Saturday, August 20th, 2016.
This date shall forever be etched into the rock of our Canadian Shield. A night that brought our entire country together in the name of rock and roll, in the name of the Tragically Hip. I heard it described as “One Nation Under Gord (Downie)” a more perfect description could not be found.
There has always been something unique and special about the national treasure we call the Tragically Hip. From Kingston, Ontario (not far from our nation’s capital) these five high school buddies have endured over thirty years rocking the stages and airwaves from coast to coast. Think about that for a moment, thirty odd years in the music industry, still band-mates, still friends.
Musically, the Hip have woven themselves deeply into the tapestry of all things Canadian. The songs often painting crystal clear images of our customs and our cultures, you can almost smell the maple syrup and the Tim Horton’s coffee as you listen. This could likely be the reason that success outside of the Great White North has somewhat eluded them. Songs about (that’s sometimes pronounced “a-boot”) small towns in Northern Ontario, songs about famous Canadian news items, songs about Canadian hockey legends. The peaceful sound of a loon at the beginning of “Wheat Kings” invokes images of almost any dock, at almost any Canadian cottage, on almost any Canadian lake. So it’s not entirely surprising that those outside our borders just don’t understand the Hip and this just endears them to our hearts even more.
Our nation was left shocked and speechless when in May it was revealed that singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer. By May, Gord had already undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and the band announced that the tour (that had already been scheduled) was to go forward as planned. Suddenly a simple rock tour to promote their upcoming “Man Machine Poem” album became anything but simple. Suddenly we found ourselves having to say goodbye to our national treasure and dammit we aren’t really ready to do that.
On Saturday, August 20th, 2016 their hometown of Kingston was to be the final show of the tour and what could easily be the final show of the band’s career. In almost stereotypical Canadian fashion, the band worked together with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) to make this concert available coast to coast, live (commercial free and uninterrupted in it’s entirety! Thanks CBC!) for everyone to be able to share this event together as one, for free!
The band took the stage just after 8:30pm (EST) and proceeded to take the nation on an emotional three hour long set. There were moments of pure rock adrenaline, there were moments of soft reflection and there was plenty of tears. Some of the lyrics took on new meanings as we reflected on our own memories, mortality and the unfair and indiscriminate disease called cancer.
I laughed when at the show’s conclusion, (21 songs in) Gord spoke into the mic. “This is the part where we pretend to leave and you cheer and we pretend to be surprised and then we come back and play one more”. Play one more is exactly what they did and one more and one more and… Three encores, each one included three songs rounded out the 30 song concert. Nobody could ask for more.
How important is the Tragically Hip to Canada? It was reported this morning that the broadcast was viewed by over 12 million people. That means 1 in 3 Canadians stopped what they were doing and watched this moment in time. The courage and grace shown by Gord and the band to soldier through this tour is unmeasurable and ensuring that everyone was included for the final show is quite simply…Canadian. So to the Tragically Hip I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for being our band.