JENNINGS: Focusing on the Tragically Hip's final act

The Tragically Hip's frontman Gord Downie is displayed on a screen during a public viewing of the band's final concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Tragically Hip had many memorable performances in Buffalo during their storied career but this week we will continue our look at memorable Western New York performances by examining the band’s galvanizing final concert on Aug. 20, 2016.

Even though the show took place over the border in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ont., it captured the hearts of Western New York fans, who were able to see the live broadcast or hear the show broadcast on the radio.

On May 24, 2016, the band announced that lead singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. The following day the group announced a short tour through Canada. Even though it was not officially billed as a “farewell” tour, most fans assumed it would be the band's last string of dates, with a final show slated on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

Like many of the people in the tight-knit Tragically Hip fan community, Jeremy Hoyle, the lead singer of the Western New York-based tribute act Strictly Hip, was profoundly impacted by the news of the final tour.

“We have always been respectful of The Hip, and after the (final Tragically Hip) show was announced we had a bunch of offers to do shows that night, but we thought about it and decided it wasn’t the best night to do a show,” Hoyle recalled.

The band had a show on the books in Albion as part of a fledgling music fest, but they were able to move their performance time up to the afternoon. It wasn’t long after that when Hoyle realized he had made a verbal commitment to another show that evening.

“An old friend of the band had asked us to perform at his high school reunion at Beaver Island way before the announcement of the show.” Hoyle had simply forgotten to write down the date because it was so far out when it was booked.

“The guy reached out to me and said ‘it’s crazy you guys are playing here the night of that show, everyone is so excited.’ I realized we had to honor the commitment. But because it was the night of the final Hip show, there was poor attendance to the reunion, because they were all Tragically Hip fans and probably watching the broadcast.”

The afternoon performance in Albion didn’t fare well either, the group performed on an uncovered stage in the blazing sun at the hottest point of the day to less than a dozen people.

“About halfway through our Beaver Island show, they put the live Tragically Hip broadcast on the screens. It was so surreal. They were watching it while we were playing and paying more attention to it than our show. It was on the radio as well, so I heard the three encores on the way home.”

Hoyle has seen the show many times since that day, and he proudly admits that his “whole life is wrapped up” in the music of The Tragically Hip.

“With that final tour, and final show was a continuation of everything they did. They were always cool, and they understood legacy, they never made you feel dumb or embarrassed to be a fan.”

Like so many other bands, the Strictly Hip has not been able to perform shows due to coronavirus regulations in place since March, but they are getting ready to start a four-week Friday night residency at The Tralf beginning Friday.

In addition, Artpark, the site of many of The Tragically Hip’s Western New York shows, will be showing the Aug. 20, 2016 show, known as “The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration” as part of their Tuesday night Drive-In series.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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