On August 20, The Tragically Hip stepped onto the stage at the Rogers K-Rock Center in Kingston, Ontario for their final concert. For many, The Hip’s music paints a landscape of the Canadian experience. With how they reference familiar places such as Toronto, Bobcaygeon, and Saskatchewan in their songs, the band makes fans proud to be Canadian.
After frontman Gordon Downie was diagnosed with brain cancer in December 2015, fans across the world were moved by the inevitable closure that was soon to come for the band.
Since their formation in 1984, The Hip has translated Canada into poetry. It was no surprise that citizens across the country tuned in to CBC’s live broadcast to hear the group perform.
Any viewer could see the love that night as Downie kissed every band member before walking on stage.
Dressed in a silver leather suit, a top hat with black and white feathers, and—in keeping with Downie’s fashion taste—a Jaws t-shirt, Downie walked on stage. The offbeat outfit brought sparkle and punch to what was undeniably a difficult night for many.
They opened with “Fifty Mission Cap,” one of their well known songs.
They played hits such as “Bobcaygeon,” “Ahead by a Century,” and “New Orleans is Sinking.” The band tried their best to keep their emotions under control, but at any given time, one could glance at guitarist Paul Langlois and see that he was struggling with the band’s conclusion after 32 years.
In the middle of “Grace, Too,” Downie broke down with unapologetic emotion and sweat dripping from his face. Signature screams in the song became more angry than usual, followed by a mic-drop. He then wiped tears from his face as the camera panned to audience members doing the same.
Among those in the crowd was none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Downie praised several times during the concert. He celebrated Trudeau for acknowledging Canada’s past treatment of Indigenous peoples and commended him for his efforts. He told the audience to “hold [Trudeau] to it.”
As Downie acknowledged Trudeau for a second time, mentioning, “He’s going to take us where we need to go,” the camera panned to Trudeau, who began tearing up at Downie’s praise.
Two hours into the concert, the band arrived at the end of their setlist. But it didn’t end there. They performed not one encore, but three. On behalf of The Hip, Downie said they were “Officially into unchartered waters. We never do third [encores].”
The evening ended with “Ahead by a Century”. Dripping with sweat, each band member huddled together to say their final goodbyes to their vast audience. The Hip’s final show was a historic night for Canada. Despite Downie’s illness, he powered through the three-hour show, armed with will and determination, and grace, too.