The Tragically Hip to perform at Junos in 1st televised appearance since Gord Downie's death

Canadian music mainstays The Tragically Hip and Feist will perform together at the 50th annual Juno Awards later this year, The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced today.

Band says they want to honour fellow musicians 'in a way that would make Gord smile'

Frontman of the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, centre, leads the band through a concert in Vancouver on July, 24, 2016. The Hip will return to the stage without Downie, who died in 2017, but with indie-rocker Feist for the 50th annual Juno Awards. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Canadian music mainstays The Tragically Hip and Feist will perform together at the 50th annual Juno Awards later this year, The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced today.

The June 6 show will mark the first televised performance by The Tragically Hip since frontman Gord Downie died in 2017. Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in 2015. 

"It's been such a difficult year for our fellow musicians, we wanted to do something to honour them in a way that would make Gord smile," the band was quoted as saying in a press release. 

The Tragically Hip last performed at the Junos in 2007, when Downie inducted producer Bob Rock into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The band also performed two years earlier in 2005, when they were inducted into the Hall of Fame themselves. 

Indie rocker and 11-time Juno winner Feist last played at the awards ceremony in 2017, when she performed a tribute to Leonard Cohen five months after his death.

Feist, right, performs a tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Juno Awards on April 2, 2017, in Ottawa. (CARAS/iPhoto Inc.)

In the same press release, Feist noted that she spent a year touring with The Tragically Hip early on in her career. She called that experience her "first big education" and said she was "touched" to be given the opportunity to play with them now. 

"The only way I'm making any sense of it is to imagine I'll be singing backups for Gord, and know my 20-year-old self wouldn't believe it," she said. "Like the rest of Canada, I'll be so happy to hear these kings of song play again."

The Tragically Hip, who are now tied with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal as the fourth most awarded act in the show's history, were already slated to receive the 2021 Humanitarian Award during the ceremonies. Previous recipients include Arcade Fire, Neil Young and Rush.

That, including their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, will be the Hip's 17th Juno.

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush will present the band with the award.

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The recognition, formerly known as the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, honours artists or industry leaders who have shown an "exemplary dedication to social, environmental and humanitarian causes … in a single noted action or a lifelong commitment."

The Tragically Hip have helped to raise and donate millions of dollars for cancer research, environmental causes and more — including for Camp Trillium, The Canadian Cancer Society and the Special Olympics. The band also set up The Tragically Hip Community Fund in 2004 to support local charities in their hometown of Kingston, Ont.

Downie was also a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and issues, including reconciliation and shining light on the history of residential schools. One of his final musical projects told the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy from Marten Falls First Nation who was found dead on railroad tracks near Kenora, Ont., in 1966. He had left a residential school and was trying to make it home.

His fifth and final solo album, Secret Path — which was released a year before his death — led to the founding of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. That fund "aims to build cultural understanding and create a path toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples," according to its website.

Though the Hip have not performed in years, the band recently started a TikTok account, which they said they would use to release exclusive clips from their vaults and curate fan content.

The account came about as the Hip celebrated the 30th anniversary of their second studio album Road Apples

Guitarist Rob Baker helped kick it off earlier this week with a video of him playing a stripped-down version of the band's hit Ahead By A Century.

The Junos' many delays

While all awards shows have suffered during the pandemic, the Junos have faced particularly significant hurdles in putting on a show. Last year, ceremonies were abruptly cancelled after many nominees and guests had already arrived in Saskatoon, where the show was being held.

And this year, the awards have already been postponed twice — first moving from mid-March to May 16 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, and then again to June. 

Organizers said in a tweet the second delay, announced in April, was made "out of an abundance of caution in response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic."

And in a March interview with CBC News, CARAS president and CEO Allan Reid said the first delay was made in an attempt to put a focus on live music.

Signs announcing the cancellation of the Juno Awards hang over the baggage carousels at the John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)

"We felt that giving ourselves a little bit more time was good," he said. "But also maybe we can do some things outdoors. And as vaccines roll out, hopefully there's an opportunity to sort of engage people in a live setting as well as we get closer to the day." 

Organizers had planned to conduct the awards with some of the year's music moments presented at prominent Toronto venues. 

But that could clash with Ontario COVID-19 guidelines, which allow film and TV productions to continue, but bar musicians from staging performances inside concert venues. 

The 50th annual Juno Awards are scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 6 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. They will broadcast on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, CBC Music and globally on CBCMusic.ca/junos.

With files from The Canadian Press

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