You know what’s the definition of “A crying shame”? The fact that a man with the talent and reputation of Gord Downie should see his career and life end far earlier than it should. So, on August 20th, 2016 all of Canada got together to celebrate Downie’s life as The Tragically Hip played their last concert in their hometown of Kingston Ontario, broadcasted live on CBC.
In May of this year, Gord Downie announced that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable form of brain cancer which affects speech and short-term memory. From there the group announced that they would be hitting select dates across Canada for their farewell tour, with the very last show being broadcasted in every home across the country. After six weeks of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery the band was ready to go out on the road for one last time.
Amazingly, Gord was in high spirits and, if you have ever seen a Tragically Hip show, the one thing you cannot help but notice is just how entertaining Gord is on stage; his energy, spirit, and presence resonate throughout any arena and, with the circumstances given, August 20th was no exception. The 52-year-old blasted through the band’s iconic catalog including songs from their first full-length record, Up to Here, to their newest album Man Machine Poem which had been released in June of this year. You just can’t help feel a deep sense of sorrow looking into Gord’s eyes, knowing that he realizes that this will be the last time he will ever play these songs in front of a crowd. It was completely heart wrenching. None more evident than the performance of ‘Grace, Too’ where Downie weeps and screams to end the song making the song more emotional and visceral than ever before.
Following an exciting performance of ‘Three Pistols,’ Gord thanks the crowd for allowing him to keep pushing through and “with the help of a friend we developed the scarf made out of two socks. A singer needs to keep his or her voice always warm, and it only took me 28 years to find that out.” Throughout it all he was the same Gord, setting an example of pushing through adversity no matter the odds. Something we should all strive for in life. Through the band’s numerous awards, their likeness on postage stamps, a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame and getting inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame; Gord would still find tremendous joy in knowing he helped us all strive for a better life.
After 29 songs The Hip closed out a poignant, thought-provoking and bittersweet show with an astounding rendition of ‘Ahead By A Century’ bringing 11.4 million people from all across Canada on the edge of their seat, leaning on every word, sentence, and verse coming from Gord Downie’s mouth. The band then entered what Gord called “uncharted water’s” when they came back out for their third encore. From there The Hip hugged and kissed with Gord thanking the crowd and went off stage.
Best wishes and good night to a Canadian treasure and wordsmith, no one will ever fill those shoes.