The festival began back in the early 2000s as an experiment initiated by founding Artistic Director and acclaimed violinist Mark Fewer along with Keith and Jean Medley. A concert, featuring Mark playing Bach's Partitas on locally-made violins exceeded everyone’s expectations. The success of the evening inspired Mark, Keith, Jean, and several other dedicated volunteers to consider creating an annual music festival. SweetWater was born.
Since its inception in 2004, the September Festival happens the third weekend of the month with an opening night concert at the Historic Leith Church in Leith, Ontario. The acoustics at this venue are perfect for quartets and soloists. It’s just one of the reasons that musicians and audiences return year after year to experience exhilarating performances. Over the years the Festival has expanded to include Saturday, Sunday, and now Thursday night concerts staged in various venues in Owen Sound and Meaford, Ontario.
SweetWater now includes special one-off concerts throughout the year showcasing some of Canada's top musicians and emerging, aspiring talents have a stage during the annual Next Wave Showcase. Since 2020, SweetWater has launched several popular online music experiences including livestream concerts, digital concert premieres, Front Row, and Into the Music. And for the first time in 2020, SweetWater staged outdoor concerts throughout the community.
SweetWater today annually showcases top musical artists from across Canada and around the world. Featured performers have included Measha Brueggergosman, James Campbell, Russell Braun, John Novacek, Jonathan Crow, Daniel Taylor, The Gryphon Trio, Suzie LeBlanc, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
The Festival has treated audiences to many of classical music’s greatest works such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Complete Brandenburg Concerto, and Haydn's String Quartets.
In addition, original compositions are often heard for the first time at SweetWater. Featured composers premiering works include David Braid, Richard Mascall, Phil Dwyer, Paul Suchan, Nicole Lizee, and Andrew Ager.
SweetWater exists in many ways because of the rich musical culture in the Grey Bruce area. The area has a long tradition of producing acclaimed musicians as well as luthiers who make string instruments. SweetWater has annually staged a String Instrument Showcase to highlight local luthiers as well as luthiers from across Canada.
SweetWater has grown a lot over the past 18 years. The Festival explores the continuities and evolution of small ensemble music from Baroque to contemporary music along with jazz, world, and roots music. Now led by accomplished musician and composer Edwin Huizinga, SweetWater is looking ahead to celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023.
It may have just started from a single, one-off concert but today the SweetWater Music Festival continues to break new ground in the presentation of classical, jazz, and contemporary music.