Striking a chord with Strings Attached Festival programmer Dan White

Back for its highly-anticipated fourth year, Strings Attached: The West Australian Guitar Festival will bring together players, makers, and enthusiasts of the stringed persuasion for a weekend of guitar-fuelled entertainment in Margaret River from Friday, October 6 to Sunday, October 8. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with the festival’s event programmer Dan White to find out what we can look forward to this year.

It’s great to have The West Australian Guitar Festival back in 2023! After a few COVID-interrupted years, it must feel good to be getting back into the swing of things?

Yep, we’re stoked. Somehow we only had to skip a year there (2020), but it definitely felt a little like Russian Roulette for a while. It’s been great having the opportunity to showcase 100% Aussie guitarists and guitar makers, but we’re happy to be able to welcome back international acts to the festival this year.

How did you come to be involved in Strings Attached Festival?

I was asked if I could bring the idea to life by three wily fellas all mad about guitars and good music – Scott Wise (legendary luthier and guitarist), Mat Lewis (creative industry ringleader and bass guitar tragic) and Leon Ryan (ex-travel agent and closet ukulele player) – after working in programming for Emergence Creative Festival.

And what have been the biggest changes from the first festival, to the one we’ll see this year?

We introduced a Youth Scholarship in 2021 to bolster the Youth Program we’ve been running since 2019, offering up mentoring opportunities and more for the next generation. I’m a big fan of the panel discussions which offer audiences a chance to ask questions of their favourite artists, along with seeing artists chat and jam together. The core of the event is unchanged though – performances, workshops, exhibitions and all things strings.

And what artists are you most excited about on the 2023 program?

Grammy Award winner Larry Mitchell from the U.S. is an absolute monster and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet – he’s played with Steve Vai, Tracey Chapman and many more. Three-time Golden Guitar winner Michael Fix (QLD) will be offering up a performance and masterclass; Perth rockers Abbe May and VDELLI are incredible and Delta blues star Made Mawut (IDN) will be making his debut Australian performance at the fest. You can check out the full list of 40 plus artists on the website.

Apart from the performers, the festival also offers other attractions like exhibitions and workshops. What’s something we can learn and experience at Strings Attached Festival that we’re unlikely to find anywhere else?

The festival runs a Listening Session each year, where attendees can listen to a selection of world-class players putting a big line up of instruments to the test in a perfect listening environment, discussing their opinions about each and fielding questions – punters can even bring their own instruments if they want to have them demo’d (limited space). Getting to try out a bunch of incredible instruments right there with the craftspeople who made them at the Exhibition is an unreal opportunity too, in my book.

What was it that drew you to playing guitar in the first place?

My parents bought me a guitar for my ninth birthday and I had a great first teacher in Ronnie Domp. Between them I found my passion for music and performing, and haven’t looked back since. It’s a privilege to be able to work on both sides of the stage and build something for the WA community of guitar players, makers and lovers.

Despite there being so many players over centuries now, there’s still a world of possibilities of sounds that can be created on a guitar which are yet to be discovered. What contemporary artists do you find are the most exciting in continuing to unlock the power and potential of the instrument?

I think Jack White is in a world of his own in that regard, and players like Guthrie Govan continue to push the boundaries of how the instrument is played. I like hearing a new approach to timeless styles too, like that of John Mayer and Gary Clarke Jr.

It seems a lot of touring artists somehow find a way to fit a Margaret River show into their schedule, while often passing on much bigger towns and cities. What do you feel it is that makes them want to come and perform in the region?

There’s a massive arts and culture scene in the South West, and plenty of people – locals and tourists alike – who engage with the scene to make Margaret River a viable stop when acts head west. Don’t forget wine and waves – they’re in it for the holiday really.

And finally, what’s your favourite chord and why?

Tough one! It depends on the melody that’s running over it, but for the purposes of picking one in the moment, I’ve been enjoying a kind of C#m9 (9×9800) lately.