By: Colleen Biondi
Although Gord Downie, beloved Canadian troubadour and frontman of the rock band The Tragically Hip, died in 2017 from an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma, his legacy lives on in the souls of his fans and through initiatives like GEDfest. GEDfest — the GED stands for Gord Edgar Downie — is an annual musical celebration that honours Downie’s life and legacy and raises money for cancer causes.
After Downie’s death, Calgary couple Keith Dyck and Julie Johnson wanted to do something positive for the community and celebrate his music at the same time. Dyck, a senior wealth advisor by day and a drummer in his spare time, gathered some friends and created Trickle Down, a Tragically Hip tribute band, to host a fundraiser. The rest is history.
In 2018, Trickle Down hosted the inaugural fundraising event at The Derrick, welcomed 175 people and made $7,000 for the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. In 2022, GEDfest entertained 400 people at The Rooftop YYC and made more than $62,000 for OWN.CANCER, the fundraising campaign for the new Calgary Cancer Centre.
Funds were generated from ticket sales (it cost $50 for general entry), a silent auction, 50-50 tickets, corporate sponsorships and donations.
“It is our philanthropic focus,” says Dyck, who credits Johnson’s former volunteer work at the Tom Baker, a friend’s journey with stage 4 cancer, and Downie’s dedication and commitment to making a difference for others with inspiring their own fundraising journey. “Our hopes, dreams and desires coalesced. GEDfest was a grassroots initiative and is now taking on a life of its own.”
Since the challenges of hosting a new event — like pulling the tribute band together, designing the website and composing sponsorship documents — are behind them, Dyck and Johnson (a biologist with an energy company), are focusing on merchandising, optimizing social media channels and seeking advice about protecting the initiative’s trademark. In addition, they are connecting with other Tragically Hip tribute bands in 15 other cities across the country, encouraging them to host their own events for local cancer charities.
For this fall’s event on Oct. 14, 2023, Dyck is planning to have a “well-known Canadian act” join the Calgary celebration. His long-term plan is to organize a one-day event across the country, similar to the Terry Fox Run. “We are definitely into expansion waters now,” he says.
Along with raising money, Dyck and Johnson view their volunteer work as a broader learning opportunity for their family. They say their greatest accomplishment will be realized when their two daughters make philanthropy a key component of their lives as they become adults.
There are challenges associated with creating a fundraiser. The first step is always the toughest. It feels like “jumping off the edge of the Titanic,” says Dyck. And there’s the competition with other worthy charities and causes. But he encourages everyone to step forward and get involved however they can.
“Curing cancer is up to all of us [and we can] contribute in our own ways,” says Dyck. “GEDfest is our platform.”