A festival for guitar lovers combines music, craftmanship and mentoring in one of the south-west’s most popular towns. Festival director Dan White chats with Rosalind Appleby about the magical combination.
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After a COVID-hiatus in 2020 the West Australian Guitar Festival is back, promising to turn lemons into lemonade! Festival director and guitarist Dan White chats with Rosalind Appleby about why the Margaret River festival has something for everyone.
Rosalind Appleby: Strings Attached: The West Australian Guitar Festival is back for its second year, showcasing the magic of strings, be it electric or acoustic, bass or mandolin, banjo or ukulele and beyond. Can you pick out some highlights for Seesaw readers?
Dan White: The Main Exhibition at Margaret River HEART will feature guitar makers, fine wood distributors, boutique amp builders, techs and repairers, fine tool makers and more, and is free to check out all weekend. The program features over 60 artists giving performances and workshops, including nearly a dozen youth workshops ranging from starting a band and booking your first shows to jamming and more which are free to U25’s. There really is something for everyone, regardless of what kind of music you’re into and whether you play guitar or not – check out the festival program here.
RA: The festival has a very broad focus encompassing not just performances but also workshops, demos and Q&A sessions. Why did you choose this emphasis on participation as much as observing?
DW: Musicians reading this – how many times have you had people ask you about your set-up or have you asked others about theirs; how they got that certain tone or played that piece where they had harmony and melody going at the same time? The program of workshops available at the festival really offer players and enthusiasts an opportunity to learn from the best and take something away from the festival which they can apply to their own playing. It’s a great way to meet other guitarists, an investment in the next generation of WA musicians and an aspect of the event which makes it far more than a music festival.
RA: You’re a guitarist by trade, with 1000+ shows and eight records to your name, having supported acts such as Xavier Rudd, The Cat Empire and San Cisco. Why did you decide to apply your managerial and organisational skills to the West Australian Guitar Festival? Were you part of the 2019 founding team?
DW: I was approached in 2018 by internationally renowned local luthier Scott Wise, Mat Lewis of the South West’s peak creative industry body Creative Corner and Leon Ryan of Margaret River Holidays who had been brewing the concept for a while. My task was to take it from an idea to a reality, which I did in 2019 with the help of the festival team. I saw then and still see now the importance of music, craftsmanship and mentorship for WA music makers and lovers. Its value lays in connection and community; it serves as a platform for anyone interested in learning to play or make guitars to meet people who are on a similar journey; it connects guitarists with local guitar makers, performing acts with new venues and audiences, music lovers with new acts and so much more. On the East Coast they say there’s something in the water in WA which accounts for the enormous amount of talent here; festivals like this help to nurture that talent which is something that is really important to me, having been a writing and performing musician myself for over 15 years.
RA: The 2020 Festival was cancelled due to COVID, but 2021 promises to turn COVID’s lemons into lemonade. Tell us more!
DW: We’re really putting a strong local focus on this year’s festival; it’s an opportunity to truly showcase the talent present here in WA, both players and makers. Unlike 2019, where we welcomed a number of international and interstate artists, we just haven’t been able to do that in the same way this year given current global circumstances. The upside is that this means more opportunities for local artists to participate and a three day program which celebrates the quality and diversity of our local players and makers here in WA.
DW: Margaret River is a stunning destination for a festival, but also quite a long drive from the airport and for day-trippers. Why did you choose Margaret River as your festival location?
DW: Margaret River is a cultural hub, it’s beautiful and has a wealth of awesome spaces to activate for events along with a strong community of music players and lovers already, many of whom have had a hand in bringing this festival to life. By inviting festival-goers into our backyard we’re offering an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in the event and really make a weekend of it. We’re really encouraging people to come for two-to-three days to make the most of the huge program as opposed to dipping their toes; I think there’s a real potency and allure in removing yourself from your usual environment to take part in a festival, which is why people travel from all around the world for festivals like Glastonbury or Tomorrowland. This one combines the live music elements of those events with industry aspects such as NAMM (the world’s biggest guitar trade show) and educational offerings direct from professionals. Whether you’re looking for a weekend away to enjoy awesome live music, test and buy a new instrument or learn something new (and write it off as personal/business development), you can get to Margaret River in under three hours from Perth, which is barely enough time to listen to your top 5 albums of all time! Direct flights from Melbourne-Busselton – which is a 30 minute drive from Margs – are starting up next month for East Coasters wanting to attend, should state borders allow.
RA: Can you recommend a WA guitarist to listen to, to help get us in the mood for the festival?
Sure! Check out Siobhan Cotchin and her awesome band playing at “Howlin’ At The Moon”, Colonial Brewing Co, featuring. Dan Howls, Lightnin’ Jack and Howling Onshore.
Pictured top: Strings Attached: The West Australian Guitar Festival.
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