Special to The Journal
An overwhelming response to this Saturday’s outdoor broadcast of what is likely The Tragically Hip’s final concert, has organizers scrambling for a bigger sound system and more volunteers.
A massive community party in honour of the iconic Canadian band is set for Canatara Park’s main field where thousands are expected.
“It’s an opportunity for all those Hip fans to get together, to sing the songs, to tell these stories, and just be in one spot at one time and watch it,” says Aaron Zimmer, who helped come up with the idea and is a key organizer.
The event will be bittersweet for many, considering singer Gord Downie’s uncertain future.
“It’s going to be an emotional, epic event,” he said. “There’s probably going to be some tears shed, from the last time he (Downie) walks off that stage.”
As The Tragically Hip approaches the end of their final historic tour, many Sarnia-Lambton music fans fondly remember the rich connection this community has had with the band.
The Hip is no stranger to Sarnia, playing multiple shows throughout the band’s long, successful career.
The long-standing Sarnia music festival Bayfest showcased The Tragically Hip on their line-up three times throughout the festival’s memorable span. In 2002, The Hip were a part of an all-Canadian Bayfest, which had them sharing the stage with Our Lady Peace, The Guess Who, Sloan and Nickleback. Downie also performed with the Sadies in 2014 at Festival of Good Things.
Even in their days before music festivals and major venue draws, The Hip made a strong impression in Sarnia. Unfortunately a rumour has circulated over the years about an instance in the late 80’s when the band allegedly played to a less than receptive audience at the Campbell Street Station.
Zimmer, who works for Blackburn Radio, had an opportunity to put those rumours to rest when he – by chance – ran into Hip drummer Johnny Fay in 1993 at a bar in Kingston.
Zimmer explains that he apologized to Fay about the band being booed off the stage.
“He kinda looked at me funny,” Zimmer remembers. Fay quickly asserted to Zimmer, “The Tragically Hip has never been booed out of anywhere!”
Perhaps The Tragically Hip remembers Sarnia too, as their 14th studio album release, Man, Machine, Poem, includes a track titled “In Sarnia.”
“Right from day one they’ve known how to connect with their audience,” says Maryanne Pelozza, co-owner of Cheeky Monkey Record store in Sarnia’s downtown.
“This city is very Detroit-influenced, and they (The Tragically Hip) have that rock edge to them. But they’re very Canadian, and we’re proud of that. We’re proud of that identity.”
As any Hip fan knows by now, in May 2016, the band announced that Downie has terminal brain cancer. Shortly after, the band announced one last tour with stops in 10 Canadian cities – with the final stop being in Kingston, the band’s hometown, on Saturday.
The Kingston concert will be broadcast live on CBC and online.
Two big screens will be set up in Canatara Park, during the event titled, That Night In Sarnia.
The party starts at 6 p.m. with Tragically Hip videos and concert footage. Local band, The Room, plays Hip tunes starting at 7 p.m. Live broadcast at 8:30 p.m.
It’s free but donations are encouraged and will be given to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray.