The Tragically Hip say goodbye for now in their hometown

August 22, 2016

Last Saturday night, nearly a third of the entire population of Canada—11.7 million people, says the CBC’s preliminary audience figures—tuned in via broadcast or streaming to watch our strange and beautiful de facto poet laureate sway and jerk and scream like a maniac for what may be the very last time. In an incredibly emotional, sprawling set packed with killer old classics, poignant new material, and raucous and rowdy sing-alongs, the Kingston, Ontario band gave everything they had to their hometown and the nation, from the Rogers K-Rock Centre located at 1 The Tragically Hip Way.

 

 

That number again, 11.7 million people, is hugely significant. To put it in perspective, those kind of numbers are usually reserved, in Canada, only for massive hockey events like the 2010 Olympics gold medal game, or the 1972 Summit Series final. It’s rare anywhere that a cultural event pulls in so many people, much less a rock ‘n’ roll concert. The Tragically Hip was born as five hosers in bar rock band in the mid-’80s. They played what might be their final show to an entire nation—singing and dancing and crying along with them—who feel a giant part of our identity is wrapped up in Gord Downie’s poetry. Even the prime minister was there.

At a couple points in the evening, Downie addressed prime minister Trudeau’s presence directly, but in the context of Aboriginal issues. As a giant banner crossed through the crowd emblazoned with the words, “PRIME MINISTER DOWNIE,” the singer caught what was happening and offered some of his own thoughts.

“Well, you know, prime minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go…”

“It’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, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”

While many chose to read Downie’s comments as simply a ringing endorsement of Trudeau and his Liberal government, some have preferred to look at it as a call to further action as well. During his career, Downie himself has been heavily active in raising awareness for issues facing First Nations communities, as well as the environment. The reality is that Trudeau’s Liberals don’t currently have the greatest track record with those Aboriginal issues, and hopefully Downie’s public challenge will spur them to make real, lasting change. Downie’s comments are also notable because, other than brief thank yous and an expression of appreciation to everyone, he was mostly silent. He had a huge chunk of the nation’s eyes on him and chose to use that platform to address a profoundly pressing and complex issue.

“We’re in good hands, folks, real good hands,” Downie continued later. “He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there. And what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve. We’re going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.”

Despite these brief moments of seriousness, there were no clouds that hung over the show, no true sadness. There was only explosion after explosion of joy, celebration, and elation. But the concert wasn’t without a touch of heartbreak. Downie visibly teared up during a stunning version of “Fiddler’s Green,” a Road Apples cut about the death of his young nephew from a heart ailment. And at the end of the second encore, blasting through the outro of “Grace, Too,” Downie’s face contorted and grimaced as he wiped away tears between guttural screams and howls. But fighting through their third encore—“Locked In The Trunk Of A Car,” “Gift Shop,” and finally “Ahead By a Century”—The Tragically Hip looked nothing but happy to have shared the moment, and an entire history, with everyone there with them.

There’s no hyperbole in saying that it’s likely Canada will never see another Tragically Hip. But they’ve given the country a lifetime of music, history, and poetry to sift through. Most importantly, the band and Downie’s rejection of patriotism and nationalism, while still fearlessly addressing issues of identity in Canada, has given their art the power to put a mirror in front of us and decide what our legacy will be as Canadians. And that’s something you certainly can’t buy in any Gift Shop.

Below are some photos from CBC and The Tragically Hip Present: ‘The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration’ screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration Screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration Screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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  • The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell


    The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration screening at Studio Bell
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About the Author

Matt Williams

Matt Williams is a writer and photographer. Born and raised on the Prairies in Winnipeg, he’s slowly made his way farther and farther east, spending a few years covering music in Toronto before running clear out of country and ending up on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In between, he’s made numerous detours, interviewing and photographing countless artists across North America and beyond. He heads up Amplify’s Instrumental series, where he talks with musicians about the relationships they’ve formed with their most important tools.

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