‘Thank you for that’: Tragically Hip put on emotional show for hometown crowd
After an evening full of poignant lyrics and almost-goodbyes, Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, closed the concert in his hometown of Kingston, Ont., with a simple, heartfelt “thank you for that.”
Then the band members all came together onstage, hugging and kissing, friends for 30 years possibly saying one last goodbye to the life they’ve shared with each other and with their fans.
In the final concert of what could be their final tour, they had come out for three encores, with Downie himself proclaiming they were “officially into unchartered waters. We never do third ones.”
But such was this particular night where Downie refused to let up, sweat pouring down his emotion-filled face, as the band played almost non-stop for just under three hours. They touchied on various highlights from the Hip’s entire discography, including crowd favourites like Nautical Disaster, New Orleans Is Sinking and Bobcaygeon, and ending with Ahead by a Century.
The frontman also lovingly teased Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in a box with a crowd of people, clad in a denim jacket and a Hip T-shirt. Downie praised Trudeau, but also took two separate opportunities address the need for decolonization.
He called on the prime minister to address Canada’s historical mistreatment of its Indigenous people and to “get ‘er done.” He also asked the audience to hold Trudeau to account and commit to acknowledging and fixing the problems.
“He’s going to take us where we need to go. And we’ve gotta be a country that’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there. But it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad. We’re gonna figure it out.”
The mix of social justice, political and cultural commentary didn’t end there. Downie also remembered that the audience was something of a boy’s club until 1996, which was never the Hip’s intention. He thanked all of the women in the audience, which sparked a massive round of applause that echoed in the stadium.
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But he showed his appreciation for the fans as well, thanking them “for keeping me pushing.”
Inside the K-Rock Centre, fans were on their feet before the Tragically Hip even made it to the stage, screaming and clapping and stomping their feet in anticipation of the band’s historic homecoming.
The concert marked the final stop of their Man Machine Poem tour, which kicked off in Victoria on July 22, made its way east across the Prairies to Ontario and ended, not surprisingly, in the band’s hometown.
It has been an emotional journey for the group and its fans, rocked by the announcement in May that Downie has terminal brain cancer.
The Kingston show became a cultural event. Hundreds of viewing parties were held across Canada, and the eastern Ontario city officially proclaimed Saturday as The Tragically Hip Day.
Thousands of fans flooded into Kingston from elsewhere. While the arena itself holds just under 7,000 people, officials braced for 20,000 more to watch the live broadcast of the performance on a large LED screen set up blocks away at Springer Market Square.
It was a bittersweet reaction from the arena crowd, who hung on every word from Downie, and joined in with him on almost every song. Many shed and wiped away tears throughout the concert, but mostly, all were grateful to be part of the special show.
“I’m very sad yet I’m very grateful for what he’s given to us. Before the show was starting, it was just the best vibe ever in here,” said Jenny Hutchison from Cambridge, Ont. I’ve never felt it at any other show.”
The praise from the audience afterward for the show, the energy and the emotion inside was effusive.
Laura Coppola said the concert was the “greatest single thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life” and the “best concert ever.”
“The first Hip song I ever heard was Ahead by a Century,” Coppola added. “The fact that they closed with that, it felt really good.”
Cathy Downey of Calgary said: “I’ve never seen a crowd that is this united. It’s incredible.”
Concert-goers treated the show like a landmark moment in Canadian history: Giant flags made their way through the crowd during the performance, and before the concert began, the audience spontaneously began singing O Canada, with nearly everyone rising from their seats.
“So much Canadiana, just felt so incredibly Canadian and so much love. There was a lot of love,” said Cindy Dreher.
Most inside the arena seemed to acutely feel that this may likely be the last time they see the band perform.
“I’ve never been on the verge of crying at any concert,” Ryan Prentice said. “Except for tonight.”
For many, the band is a nostalgic reminder of years gone by.
“Theyre’ the soundtrack of our high school and university days,” said Jenn Carlesso, choking up. “To say thank you tonight was pretty overwhelming.”