Hamiltonian Tragically Hip fan will see them for the 43rd time

From his travels through Amsterdam, to when his dad had cancer, Mat Zadvorny says the Tragically Hip have always been there for him. This week's shows are the end of an emotional ride.

Somehow, the Tragically Hip has always been there in Mat Zadvorny's life

Mat Zadvorny chatted with Gord Downie backstage at the Friendship Festival in Gage Park in 2010. (Courtesy of Mat Zadvorny)

When Mat Zadvorny takes a seat in FirstOntario Centre on Tuesday night, he'll be seeing the Tragically Hip for the 43rd time. And it will be part of a long goodbye to a band he says has always been there for him — whether they knew it or not.

He's seen them in Amsterdam and Utrecht, when he was traveling through Europe after teacher's college.

Yeah, I've seen the Tragically Hip 40 times, and I had 40 nights that kicked ass.- Mat  Zadvorny

He's seen them in Cleveland, where he went with a tour from Rock Express in Hamilton. The show was in the U.S., therefore in a smaller theatre. Zadvorny watched from the front of the stage.

He's seen them in Toronto, when he took Brooke, his future wife, on their first date. They saw them the day they got engaged too. Later, their wedding song was "Long Time Running."

He saw them at Lee's Palace during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, where lead singer Gord Downie and the band waited until Canada had finished playing Finland in the hockey quarter finals before taking the stage.

He's seen them in Gage Park, where he snuck backstage and met Downie, who was playing solo that year; and at the Calgary Folk Festival, when Downie signed a copy of his Coke Machine Glow poetry book, and asked Zadvorny a question he'll never forget – "One T (in Mat) or two?"

There's a Hip show to mark just about every evolution in the Stoney Creek native's life. And this week, it's coming to an end.

The seminal Canadian band is wrapping up its final tour, Man Machine Poem, after Downie announced that he has incurable brain cancer. Hamilton is the second-to-last show. The final show is on Aug. 20 in Kingston. CBC will broadcast it live, and the city will stream the show live from the Gage Park bandshell.

"One T or two?" Downie asked in 2001 when he signed Mat Zadvorny's book. Years later, Zadvorny and Downie met again, and Downie remembered the exchange. (Courtesy of Mat Zadvorny)

Zadvorny, 36, knows everyone in the audience Tuesday night will have their own Hip stories. But this month, as he attends four of the final shows, he can't help but think about his own.

He got into the band in the early 1990s, when his brother recorded the "Little Bones" video off Much Music. Zadvorny got his hands on Up to Here and Road Apples and wore them out. Plus his eighth grade teacher at Holy Spirit Catholic Elementary School, Shawn McPhee, talked in class about his experiences seeing the band.

"I thought that was so cool," Zadvorny wrote on Facebook, where he's posting some of his many ticket stubs.

"With some buds when we met drummer Johnny Fay and Gord at our hotel in Calgary '04," writes Zadvorny. (Courtesy of Mat Zadvorny)

He first saw them in 1996 at Maple Leaf Gardens. And then he just kept going.

One memorable time was in 2012, when his dad was battling cancer. Zadvorny was living and teaching in British Columbia, and shaved his head for a cancer fundraiser. Two weeks later, he came home to see his ailing dad, and the Hip were playing the goodbye to Ivor Wynne Stadium show.

Throughout his life, he said, "they were just always there."

Mat Zadvorny's first date with his future wife, Brooke, was a Tragically Hip concert (as pictured here). They went to one on the day they got engaged too. (Courtesy of Mat Zadvorny)

Zadvorny attended two shows in Toronto during this tour, and in addition to the Hamilton show, will be at the final show. A friend of his just lost a father to the same kind of cancer Downie has, he said, so he gifted that friend with a surprise ticket. They'll be in the eighth row.

At the show in Toronto on Sunday, Zadvorny said, he was struck by the finality of this tour. And the feeling that he, like the fans around him, are saying goodbye. "It was the loudest building I've ever been in," he said.

The Tuesday show in his hometown, with lifelong friends, will be special too — exuberant, and also a little heavy. 

Over the years, "a lot of people looked at me like I'm some obsessive fan, but I don't care," he said.

"Yeah, I've seen the Tragically Hip 40 times, and I had 40 nights that kicked ass."


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