Singer Tom Cochrane, Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys and the members of Halifax band MIR were among the performers who visited the CBC's headquarters in Toronto on Wednesday to prepare for Thursday evening's tsunami benefit.
Dubbed Canada For Asia, the not-quite-a-telethon will air from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (half an hour later in Newfoundland).
Wednesday's rehearsals took place on low stages in two large studios on the 10th floor of the CBC Broadcast Centre.
Surrounded by stagehands and camera operators, Cochrane performed several run-throughs of Many Rivers To Cross.
"Yeah, try a bit more bottom," he said at one point to the engineers manning the soundboard. "It still sounds a little skinny."
Cochrane ? known for hits like Life Is A Highway and Good Times ? continued to alternately sing and trade comments with the CBC technicians for more than two hours. At moments, he was joined on stage by some of the other artists involved in the show.
Finally, Cochrane judged the old Jimmy Cliff number perfected. Or at least as perfected as it can be under the circumstances.
After the rehearsal, the former lead singer for Red Rider stepped down from the stage and grabbed one of the many empty seats in the studio (between the two spaces, there will be room for about 500 people to watch the event in person).
Cochrane talked about how swiftly the benefit has come together, saying a telethon-type show, rather than a concert, makes the most sense to help the people in South Asia who were affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami because it's the most efficient option.
"We felt that this was the kind of show we could put on the quickest with the least amount of logistical problems," he told CBC Arts Online.
As for why he volunteered to take such a prominent role, Cochrane said simply, "I just figured it might as well be me."
Sitting a few seats away from Cochrane was Mike Smith, better known as Bubbles on Trailer Park Boys.
Smith got involved with the benefit when he received a phone call from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson after the tsunami struck. Smith says he never imagined he would be putting his simple-minded alter ego to work for such a large-scale charity event.
"It feels kinda weird ? us getting asked," he noted.
Dressed in a black hoodie and wearing reflective sunglasses in place of his trademark Coke-bottle spectacles, Smith said he believes celebrities can definitely make a difference in crisis situations, even though the extent of that difference might be hard to quantify.
"Hopefully we're contributing something," he said. "I don't know what that is."
Smith will appear alongside castmates John Paul Tremblay (Julian) and Robb Wells (Ricky) during the telecast. Smith, who's also a musician, was helping Rush record a new version of Closer To The Heart this week, and a video of the recording session will be featured in the show on Thursday.
"It's a perfect song for the telethon, lyrically and whatnot," he said of the hit tune.
But standing in the hallway that connects the studios, Denise Donlon ? the one-time MuchMusic personality and former record executive who helped the CBC round up talent for the event ? is quick to point out that Canada For Asia will not be a telethon in the strictest sense of the word.
While a 1-800 number will be available for viewers to call, Donlon said the audience won't see someone like Rush lead singer Geddy Lee manning the phones, although that's exactly what Lee offered to do.
Donlon said her first instinct after Cochrane called her was to write a cheque and leave it at that, but the groundswell of artists who wanted to participate was so massive that she had no choice but to start organizing some sort of benefit. Donlon pushed for a broadcast event rather than a concert.
"A lot of times [concerts] just don't make money," she said.
Judging by the sparse black décor, the producers of the show want the focus Thursday evening to be on the cause.
For his part, Cochrane said he chose Many Rivers To Cross because he has always loved the soulful tune but was never able to find a place for it on one of his albums. Contrary to what you might think, the soaring gospel song won't be the evening's closing number.
"It almost should be a closer," he said.
And what about the obvious question ? how much money does he think Canadian viewers will contribute?
"Not a clue."
Among the other artists scheduled to perform on Thursday are Rush, Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, Sam Roberts, Anne Murray, Sloan, David Usher, Daniel Lanois, Keisha Chanté and Oscar Peterson. Celebrities from other walks of life, like Wayne Gretzky, SCTV alumnus Dave Thomas, Kids in the Hall, David Suzuki, Jessica Holmes, Perdita Felicien and Alex Trebek will also appear in person or in taped messages.
The show will be broadcast on CBC-TV, CBC Newsworld, Country Canada and webcast on CBC.ca. It will be simulcast on television on CMT, ichannel, MuchMoreMusic, MTV Canada and Rogers Television.
It will be heard on CBC Radio One, as well as on several private radio stations across the country, including outlets owned by Corus and Standard Broadcasting.
Proceeds will go to World Vision, the Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF, Oxfam Canada, Care Canada, Save the Children Canada, Development and Peace, and Oxfam Quebec.
Canada For Asia will be hosted by Ron MacLean, Rick Mercer and Sonia Benezra.