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Versatility is the secret for music maven Judy Matheson

We admire the woman behind Stratford Summer Music for her adaptive personality and her willingness to wear many hats … or should we say scarves?

On the left, a headline reads: Shop Your Values - Versatility. In the photograph, Judy MAtheson sits in a chair with a large stained glass window behind her. She smiles at the camera and is dressed in a red cardigan, a multicoloured scarf.

Photography by Marina Dempster. Makeup by Mau’s Makeup.


As the general manager of Stratford Summer Music, Judy Matheson is responsible for a multi-week event that has grown to become a highlight of the summer in our little town. Punching well above its weight, Stratford Summer Music does for melodies what the Stratford Festival does for theatre.

Artistic director and world class violinist Mark Fewer sets the programming, which includes all genres. Meanwhile, Matheson makes it manifest by negotiating contracts with artists, arranging their accommodations, booking venues, running the organization’s website, and organizing ticketing. 

Not only that, Matheson often shows up at events around town to tap a toe and make sure it all goes off without a hitch. (Looking fabulous, we should add!)

This year, though, things have looked a little different. Due to pandemic health measures that began in March, the twentieth anniversary year of Stratford Summer Music was cancelled. 

The news was devastating to the artists who were set to perform, and disappointing to the many music lovers who had already purchased tickets for the full slate of shows, including a major opening night event at Stratford’s brand new Tom Patterson Theatre.

But by the time the trees along the Avon River were fully showing their leaves, the Summer Music crew, with help from a government grant, had organized a scaled-down project that would bring music to the people of Stratford, but in a hyper-local, socially distanced, outdoor way. 

Musicbarge ahoy!


A barge floats along a river, while a band plays on the barge. The sky is blue and cloudy, and the river banks are lined with greenery.
The Boys of the Bookends, above, were among the acts to perform on the musicbarge that floated on the Avon River this year. (Photo by Scott Wishart.)


A shared love of ... chocolate

We caught up with Matheson recently to chat about how she managed to pull together a mobile arts events on short notice, and, um, to eat chocolate. She came to our photo shoot at the iconic music venue Revival House bearing Rheo Thompson mint smoothies! 

 On the left, there's a photograph of Judy Matheson holding a box of chocolates and smiling at the camera. On the right, she shares the chocolate with Resonance founder Jo Gordon. On Judy Matheson, left: Sweater by Indi & Cold, Printed Blouse by Nile, Birdie Suiting Pant Pant by Part Two, Snakeskin Booties by Gabor. On Resonance founder Jo Gordon:  Mars Dot Sweater by Two Danes, Bimini Blouse by Part Two, Gwen Control Denim by Fidelity, shoes by Gabor.


Adapting to a new way

Turns out, organizing a socially distanced music festival on the fly requires a healthy dose of versatility.

After hiring a boat, the Stratford Belle, which they'd used in the past to float musical acts along the Avon River, the festival crew set about planning a 30-show schedule of acts to go on throughout the summer.

They were unable to safely engage many of the far-away artists who'd been on the original 2020 program, so they turned exclusively to Stratford-area musicians to fill the Friday-Saturday-Sunday bill.

"For some artists, it was the first time they'd performed since March," recalls Matheson. "They said they didn't realize how much they'd missed playing, so it was gratifying."

Listeners were asked to bring a chair to the river bank and set themselves up in socially distanced style. Shows were an hour long, and the barge floated up and down the river, fully equipped as a sound stage. The weather hit the right note, too. Of 30 scheduled shows, 26 floated.

The shows were free, but Matheson walked alongside the river accepting donations in a bucket. She loved the chance to interact with long-time supporters and listeners of the festival, which has always sought to attract families with children.


Judy Matheson stands against tall grasses wearing a red cardigan, smiling at the camera.

 Matheson adds interest to her outfits by adding vintage jewellery pieces like the pendant above, given to her by her husband.

Dressing up outdoors

"People loved it. They were appreciative and generous," says Matheson. "Of course, they wanted it to be like it used to be, and I had to remind them there's a pandemic."

The festival can survive til next year thanks to donors and sponsors, so it was important to Matheson that she welcome and give thanks, even though the venue was ... well, nature.

So, what does one wear to greet people and accept donations at a floating music festival in small town Ontario?

"Getting dressed is always a challenge," admits Matheson. "Comfort is really important, and I've got all the different things to do. It might be really hot outside, then I might be in an air conditioned office, and then I might be out walking along the river talking to people."

To meet the challenge, Matheson turns to scarves and jewellery. Living a few minutes outside of Stratford makes a quick trip home for a change of clothes impractical, so she packs a sweater, a scarf, a vintage jewellery piece, or all of the above into a tote when she sets out for the day. As the day progresses, she adds and subtracts layers as needed.

Matheson admits to owning a considerable collection of scarves, and says Resonance founder Jo Gordon makes it hard to say no by gathering a sumptuous collection every season.

Wraps add both warmth and style, even in a dressy situation, says Matheson. But there's more to scarves than just comfort, colour and texture, she laughs. "It's a neck thing!" 

In case you didn't already know why so many 40-plus women collect all manner of scarves, now you do!


Judy Matheson smiles at the camera. She wears a navy blouse with a small floral print, as well as a large pendant with a red stone. Behind her, there is a large, brightly lit music venue.

 To turn a day outfit into an evening look, Matheson subtracts a layer and adds a smile. 

Versatility = quality + fit

Matheson looks for clothes that last a long time.  "The only reason I would get rid of clothes is if I've outgrown them, or they're completely out of style. Otherwise, I'll keep wearing it."

Building a versatile wardrobe that will last for a long time requires a thoughtful approach to shopping. Every piece must pull its weight. But Matheson has worked out a system.

"I tend to buy things that are traditional in style, not so heavily fad-oriented. Then, I update with accessories, or put a different sweater with a pair of slacks I bought the year before."

She uses jewellery to maximum effect, too, often accessorizing with special pieces given by her husband.

To make smart decisions, Matheson accepts help. She turns to Resonance staff to point out items that would work with her wardrobe and give feedback when she's in the fitting room. 

"They're honest and helpful," says Matheson. "They would never sell me something that they didn't think suited me. They're very careful about fit, and that's important to me, too. I really rely on them."

We resonate! We love helping women find clothes that make their lives easier — so they can do their important work.

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