A Surreal Year for Live Music by Paul Eichhorn, SweetWater Manager

This spring like so many other people and organizations, SweetWater had to face the music… what were we going to do now that COVID-19 had changed everything. It’s something none of has ever had to deal with. Presenting live music has up until now been simple. If you have musicians, a venue, and an audience, your concert is a go. Now the “new normal” has changed that equation.

Myself and our Artistic Director Edwin Huizinga tossed around different ideas and scenarios of how we could still offer some music in 2020. During our chat, Edwin noted this year has been “surreal”. As we discussed possible names for our new music event (replacing our usual September Festival), Edwin suggested SweetWater Surreal. It was the perfect name for an extremely imperfect year.

Although we had to postpone much of our original SweetWater 2020 plan until 2021, SweetWater has already brought music to life this year and we have lots of great live music coming up from September 17 to 20 in Owen Sound and Meaford.


In June, we launched Front Row. This online series offers close up and personal experiences with musicians. They not only talk about their life in music but also perform some music for online views to enjoy. Right now three of our featured musicians performer during Surreal Live are the focus of our first Surreal episodes of Front Row. More episodes are planned later this fall.

In July, we staged our Next Wave Virtual Showcase. It was clear back in the early spring our live edition of this music concert featuring emerging, aspiring musicians couldn’t happen. We moved it to a virtual stage and nine musicians were able to perform for over 4,000 viewers (well beyond the live concert audience we originally envisioned).


Now our multifaceted, multi-platform music experience SweetWater Surreal is underway. Surreal Live will offer 11 “mini-concerts” staged in outdoor settings around Owen Sound and Meaford. Each concert will feature a string quartet led by Edwin performing well-known classical works, contemporary pieces, and a few surprises as well.

Along with Edwin on violin, the quartet features violist Keith Hamm, violinist Marc Destrubé, and cellist Julie Hereish.

Beginning on Thursday, September 17, the quartet may just pop up in your neighbourhood. Pop-Up Concerts will take place in unexpected and less formal, outdoor settings around the community. Locations include Meaford Harbour Rotary Pavilion (12 p.m. Thursday), Billy Bishop Home & Museum, Owen Sound (3 p.m. Thursday), Bayshore Pavilion, Owen Sound (12 p.m. Friday), Grey Gallery Gardens, Owen Sound (Friday, 3 p.m.), Hibou Conservation Area (12 p.m. Saturday), and Harrison Park Bandstand, Owen Sound (3 p.m. Saturday). The final one is a special Sunday Brunch Pop-Up at 11 a.m. at the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market. The musicians will perform on string instruments made by local luthiers.

Surreal Live will also feature three Garden Concerts staged at private residences in the area: Thursday evening 7 p.m. on September 17, Saturday evening at 7 p.m. on September 19, and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. on September 20. We are so fortunate to have some of our SweetWater friends open up their properties for these concerts. Only a few spots are left. These concerts require advance registration online at sweetwatermusicfestival.ca .

Our Friday


evening Surreal Live at Coffin Ridge Winery event sold out in just three days. It should be an amazing evening of live music at a site with one of the best views in Grey Bruce.

Obviously, these live concerts are not the same as they would have been in the “before times”. SweetWater is complying with all current health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19. Event attendance is limited to 50 people and physical distancing and face masks will be part of the safety measures at all concerts. Not ideal but how it is today in the new normal.

If you can’t make it out to Surreal Live, no worries. Later this fall, many of the Surreal Live concerts will also be available to enjoy online. Plus, we’ve got a big announcement about another live concert later this fall.

SweetWater also is thankful for everyone who has supported us through this challenging time with donations, their time, and more. Together we are making music happen again.


Yes, it has all been very surreal. Thankfully, we have music to get us through these weird and challenging times. Stay well!

To find out more about SweetWater Surreal, go to sweetwatermusicfestival.ca


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