“No dress rehearsal,” sang Gord Downie, his face beaming from a big screen set up on the grass.
“This is our life.”
Tears flowed while The Tragically Hip played “Ahead by a Century” as the show-closing song of their final concert.
Downie, too sick with brain cancer to continue touring, led the beloved band through 30 songs in a nationally-televised performance from their hometown of Kingston, Ont., last Saturday night (Aug. 20).
Here in Surrey, a couple hundred people gathered in the tree-lined backyard of a Port Kells-area home, to sing along one final time.
They danced, too, and also ate and drank and hugged and hooted and hollered.
These hardcore Hip fans celebrated the band in a most Canadian way, on a beautiful summer evening surrounded by lawn chairs, coolers and friends, both old and new.
“Right now, I’m covered in tears and covered in joy,” Jeremy Deane told the crowd following the CBC broadcast.
“I don’t know half of you here tonight,” he said into a microphone, “but you’re coming up to me saying, ‘Wow, this is so awesome, thank you,’ and that’s what this was meant to be. It’s not just a party… it has everything to do with celebrating the Tragically Hip but specifically Gordon Downie.
“This was a dream night.”
Indeed, Deane, along with his girlfriend Paula Turrie, party host Dawn Reynolds-Pigeon and other pals, made the Hip’s swan song something very special.
They spent weeks clearing the yard, planning the potluck food and building a covered stage for The Hip Show, a long-established Tragically Hip tribute band that played two sets of music following the televised concert.
Rarely has the word “tribute” been more appropriate.
“I’m very nervous, because this is the real deal and such a celebration of everything that band has done,” Matt Mattson, singer with The Hip Show, said as the Kingston band played.
“It’s going to be beautiful but it’s all with mixed emotions.… We’re following the Tragically Hip tonight, and that’s a big container to carry. I just want to do ’em right.”
Bandleader Joe Foley nodded in agreement, alongside fellow guitarist David Van Andel and bassist Brad Uchida.
“After Gord’s illness was announced,” Uchida recalled, “I was getting calls and messages from friends asking, ‘Are you OK?’ And yes, personally, I’m OK, we’re OK, but it really got me thinking about the word ‘tribute,’ and what we do as a tribute band. That word means more now, because we really are paying tribute to that band, that man, their music. It’s a legacy thing now, and I’ve never been more proud, and privileged, to be in this position, to pay that tribute. It’s pretty overwhelming, actually.”
Deane, who has seen The Hip Show several times at bars such as Dublin Crossing, in the Clayton area, is among the biggest Hip fans Foley and the others have ever met.
“They’re fans of the band, our band, and now they’re friends, too,” Foley explained.
“Weeks ago I went looking for gigs to play tonight, on the Hip’s final night, and we could be playing in Stratford, Ontario right now, but no, we’re here, close to home. We had some offers but the best offer was right here, even with the production challenges we had here. It’s been great.”
As The Tragically Hip played, people lined up to drink Fireball whisky poured down a tube embedded in an ice sculpture made with Downie’s likeness.
Across the yard, event-goers posed for photos in a picture frame hung from the trees while holding a block of wood with the hashtag “#COURAGEFORGORD” printed on it.
Legendary B.C. Lions receiver Geroy Simon was among those who posed for a photo, along with his wife, Tracy Lasorsa-Simon.
The game of football was a common bond among many in this crowd of mostly 30- and 40-something parents, through the program at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in Cloverdale.
“I don’t know all of the band’s songs,” said Simon, an American who grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, “but my wife sure does, because she’s Canadian.”
Ultimately, the private-party hosts wanted to celebrate the Hip by raising money for the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research, via Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
And they sure did on Saturday night, to the tune of close to $3,500 through $25-a-head ticket sales, a raffle, 50/50 draw, “Twonie Toss” contest and cash donations.
The Hip Show gave back, too, by donating $500 to the cause.
Next up for the band is a show on Saturday, Sept. 24 at South Surrey’s Sawbucks Pub, currently being renovated following a fire there back in April.
In the meantime, the band and their fans will remember that night in Port Kells.
“This was such a special presentation, something we’ll probably never experience again,” Deane emphasized.
“What a great night.”