Canada seemed to stand still on the evening of Aug. 20. Screens and radios briefly turned from the Rio Olympics to watch a live stream of The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration.
According to preliminary audience figures, 11.7 million people watched the commercial-free CBC broadcast as a send off to one of Canada’s most prolific musical poets. In comparison, the men’s gold-medal hockey game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was previously considered the most-watched broadcast in Canada with 16.6 million viewers, which is around double the viewership of an average Super Bowl.
The crowd in Kingston’s Rogers K-Rock Arena passed a Canadian flag in a wavelike fashion around the arena and sang the national anthem. Canada let The Tragically Hip’s show fill in for a mini-Canada day, and certainly celebrated as such in 30 years worth of Hip merchandise. So what if he missed a few words and relied on a teleprompter or his voice was hoarse. The band has toured extensively in a short timeframe for the Man Machine Tour concert, despite their lead singer and beloved Canadaian, Gord Downie, fighting brain cancer. If you think it was hard to hear, imagine how it must be for him.
The Hip, along with support from the CBC, provided Canadians the opportunity to be grateful. To put aside some of life’s stresses and see Gord Downie, a man who has written the soundtrack to Canadian life for the last three decades, enjoy what he does best. People of every political background, socio-economic level and industry watched in awe of the Hip that night. It allowed everyone who has felt something from their music, from Justin Trudeau to farmers in northern Saskatchewan, the chance to enjoy one last performance.
Local establishments like The Fernie Hotel and Pub and the Northern not only offered up their screens and house speakers but also featured live music afterwards that performed an array of Hip songs. Many people set up make-shift theatres in their backyards, using sheets and projectors, to watch the show surrounded by friends.
The day after, while walking down Second Avenue, I overheard multiple conversations about the evening. People that had not previously heard the band or enjoyed their style of music spoke to the connectedness they had with people not only in their living room or at the bar, but also with the band, the audience and the nation.
This show was not your average goodbye concert. It was something that everyone stopped, paid attention to, and were grateful for doing so. Events like that don’t happen every day.