Dave Ullrich: The DIY Festival Producer of Prince Edward County

By Krista Dalby

Dave Ullrich is a part-time resident who’s made a big impact on the Prince Edward County music scene. A musician for more than 30 years, Dave is also an entrepreneur, business consultant and owner of digital music store zunior.com. The music festivals he’s produced over the last three years in the County have already established themselves as highlights of the community’s cultural calendar.

Ullrich and his family had been part-timers in Prince Edward County for several years, and he was looking for a way to get more involved with the community, but nothing was jumping out at him. So he decided to put his DIY ethic to good use and start his own event: thus began his career as a festival producer. It all started with Sandbanks: New Waves, a festival he co-produced with filmmaker Ryan Noth at Sandbanks Provincial Park in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the festival morphed into Sandbanks Music Festival.

Featuring big-name acts such as Sloan, Sarah Harmer, and Great Lake Swimmers the festival attracts both locals and visitors to the County, drawing approximately 800 people last year. The one-day festival provides great music, local food and drink, as well as lots of kids activities (full disclosure: I’ve been working at Dave’s festivals since they started, running children’s programming such as puppet-making, banner-painting and costume-making; I love my job!). Set against the stunning backdrop of a provincial park, the pristine Sandbanks beach, and with onsite camping available, Sandbanks Music Festival is the whole package for a magical weekend in the County.

But producing one epic festival per year wasn’t enough for Dave, and in 2016 he added a second festival to his roster: CountyPop. With headliners like Ron Sexsmith and Joel Plaskett CountyPop packs Picton’s premiere venue, the Crystal Palace, and features local musicians on its Songwriters’ Stage, including youth performers. Local artists are given the opportunity to get up on main stage to play alongside the headliners, creating some pretty special moments.

Ullrich’s commitment to his part-time home is undeniable. He’s partnered with local community organizations Friends of Sandbanks and Prince Edward Learning Centre, donating a portion of ticket sales and providing volunteer opportunities for the Learning Centre’s youth clientele. These partnerships developed organically from relationships that grew out of producing the festival.

“We’re all so lucky to have what we have,” he says. “In the context of a music event, it’s good to have that layer… it keeps things grounded.”

Ullrich says the family-friendly nature of his music festivals reflects the stage he’s at in his own life. With two kids at home he’s at an age where he wants to have a festival experience but doesn’t feel the need to party into the wee hours. Having a gaggle of kids at his festivals “changes the way people behave, it lightens everyone up.” It’s a far cry from when Ullrich started his career in music playing in clubs. He says that having costumed kids running around, jumping off speakers and whirling around the dancefloor “brings a positivity to music that isn’t always there… In terms of why we’re here on this earth, if you can get a few moments like that, you’re ahead of the game.”

But it’s not all rainbows; let’s not forget that rainbows are caused by, well, rain. Four of Ullrich’s last five festivals have been rained on, which as anyone who produces outdoor events knows, can create more than a bit of havoc, and really impact ticket sales. And speaking of ticket sales, is it just Prince Edward County, or does no one buy tickets in advance anymore? Ullrich cites this as a major problem. Dear readers, if there are events in your rural region that you intend to support, please, please buy your tickets early, lest the organizers think that no one is going to turn up.

Despite these challenges it’s clear that Dave loves what he does. His festivals exercise his creativity and flex his organizational muscles, which he claims he’s had since he was a kid. Plus, these events draw new people to the County, benefiting local business and letting visitors experience the place that he loves.

As for the future Ullrich isn’t interested in growing Sandbanks Music Festival, he thinks it’s perfect at its current size; a refreshing sentiment in our growth-obsessed culture. However Ullrich does see potential in expanding CountyPop, which drew about 500 people in 2016; there are multiple buildings at the venue’s location which could be programmed with other acts or activities. His current vision for his festivals at this time is simple: to just get them to the point that he can repeat them. With each repetition he gets closer to creating a predictable funding model, figuring out the right mix of music, and getting the logistics worked out for each venue. He feels like he’s there now with Sandbanks, and CountyPop is getting closer.

Ullrich’s music festivals have been warmly embraced by the community because they filled a niche; Prince Edward County is increasingly attracting urbanites with a taste for culture, and he knows that if he can program a strong headliner with some level of radio exposure, he’s golden. Ullrich attributes the success of his festivals to his background in music. After playing hundreds of gigs and umpteen festivals, he has an innate sense of what works. As he told me, “It’s like any art that I’ve ever done. Art, concept and execution: it’s what I’m good at.”

The next Sandbanks Music Festival was held on Saturday, September 16, 2017. You can find photos and reviews at www.sandbanksmusicfest.com – SPARC will be following this event for 2018 and get it on it’s  calendar.  I will be there – it is where you can find me in my element.  This is how a Music festival is done!

 

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