On a Thursday night in late May, the Tragically Hip held a small gathering at their recording studio in Bath, Ontario, treating about 40 guests to a meal of salmon and steak as well as an acoustic performance by Canadian musician Dallas Green. At one point in the evening, Hip guitarist Paul Langlois stood on the front steps of the converted 19th-century house to address guests.
The Tragically Hip sees cannabis “as a way to make some money but also to be very creative,” says Newstrike CEO Jay Wilgar.
“It’s nice to have you all here. We’re happy to open [our studio] up to you and we’re excited about our relationship making pot.”
The event was held to promote the band’s involvement with Up Cannabis, a licensed cannabis producer based in Ontario.
For some celebrities, engaging with a cannabis company involves little more than adding a name to the masthead. But in the year since the Hip signed a deal with Up’s parent company, Newstrike Resources, they’ve stepped up their involvement with the company significantly.
The Hip have been investors in Up Cannabis since they launched their partnership last May, holding a 6% ownership stake of the company. But their involvement exceeds mere investment.
“Cannabis is something [band members] are very interested in as a product,” Jay Wilgar, Newstrike CEO and director, recently told Leafly. “Like so many other people in this country, they look at the industry and see an opportunity to get involved early with something that is exciting and fun. They see this as a way to make some money but also to be very creative.”
All the band members have been involved and have given critical feedback on logo design and use of social media.
The first six months of their affiliation was low-key, in part because of the status of the industry overall. “When we formed the partnership, we were just getting our feet wet as a public company,” says Wilgar.” We were figuring out how we were going to bring our product to market. No one knew exactly what government regulations were going to be — what we would and wouldn’t be allowed to do.”
In addition, he said, both parties faced some serious challenges.
Late last year, Newstrike was about to sign a merger with fellow licensed producer CanniMed—a deal which the Hip endorsed—when CanniMed withdrew and returned to the bargaining table with Aurora, a cannabis behemoth that had previously presented CanniMed an offer. “All that put things on hold for us for a while because we didn’t know where we were going to end up,” said Wilgar.
That episode played out while the health of Hip front man Gord Downie deteriorated. In October, Downie, hailed as a great Canadian poet, died after a brave public battle with brain cancer. The loss devastated his bandmates, Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay, and saddened millions of music lovers in Canada and beyond.
“We didn’t want a partner that was just a name affiliated with us. This has been a real working relationship.”Jay Wilgar, Newstrike CEO
But by January, the Hip had regrouped enough to get to work with Newstrike executives, who had secured almost a hundred million dollars in financing within 24 hours of the CanniMed deal falling apart. The business partners started preparing for the spring launch of a new brand.
For the past five months, members of the Hip have been meeting with company executives on a regular basis to discuss the new brand and related marketing strategies. They also visited the company’s new facility in Niagara, Ontario, when cultivation started there last month.
Wilgar said the band’s managers, Bernie Breen and Patrick Sambrook, have made a big contribution “on the creative side of things. They have been helping us determine how to get our brand message out to the Hip’s fan base and to Canadians in general.” All the band members have been involved and have given critical feedback on logo design and use of social media, said Wilgar.
“We’re excited to be working with all these people at Up Cannabis. You know, they actually want to hear our ideas,” Langlois said at the recent event in Bath. “So they may be getting more than they bargained for on that front. But we’re definitely committed to them.”
As Newstrike’s Wilgar told Leafly, “When we started out, we knew we were going to be a national brand so we wanted it to resonate with Canadians across the country. The Hip has spent time in every small town and big city in every province. The band members understand Canada as well as anyone so they have made a great contribution to our branding and marketing plans.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Canadians are as familiar with the Hip as band members are with the country. Nine of their albums have reached the top of Canada’s music charts and, thanks to song lyrics that focus on Canadian geography and history, they have been hailed by the BBC as “the most Canadian band in the world.”
“If you’re trying to create a brand in this country, who better to partner with than those guys?” Wilgar told the Toronto Sun. “The Hip, for us, is so much more than a band. It’s so ingrained, it’s so pure Canadian.”
Wilgar told Leafly that his company’s working relationship with the band has played out just as he hoped it would. “We didn’t want a partner that was just a name affiliated with us—and the Hip is certainly more than that. This has been a real working relationship.”
As for what’s next, Wilgar teases a summer product launch that is for now hush-hush. Stay tuned.