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Bundle up for a good cause, great tunes at Mitten Fest

Why wait until the temperatures warm to enjoy an outdoor music festival? On Feb. 7, Bay View bar Burnhearts will present its third annual Mitten Fest — a free, one-day music festival benefiting the Hunger Task Force.

Burnhearts owner William Seidel says the idea came as a result of an annual summer block party, a giant bash that takes over more than a block of Potter Avenue at the end of June. Two years ago, Seidel and the Burnhearts team got tired of waiting a whole year to host another event and realized there was nothing more Wisconsin than holding a music festival in the middle of a February afternoon.

Seidel said there were some doubts. He and the bar were inundated with comments like, “‘This is not going to work, and nobody’s gonna show up.’”

But the first two years proved the doubters wrong. Both concerts featured strong attendance and last year, Mitten Fest collected more than $2,500 for the Hunger Task Force, along with a ton of food and 36 giant bags of winter clothing.

“(The winter placement) gives people a little bit of light before the end of a dark tunnel,” Seidel said. “Going on its third year, it has become quite a big event.”

This year’s concert will feature Canopies, Greatest Lakes, Towers and Sin Bad. DJ Chris Schulist, a co--founder of local hip hop rarities record label Dope Folks Records, will provide music between sets.

Seidel said deciding who to select “boils down to who hasn’t played at the festival yet,” in part, but he also likes to pick acts that are on the upswing.

This year’s bands certainly qualify.

Synthpop quintet Canopies was recently featured on college radio tracker CMJ, thanks to promotion from WMSE. Greatest Lakes’ dreamy single “Looking In” was listed as one of the 10 best Milwaukee songs of 2014 by the Journal Sentinel’s Piet Levy. And both Towers and Sin Bad made waves when they debuted in the garage rock scene this year.

Seidel said playing in the cold can be daunting for bands, but he’s able to convince them to sign on by reminding them that “people who come don’t forget that show.”

In addition to the music and a craft fair, Mitten Fest will feature specialty drinks provided by the event’s sponsors: Central Waters Brewery, in Amherst, Wisconsin, and Founders Brewing Company, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Seidel said Founders was invited because you can’t have a Mitten Fest without inviting a brewery from the “Mitten State.”

The tastiest beverage might be Burnhearts’ own concoction: a specialty brandy old-fashioned. “We take old used bourbon barrels and fill them with Korbel brandy,” Seidel says. “In one of them we put 40 pounds of fresh ginger and simple syrup, and then we age it for quite a few months. The other one we put in all the fixings for a traditional Wisconsin old-fashioned.” The cocktails are sold at Mitten Fest and then the empty barrels are turned over to Central Waters, which will age beer in them for a year and sell the result at next year’s Mitten Fest.

It’s a tantalizing treat that Seidel said always draws attendees into Burnhearts — but they’re not the only local beneficiaries. “There are lots of other bars and restaurants in the neighborhood, and they love it when people show up to get warm, have something to eat or drink, and then head back,” Seidel said.

First-timers, take heed of Seidel’s parting suggestion: “Bring three pairs of socks, and make sure you have nice warm boots.”

ON STAGE

Burnhearts’ third annual Mitten Fest is noon–8 p.m. on Feb. 7, at 2599 S. Logan Ave. Attendance is free, but food, clothing and cash donations for Hunger Task Force are encouraged. Visit facebook.com/burnheartsbar for more details.

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