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!


Indigenous Art and Context in Rural Australia

Fascinating article form Arts Hub exploring how the Desert Mob Symposium is deepening the relationship between artists and audience.

Why we need context in Indigenous art

Indigenous languages in Australia do not have a directly translatable word for ‘art’. Rather than a singular act of expression, for Indigenous people art is an integral part of life, community and culture.

Click on the link below for the full article:


We’d love to get your thoughts on this article, how it could relate to rural Canada’s performing arts communities?  Please leave a comment in the section below.



ACI Manitoba – Workshop Opportunity for Rural Presenters: Webinar or Winnipeg

If anyone from Ontario’s North Far West fancies popping over the border into Winnipeg, The Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba is hosting the following workshop for Rural Presenters.

Cultural Event Management for Rural Presenters on June 16th 2017


Registration is Free for rural presenters.

For those a bit further afield you can sign up for the Webinar below.



Tomorrow’s World – Digitizing the Performing Arts

A brave new world and opportunity for rural communities. This important and extensive report from CAPACOA and Strategic Moves highlights the potential, challenges and current status of digital innovation in Canada from an Arts Presenting perspective.

Click on the link below to see the full report:


“We want equitable support for the development of digital strategies that are specific to the needs of individual organizations, artists and communities with subsequent investment to maximize digital capacity and infrastructure within arts organizations and foster the ability for organizations to connect and create communities of knowledge/communities of practice.”

The report includes useful Case Studies highlighting digital ‘Presenting’ innovations in the national and international field.

We’d love to get your ideas, reflections and questions on this fast changing world and how it relates to rural communities.  Could a holographic Tupac fill out your local township’s community centre with 90’s Hip Hop? Could the world of Semantic Markup allow us to find out what’s going on across the Province in the rural Performing Arts?  Could intelligent block booking systems help agents bring big music to small halls?  Will we all be sitting at home with our virtual reality headsets on?  What opportunities and challenges will this bring to our rural communities.

Please feel free to leave your comments below in the comments section.  If you cannot see the comments section below please click on the Title of this blog at the top of the page, the page will then reload, scroll down and you will see a box in which you can write your comments.

Please get in touch with Greg if you are still experiencing technical difficulties.


Reversing Rural to Urban Migration

An interesting story out of Greece, discussing an upsurge in young professionals returning to the land in the wake of the economic crisis:

“Alexandros isn’t alone in his thinking. For the first time in 20 years, employment in the agricultural sector has been rising, from 11 percent in 2008, a 35-year low, to 12.9 percent in 2015, according to the latest available report by the Greek Statistical Service. Almost half of all new farmers come from the cities.”


Click on the above link for the full story.

Could this happen in North America without an economic crisis being the catalyst?  Is the land calling us back? What would this look like for Urban artists looking to move back or relocate?

Feel free to add your thoughts and comments below.

Big Ideas from Small Places

Big Ideas from Small Places. That seems to hit home for so many of us…we have small spaces….but BIG ideas!


Thanks to Eric from Fergus Grand Theatre for sharing.

PROLOGUE is looking for an Executive Director

Prologue to the Performing Arts is looking for an Executive Director. http://prologue.org/


Prologue Job Posting

While the job would require living in/commuting to Toronto,  it would be great if the person coming in to the role had a solid investment in, and understanding of, performing arts and education initiatives in rural and remote communities throughout Ontario. Take a look – pass this around.  It’s a wonderful opportunity.

Firelight Lantern Festival: Sharing the Light Over Winter

We all have our differences. Different interests, different ideas, different sets of skills and talents, yet there are two things we all share. The first thing, is our desire to create artistic connections and development within our rural communities. We believe our towns and villages are jam-packed with inspirational creativity, and we need to share those skills and talents with neighbouring communities and friends.


The second thing, is our mutual hatred of the extended winter season. Perhaps I speak for everyone, but I am fairly sure we are all just “over it” by the time April rolls around, am I right?


With these two common denominators in mind, Krista Dalby of Picton, ON, decided the world needed a little more light. So for the past five years, she has been creating it.


On November 18, 2017, Picton Ontario will be celebrating their fifth annual Firelight Lantern Festival.According to Dalby, the festival is designed to symbolize the importance of creating your own light within the community, and carrying that warmth with you over the cold winter months to follow. In the months leading up the the event, Dalby and a group of other dedicated community members travel around the county, leading workshops on how to make your own beautiful lantern to light up the night sky. They travel to schools, workplaces, restaurants, and even personal homes to connect different community members, all working together towards a common goal. At this point, they can safely say that they have taught over one thousand people the tricks of the trade, and there are no signs of slowing down.


All this preparation leads towards one magical night of dream-like whimsy; with twinkling lights, colourful costumes, world-class entertainment, and beautifully hand-crafted lanterns lighting up the sky. The evening itself is breathtaking, yet Dalby says the weeks leading up to it are in actuality the highlight of the entire event. Weeks and months of community involvement, team-building, problem-solving, and further development of the arts in Picton. “Building community is goal #1,” states Dalby, “and all of our work as a community builds towards one beautiful night we can all share.”


Dalby moved to Picton from Toronto seven years ago, and was surprised that the area seemed to be lacking a model of community engagement. She attended the first SPARC symposium in 2014 and was inspired by the fact that so many people from neighbouring rural communities had a drive to be a part of something “bigger than themselves.” Dalby states her interest in discussing funding, talent, and further arts development, yet above all, she is excited to see so many like her, keen to make a difference in their communities and spread a little light.


For more information on the Firelight Lantern Festival, and to look at the beautiful pictures from previous years, be sure to check out their blog, at https://firelightfest.blogspot.ca/ or check out their Facebook page Firelight Lantern Festival.


Who knows, maybe next year, if we all get together and make a lantern, this long cold winter won’t seem so long and cold after all. We all need some light to guide us, and it all starts with a spark…

Celebrating youth on #WorldTheatreDay

Join SPARC in celebrating youth on #WorldTheatreDay, March 27, 2017.

Below is a message from Theatre Ontario’s Youth Advisory Committee with all the details on how to recognize this day and engage your community in empowering, and providing opportunity to youth.


We are Theatre Ontario’s Youth Advisory Committee, a group of eight people ranging from ages 16-25, who have a strong interest in the development and empowerment of youth across Ontario. Together we come from different backgrounds; geographically, culturally, and artistically. Our collective goal is to connect youth interested in theatre across Ontario and empower them to take on an active role in creating opportunities in their communities. This year we want to highlight and recognize the crucial role youth play within artistic communities. We also want to bring awareness to ourselves and the province about what is needed in communities across Ontario to help these youth voices be heard.

To kick off our year of initiatives to unite young theatre artists across the province, we invite you to join us in celebrating World Theatre Day on Monday, March 27. Print out and a post a photo of you with one of our #WorldTheatreDay cards (attached) to get involved and join the conversation on Twitter at @theatreontario or on our Facebook page.

If posting on social media is not your thing, we invite you to email us the answers to these questions so we can post on your behalf. We hope to use the answers we collect on #WorldTheatreDay to begin to develop a stronger understanding of how we can support you and your community moving forward. This will be crucial in the next steps for our work as the Youth Advisory Committee.

We hope you will consider joining us on #WorldTheatreDay to kick off our year of empowering and engaging youth in arts across Ontario. Please let us know if you have any questions.


Best wishes,

Theatre Ontario’s Youth Advisory Committee


SPARC Network Coordinator Returns

We are delighted to announce that as of March 2017 Greg Thomas the SPARC Network Coordinator will be resuming his duties at SPARC albeit on a reduced schedule to begin with, in line with his recovery plan.

Greg would like to thank the SPARC family for all the support, well wishes and understanding sent his way following his serious car collision whilst cycling in September of last year.

Speaking with SPARC Greg Thomas said:

“Firstly I would like to thank Michael Clipperton, the Interim SPARC Network Coordinator for taking over the reins and growing the SPARC network exponentially in my absence.  It is amazing to see the energy created by the 2016 Symposium and the growth, potential and solidarity such a network can bring to those of us trying to grow the Performing Arts in our rural communities.”

Sadly the bike will be not be returning to work so quickly 🙁

Greg goes on to compliment the hard work done by the SPARC Network Steering Committee and the Symposium Planning Committee in bringing the rural performing arts scene closer together.

Greg will be spending the next month or so getting up to speed with the many developments SPARC has overseen, both to our virtual and physical network, in his time away.  He will be looking to reconnect with old and new friends across Ontario and helping to build on the important conversations, ideas and connections that have been made in the past 6 months.

“I cannot wait to get going again, it’s been a frustrating time spent on the sideline, but in the short time that I’ve been back I’m excited to see the huge progress being made and some of the amazing people making the Rural Performing Arts tick, getting involved with the SPARC network.”

Greg Thomas can be contacted at greg@sparcperformingarts.com.  Michael Clipperton will be staying on with us as the Chair of the SPARC Outreach committee and can be contacted at michael@sparcperformingarts.com