The Time I Cried At A The Tragically Hip Show

by - October 06, 2023

Photo courtesy of Dana Gorab

I didn’t actually cry. And please know that’s not due to some macho façade or “tough guy” illusion. I cry all the time; sometimes at commercials, sometimes at songs, one time because a person drove by me and they were all alone in their car with a big smile on their face. It choked me up because they seemed peaceful and joyful on their own.

One of my best friends and I are huge fans of the Canadian rock royalty known as The Tragically Hip. They’re not an active band anymore. Their singer, Gord Downie, passed away from a brain tumour and they ceased touring and recording. I did cry when Gord passed. So did the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, on television, while talking about Gord’s passing to a mourning nation of music fans.

I live in Michigan and “The Hip”, as we fans call them, would bounce over to Michigan for club shows. For us, it was great to see one of our favourite bands. For Canadian fans, it was an opportunity to see an arena-level band in a club setting. The parking lot was always full of Canadian plates. We saw them in clubs several times. One time in particular, the band was promoting an album called Phantom Power and it was (again) a huge hit in their home country. The band slipped into Michigan to test the new material live and work out the kinks in the live show. As far as I remember, there were no kinks.

What we did encounter upon arrival at the venue were a ton of excited Canadian fans in the parking lot, drinking Molson Canadian beer and trying to fathom seeing a band that has been called a Canadian national treasure in a small club.

The show began with the ever-engaging frontman, the late Gord Downie, holding the room in his hands as he sang, danced and even did moments of spoken word in between actual verses. The band was on fire, the crowd was primed to see their heroes up close, and we “in the know” Americans got to rock out to one of the best kept secrets in music.

I remember the show was punctuated with sing-along after sing-along as the band worked through their catalogue of material and presented new songs from the recently released Phantom Power. Of course, this was great, but not necessarily tear-inducing.

So, what did choke me up? During a classic Hip song called “Wheat Kings”, the audience was singing along in unison and 100 percent locked in the moment. A stranger next to me threw his arm around my shoulder (in a pre-COVID world) and screamed in my ear, “dude, this is amazing”. It was he who was crying. Tears were running down his cheeks and I could feel mine coming on. He and I were in it. Together. We weren’t strangers at all, we were Hip fans and we were connected. I’m getting choked up writing it.

This is why I’ve given music everything. It’s because it’s done the same for me.

- John Merchant, Ghosts of Sunset

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