitten Fest as a move toward operating in the “new normal.”

Mitten Fest has provided a reprieve for residents who struggled with cabin fever in the cold winter months, Seidel said, in reflecting on the festival’s origins.

“I do remember, when I was in high school in the 1990s, at Cathedral Square they had something called Winterfest,” he said. “I thought it was the most Wisconsin thing you could possibly do. But then it just kind of disappeared. We started doing our summer festival, the PBR Fest we do, and then I though it really sucks that we have to wait a whole year to plan another party. It’s fun for us. It’s outside of the daily rhythm. We were wondering if people would show up if we set up some kegs and sold some drinks outside. We tried it and then next thing you know it became big.”

The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s social life and Seidel hopes Mitten Fest can help remedy that.

“People want to see each other,” he said. “There are still some people who are shy and hesitant to be in public. I think being outside with all the circulation, people will feel more comfortable hanging out with their friends.”

More Photos: 

Mitten Fest 2020; Photo by Rich Rovito
Mitten Fest 2020; Photo by Rich Rovito
Mitten Fest 2020; Photo by Rich Rovito

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.