Tragically Hip's Ottawa concert 'like going to church' for devoted fans

Thousands of fans flew, drove and bussed to the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday night to take in the evocative energy of The Tragically Hip.

Thousands of fans flocked to CTC to thank Gord Downie

The Tragically Hip opened their Ottawa show with 'Boots or Hearts' from their 1989 album 'Up to Here.' (CBC)

They came for Courage.

They came for Poets.

They came because if this ends up being The Tragically Hip's last show in Ottawa, they wanted to offer some Grace, too.

Thousands of fans flew, drove or bussed to the the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday night to take in the evocative energy of The Tragically Hip.

The band's summer tour took on added significance after it was revealed front man Gord Downie had been diagnosed with an aggressive, incurable form of brain cancer.

The trip to Ottawa was a near religious pilgrimage for fans like Brian McCullough, who drove 12 hours from Virginia to give thanks.

"It's kind of a weird combination of a celebration and a thank you and wake, but mostly it's just, 'Go enjoy the music one more time,'" he said. "They've just played such an important role in my musical life."

Downie's signature moves on display

The Tragically Hip played the Canadian Tire Centre on Aug. 18, 2016. 0:28

The partying began well before the 8:30 p.m. show in the parking lots surrounding the arena, as fans downed some liquid courage in preparation for a moving summer night.

"We started at 3 p.m.," said Deborah Coelho, gesturing to her beer.

"2:59 p.m.," added her tailgating friend, Mike Tillson of New York.  

On stage, Downie showed no signs of slowing down, strutting around the stage in a green suit and feathered hat.

His signature energy made it all the harder to say goodbye, said a teary-eyed Anna Valliant.

"You're looking at him and he looks fine. He looks totally healthy. You know it's coming," she said.

For American fan Dana Seaton the show, and all the overtones associated with it, were easier to handle surrounded by Canadians who know every line and every reference.

"To come here and see them with all of their people, it's like going to church," he said.

'It hit home'

For Eric Scharf, who admittedly bought his tickets at a bachelor party in New Orleans while listening to the Hip's New Orleans is Sinking, the costly tickets were worth it.

"Gord Downie said goodbye as if we were all waiting for it ... it hit home. It was the end," he said. "The atmosphere inside today was everything you'd get from a funeral to a celebration."

That atmosphere stuck around after the show — lingering as the tailgaters finished their final parking lot beers —  even managing to mesh with the reality of manoeuvring vehicles out of the CTC parking lot.

Bumper to bumper the cars waited their turn to leave, windows rolled down playing the song Fiddler's Green, an ode to a legendary afterlife.

"As children's eyes turn sleepy-mean," Downie sings in the song. "And Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain. For a boy in Fiddler's Green."

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