Attention Tragically Hip fans: Grassroots GEDFest raises funds for cancer research in Gord Downie’s memory

October 17 will mark five years since we lost Gord Downie after a nearly two-year fight with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.

Shortly after the news came out, Keith Dyck, a Calgary-based music fan and sometimes drummer, was inspired. He was in a band, The Trickle Down, with some friends and his father-in-law. They got to talking. 

“Wouldn’t it be cool to play Road Apples from front to back as a tribute? We noodled on it a bit and my wife and I decided to play a party. We played on the 17th, the anniversary of his passing, the first year after,” he says. “We did it in a little bar and I had no idea if anybody would show up. About 200 people came and we all had a great time, and I thought maybe this is kind of a thing. That first year, we raised $7,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.” 

Next Saturday, October 15, he’s preparing another event, the annual GEDFest concert — GED being Gord Edgar Downie, of course. He’s reached out to other Tragically Hip tribute bands, encouraging them to play shows on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Gord’s passing, as a fundraiser for a local cancer organization. So far, there are eight bands across Canada participating, from Victoria, BC, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and everywhere in between. 

“Let’s just do this together,” Dyck says. “We’ve been really fortunate that a lot of people have supported this and grabbed onto it in Calgary. The rock station’s morning show host is a huge supporter, we’ve had a lot of television coverage. It feels like our little baby’s growing up a bit.”

He’s also reached out to, and received merch from, a handful of bands, including a great swag package from Tegan and Sara and items from 54-40, to use for a silent auction.  

Ideally, Dyck would like to see GEDfest become a national event, one with grassroots appeal and participation. 

“We’d like to raise $100,000 for local cancer organizations this year,” he says, from all the events happening across the country. But he has a loftier goal than that: “We just had the 30th annual Terry Fox run, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research. Why not do the same thing in Gord’s memory? He’s had that significant an impact on Canadian culture and Canadian music and then, later in his life, on Canadian and Indigenous relations. He was really ahead of his time in that way. That’s come to the forefront in the last couple of years with his foundation. The big dream is to have Hip tribute bands playing on the Saturday before the anniversary, all across the country.” 

Each band picks a local cancer organization in their own city, or, in one case, their show serves as a fundraiser for a family in need of support. That way, money from the shows stay within the province, instead of going to a centralized location. It makes each show more meaningful that way, Dyck says. “Frankly, for us in Alberta, we don’t like seeing our money leave the province and go to Toronto. You’re not raising money for my charity, you’re raising for your charity. Let’s work together to do something good in honour and tribute of Gord and the music of the Tragically Hip.” 

Check here to see if there’s a GEDFest near you. 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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