David De Santi – Artistic Director, Snowy Mountains of Music Festival


In the lead-up to their exciting second year, we had a chat with David De Santi, the Artistic Director of the unique music festival – Snowy Mountains of Music.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us David!  You’ve been a busy man in the Australian music industry for many years now.  Where did you get started?

I can trace my interest back to be a  kid learning accordion from my Dad. It was the classic Italian migrant kid  upbringing. I rebelled later and gave up playing music until I was at  Wollongong Uni and became intrigued by Australian / Celtic music as played by  The Bushwackers. It inspired me to take up the accordion again and to play  music. I joined a Celtic session group in 1984 and from there a bush band  eventually becoming a founder of the Wongawilli (Bush) Band. I starting  attending the Illawarra Folk Club and Folk Festival in 1986. I became  interested in festival organising and sharing the fun of music.

You’re well known for leading the Illawarra Folk Festival for the  last 15 years, how has the festival changed in that time, and what do you  think makes it one of the most unique in Australia?

I began as Festival Director in 1996 and have seen it change  dramatically. The variety of music that is now part of the folk church has  expanded greatly. The early festivals were fairly Anglo / Celtic in flavour.  These days there are hundreds of acts to choose from which is great for making  the festival dynamic. We have always encouraged new acts amongst our  favourites. It has remained a participative festival as well with inclusion of  Folk Music Schools, sessions, dances, workshops and a big element of spoken  word. The festival takes on the guise of a musical village, giving people a  chance to escape the world for a few days. There is a great spirit of  comradery and enjoyment which has allowed it to survive and  prosper.

You’ve taken this expertise to the snow, with next month’s Snowy  Mountains Festival – now in its second year! What brought this idea to the table?

The idea started with Cliff from the Sundeck Hotel having a  chat with a musical friend Mike Martin from Candelo. The idea was fairly  simple – utilise the venues and places at Perisher during the long weekend to  present an acoustic style music festival. The hope of course was to attract  people to the snow and a unique event. Cliff then contacted me and we did a  presentation to Belinda Shore the Chair of the Perisher Resorts Chamber of  Commerce, and the rest is history they say. it’s a very exciting concept  and challenge to present the only music festival in the snow in the world,  that we know of!

I’m sure the experience of leading the  Illawarra Folk Festival made it an easier process to make happen?

That was a big advantage and also a reassurance for the  Perisher folk. I was able to draw on our systems, learnings and resources.  The logistics of running a festival at a high level is daunting and time consuming but dedication and passion usually help.

What (and/or  who) are you most exciting about offering in the 2nd year?

The exciting part of the festival is the overall quality of  artists from all over Australia. We’ve taken a broader brush on the artists  than we do at Illawarra. It gives the opportunity for  a wider audience  to be exposed to different acts. I am looking forwarding to the 3 gyspy /  world bands – Grehska, The Crooked Fiddle Band and The Barons of Tang who give  traditional music a big shake and present a wild musical journey. The  blues/roots side of the festival is also very cool with Jeff Lang, Chase the  Sun and Blue King Brown. However I am also looking forward to masters  of their craft such as Jan Preston, Martin Pearson and Mick  Thomas.

What changes have you made for 2010? Things that perhaps didn’t work in the first year?

The transport for patrons has been improved this year. The shuttle will have stops at all the venues. A big advantage especially if it is snowing! We’ve added a Music Room for workshops and consolidated the kids  programme.

It’s fair to say that between this and the Illawarra Folk Festival, you have helped bring to the table a wide array of unique artists from around Australia and the world.
What helps you in programming these events – especially now Snowy Mountains. To where do you look for lineup inspiration?

One of the basic tools is asking for applications. If we  were to not do this and rely on our sole experiences then it would be fairy  limited. There are now hundreds of quality artists out there willing to  perform at festivals. It’s a very healthy position for Australian music. On a personal level, I actively go to other festivals watching and noting their  artists and ideas. In the end I’m a plagiarist!

What sort of  experience do you hope to give all those who attend the unique Snowy Mountains event?

Hopefully all will come away with great memories of music in cosy venues surrounded by snow! Most of the venues are intimate and acoustic based so it’s a real musical experience.

I understand  you play in a few bands… who are they and will any of them be making an  appearance at the festival?

I have a great interest in playing music especially as it  involves my family and friends. I’ll be joining Wongawilli playing old  Australian tunes and songs, Big Snore Hammers for the more uptempo and  percussive approach to Celtic / world music and with John Broomhall, a great  Australian folk songwriter.

And finally, as someone who has been  involved in the industry for so long, what role do you feel someone such as  yourself plays in the changing climate of the Australian Music Industry?

The Australian Music scene is amazing. The depth and styles  of festival and artists is broad based obviously on the many migrant  influences here. I’ve had a small part in it and am thankful for the opportunity.

The Perisher Snowy Mountains of Music Festival runs on the June long weekend – 11-14 June. 4 Day Festival Pass only $99 or festival/accommodation pass including pass + 3 nights accommodation, bed & breakfast – on the snow from $299 if you book before 21st May. http://www.snowymountainsofmusic.com.au

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.