Dust off that shelf. Members of iconic Canadian rock band Rush will need to make room in their expansive award collection for another trophy. On March 14, the trio will receive the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the 44th annual Juno Awards, staged in Hamilton, Ont.
The honor is given to “outstanding Canadian artists whose contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada,” according to the Juno Awards website.
During a recent phone chat , Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, 61, momentarily sounded befuddled while discussing the particulars of the charitable causes that Rush has supported during its 40-year career.
“It’s really nice to get this acknowledgement, but honestly, this is something that’s just a duty for everyone,” he says. “Lots of people are generous and do things like this, and it’s the right thing, I think, when you’re in a position to help those who are needy or less fortunate. Then it’s kind of our duty as human beings to do that, and it’s not a big deal. I can’t remember [certain details] because I don’t really think about it.”
Lifeson’s modesty is not surprising. Rush operates as a laid-back unit that is more concerned with its craft than the glory of the spotlight, and since Rush’s lyrics (written by drummer Neil Peart, 62) frequently ponder the state of humanity, it’s logical that the band — which is rounded out by singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee, 61 — looks at charitable endeavors as common decency.
It’s become such an engrained part of what the trio does that since its 2010 Time Machine Tour, Rush has donated $1 from every ticket sold to various organizations. Doctors Without Borders is one frequent beneficiary of the band’s benevolence.
Rush does not publicize the amount of its donations. But since 2010, Rush has reported to Billboard Boxscore more than 1.1 million tickets sold.
“It’s like paying it forward,” says Lifeson of making the ticket donation a regular practice. “We’re so fortunate in so many ways, and if you can just help out, in any way you can, I think that’s a great way to do it.”
The group also is a longtime supporter of UNICEF, the United Way and Toronto Food Bank, helping fund the latter by asking fans to bring food items when Rush performs at the city’s Maple Leaf Gardens.
Some of the band’s other notable efforts include donating $100,000 to the Make It Right Foundation to help rebuild New Orleans in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina; a 2013 benefit concert that raised $575,000 for flood victims in southern Alberta, Canada; giving $100,000 from a 2008 Winnipeg concert to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights;and raising $50,000 for Little Kids Rock, which provides music classes and instruments to underserved students.
Like many other bands, Rush donates instruments and memorabilia to multiple fund-raising auctions. “About half a dozen times a year we’re asked for something substantial; guitars are a big money generator,” says Lifeson.
That list of causes is by no means comprehensive, because the band members also donate significant amounts of time, personal items and money as individuals.
For instance, wine aficionados Lifeson and Lee are patrons of Grapes for Humanity Canada, and Lee sits on the board of directors. They have raised funds with an exclusive event called Grapes Under Pressure, where about 100 attendees enjoy a breakfast with the duo on a private train as they travel to spend the day in wine country. Tickets cost $1,250 apiece in 2014.
“We do a tour of a winery, we pick some grapes, we get some instruction from the staff there, and then we have a fabulous lunch, usually prepared by a well-known chef from Toronto,” explains Lifeson. “Then there’s an auction that follows afterward, and the wineries tend to donate wines as part of the auction. It’s a lot of fun.”
For the record, Peart’s a Scotch man. He is also “quite involved locally with a number of charities” on the West Coast, which is where he resides, says Lifeson. One example of Peart’s generosity: donating 30 pairs of drum sticks that he used during Rush’s 30th Anniversary Tour in 2004 to an auction for Child Advocates, which provides court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected kids. The effort raised $60,000.
Lifeson himself donates royalties from sales of his custom model Gibson guitar to such charities as the Domenic Troiano Guitar Scholarship Fund (Lifeson is a director) to help provide music scholarships, and Casey House, an AIDS/HIV hospital.
“They are so compassionate,” he says of the latter. “I’ve had friends that have passed away and have gone through the Casey House system, and I’ve seen firsthand the kind of work they do. That’s become a dear one to me.”
He also uses his hobbies of painting and golf for humanitarian gain. Last year he participated in a celebrity golf tournament for Smilezone Foundation, which creates installations in health care facilities to help children better cope with treatments for serious illnesses, and he creates paintings for the annual Brush of Hope auction that are sold to raise money for the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
“Because of my background and the large Rush fan base, it’s become a pretty popular thing, and my paintings have done really well, way beyond what I ever expected,” says Lifeson with a laugh. “They sell for as much as $10,000, which is pretty amazing. I don’t think they would sell unless it was for charity, but it’s been great.”