US & Canada

Tragically Hip: Why Canada was closed for the final farewell

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The Olympics really were no match.

There was only one show in town, sorry, in the nation on Saturday night.

Canada's national broadcaster CBC broke from Rio to air the whole of The Tragically Hip's final gig live. They advertised it as "A National Celebration", and they weren't wrong.

Only about 7,000 fans had actually managed to cram into the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

Kingston - the home town of Gordon Edgar "Gord" Downie, whose announcement in May that he had terminal brain cancer had caused shock across the nation.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Welcome home. Kingston's Springer Market square is packed for the final concert
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The band members played a three-hour set with three encores

It's perhaps hard for those outside Canada to understand just how big the band are there. They are known as the most Canadian band in the world. They are simply a part of the national identity.

Look at the picture of Kingston's Springer Market square on Saturday night and it starts to make sense.

Nine number one albums in Canada, 14 Juno awards (Canada's tribute to its musicians) and this final 15-concert Man Machine Poem tour to say farewell.

Kingston had declared Saturday The Tragically Hip Day.

#Canadaisclosed was the mantra, as was "Hip Night in Canada" and, of course, #InGordWeTrust.

At how many concerts will the audience rise from their seats to sing a spontaneous version of the national anthem before the band start?

And the concert itself? A three-hour set spanning some three decades of music-making and cramming in crowd favourites such as Nautical Disaster, New Orleans is Sinking, Bobcaygeon and the final hurrah of Ahead by a Century.

A denim jacket-clad Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there. Gord was not about to miss the opportunity to get his message across, urging the PM to address the historical mistreatment of indigenous people.

But he also said Mr Trudeau was "going to take us where we need to go".

Image caption With the Olympics sidelined, a CBC operative realises the futility of his task

The fans also hung on every word of Gord, who provided his traditional cultural and social commentary.

In the end he kept it simple. After an "unchartered" third encore, it was an emotional and brief "thank you for that".

Arm in arm, Downie, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay walked off for the last time.

One concert-goer, probably speaking for many, said the band had provided a "soundtrack of our lives".

And CBC eventually went back to the Olympics... but even then it managed to post a montage video of athletes battling away to the sound of The Hip's track Three Pistols.

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