Canada celebrates, mourns as rockers Tragically Hip say good-bye
By Leah Schnurr
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Tragically Hip, the Canadian rock band beloved for songs about local culture, small towns and hockey, wrapped up an emotional tour with a hometown concert on Saturday, giving fans a chance to bid farewell to lead singer Gord Downie, who has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Known in Canada as simply “The Hip,” the band is on what is expected to be its final tour with Downie, 52, who announced his illness in May.
Downie is considered one of Canada’s greatest songwriters, and news of his illness prompted an outpouring of shock and support. Towns across the country declared Tragically Hip days.
“Farewell to Canada’s greatest rock band,” The Toronto Star newspaper said in a headline on Friday.
The band’s last hometown show in Kingston, Ontario, has been billed as a national celebration. It was broadcast live, with bars and outdoor venues across the country hosting public viewings.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has said Downie had “been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years,” was at the show.
Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp at the event he became a fan of the band in university and called it “an inevitable and essential part of what we are and who we are as a country.”
Downie, known for his frenetic stage presence and telling long stories in the middle of songs, has maintained his pace during the tour, clad in custom-made bright metallic suits.
The tour sold out stadiums across the country in minutes, prompting controversy about ticket resellers. Tickets for Saturday’s show went for upwards of $1,000 on ticket reseller StubHub on Friday.
Trudeau was offered tickets by the band and will pay for them, his spokesman said.
Formed in the 1980s with roots in blues and rock, the Tragically Hip found radio popularity on both classic and alternative rock stations. A slew of singles became radio fixtures, while the band’s 14 albums nabbed numerous awards.
The band’s well-known lyrics often make intrinsically Canadian references, such as to the 1972 hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union.
“There is a Canadianness that runs through them to the point where new citizens should be given a Tragically Hip CD after they take the oath,” said Alan Cross, a radio show host and music historian who called Downie “the rock and roll poet laureate of Canada.”
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Additional reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler)