Canada has got talent — and they’re not afraid to come out for a good cause.
Sunday’s “Stronger Together,” the country’s star-studded fundraiser concert, wasn’t just about recognizable faces, but instead, the everyday people out there saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
Medical workers, organizers, the elderly, and people who have recovered from COVID-19 joined musicians, actors, athletes and other famous Canadians during the benefit show, which focused on raising money for Food Banks Canada.
The Barenaked Ladies performed a coronavirus-themed song with Michael Bublé and Mexican singer-songwriter Sofia Reyes. Their version of a song called “Gotta Be Patient” featured lyrics like “I just want to see my friends / I want to walk the street again / But I gotta be patient / So let’s enjoy this confination.” (Sometimes, you just have to make up a word to make the rhyme scheme work.)
A few other artists tweaked their lyrics or delivery to the current situation. Shania Twain re-worded the opening lines to her song “Up,” singing “coronavirus bugging me.”
The song’s optimistic lyrics matched the tone of the night: “It only goes up from here.”
Playing one of his most famous songs, Randy Bachman said he hopes Canada will soon be “Taking Care of Business,” changing lyrics in the chorus to, “Keep your distance and wash your hands.”
Tom Cochrane, who was born in Manitoba, said “We’ll see everyone, all of us, out on the road very soon,” before launching into “Life is a Highway.”
The star-studded lineup included Jann Arden, Burton Cummings, Charlotte Cardin, Buffy Sainte-Marie, opera singer Measha Brueggergosman, Sam Roberts and Alessia Cara.
Tackling coronavirus through comedy
Just about everyone who spoke thanked front-line workers for the sacrifices they made. Many of the actors and comedians chose to focus on some of the funnier aspects of the lockdown.
Ryan Reynolds, who was born and raised in Vancouver, took that approach.
“Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the quarantine we’ve been on for the last six weeks,” he said, before a very long pause.
Being a working actor in the U.S., “being Canadian was always my greatest asset, because it taught me how to laugh at myself,” he said.
“If there’s one thing that I know that Canada is really great at, it’s taking care of each other.”
Toronto-born Will Arnett, whose ex-wife Amy Poehler made a cameo, joked about how hard it is to keep track of days and months.
“It’s September,” he said.
“It’s April,” she corrected him.
He went on to say that in regular-life April, the Toronto Maple Leafs “would be well on their way to winning the Stanley Cup, or at least trying to.”
Environmentalist David Suzuki also evoked sports to make a point about togetherness.
“I was in Montreal when the Toronto Raptors were making their run for the NBA championship,” he said. “People were rooting for them everywhere! I thought, Hey, Montrealers don’t support Toronto teams. We can be united over a cause, and there’s none greater today than COVID-19.”
Mike Myers wore a shirt with “Canada” emblazoned across the front. He also wore what looked like a Mountie hat, which he said was covering a quarantine haircut that “looked like it was cut with a knife and fork.”
And “Will and Grace” star Eric McCormack was on a roll, talking about growing up in Toronto. He said his late parents are likely looking down at what’s happening, his mother moved by the strength and determination Canadians are showing and his dad “a little miffed that finally there’s decent parking downtown.”
“I spent my 20s in theatres from Vancouver to New Brunswick,” he said. “And let me tell you, if Canadians can brave a three-hour production of Henry IV Part Two in the dead of the Winnipeg winter, they can do anything.”
He also introduced Sarah McLachlan as “one of Canada’s most precious natural resources.”
Highlighting Canadian workers
Some of the parts of the show took a more sombre tone, although the mood remained hopeful. Many of the people highlighted in the special were front line workers, including a doctor who couldn’t go to home because her husband is immunocompromised, a Nunavut man organizing food donations, and a Toronto therapist working with homeless populations.
There were also kids who had started initiatives to help. Nine-year-old Zakary from Quebec started raising money for a shelter in his area. Twelve-year-old Quinn in B.C. developed ear guards for medical staff and front-line workers whose ears were getting irritated by the elastic bands. He made over thousand using a 3D printer, and other people have gotten in touch to tell him they’re doing the same, and donating them to a local hospital.
One segment highlighted people who had recovered from the virus, and other focused on Canadians over age 100 who had lived through other public health outbreaks.
“Please follow the rules and regulations, remember what is very important is your parents, family and friends and not all these trivial things,” said one woman who had lived through scarlet fever.
Shoutouts to Nova Scotia
While the COVID-19 pandemic was the focus of the night, last weekend’s shooting in Nova Scotia was in the hearts of performers and guests.
“Last week the unthinkable happened, right here in my beloved Nova Scotia,” said singer Anne Murray, who was born in Springhill, N.S. and still lives in the province.
And Dallas Green of City and Colour performed the song “We Found Each Other in the Dark” in front of a homemade tribute to the shooting.
The show also featured athletes, including Tessa Virtue, Georges St-Pierre, Bianca Andreescu, Morgan Reilly and Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. Swimmer Penny Oleksiak and runner Andre de Grasse both talked about how they would normally be preparing for the Olympics right now, but like everyone else, they’re adjusting their plans.
Hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, who retired in 2017 to attend medical school, talked about how much respect she had for doctors and other medical workers on a personal level.
“This is the most important Team Canada I have ever played on,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist said.
Other celebs joined some of the musicians who had already performed towards the end of the show, in an “Imagine”-esque cover of “Lean On Me,” featuring Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, Geddy Lee, Bryan Adams, Michael Buble, Fefe Dobson, Jann Arden and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
And in a move that raised a few eyebrows, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cameo wasn’t the headline. The honour of closing the show, instead, was left to Drake.
From his feverish, opulent Toronto mansion, Drake gave an uncharacteristically earnest talk. He said he had been to the hospital recently for a foot injury, and was moved by the work he saw there.
Even for people who aren’t working on the front lines or who haven’t had a direct brush with COVID-19 yet, “I know it can still weigh on your mental health,” he said. “I want to urge everybody that’s in their own space to find their silver lining in the times we’re living through right now.”
To donate, go to Food Banks Canada’s website.
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