Back in June, Christopher Smith, co-founder and vice president of Community Beer Works, was originally selling tickets for a beer festival at Larkinville scheduled for Aug. 20.
When he heard about Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis, and that the band’s last show would be broadcast the day of his fest, Smith, who has been a Hip fan since 1991, when a friend gave him a double-sided mix tape of the band’s early work, decided to fuse his beer event with a screening of the final concert.
“It’s a way for everyone to say thanks,” Smith said.
The band’s local fans followed suit.
Some 3,500 of them – young, old, married couples and groups of girlfriends – crowded into Larkin Square throughout the night to say goodbye to the Tragically Hip and Downie.
The screening of the band’s farewell show had sold out before the show began, and some ticketless fans were turned away.
The fans began entering the gates of Larkin Square at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, anticipating cold beers, a warm night and a bittersweet goodbye.
Among them was Karin Pierce, a 48-year-old teacher from Niagara Falls, who wore a homemade T-shirt blazoned with “I remember, I remember Buffalo” and a “TTH” fedora with jewels and a peacock feather.
She came with three of her good girlfriends, two from Lewiston and another from Niagara Falls.
“There’s no way I would miss one of those shows,” she said. Pierce has seen the Hip at least 10 times, following them all around Buffalo. She saw them four nights in a row at Artpark State Park in 2009.
“They’re more than just a band. They’re part of me and my life,” she said.
Downie’s terminal illness brought her to tears, and as the date of the final show approached this week, Pierce said she has been a “blithering idiot.”
“This is not a band that is ending because the members are separating and going their own ways – it’s totally different,” she said. “So how you deal with that is totally different.”
“I’m not ready to say goodbye,” she said, her blue eyes glassy with newly forming tears.
But technical difficulties got in the way of the goodbye celebration in Larkinville.
The sound at the big screen didn’t come on until a minute into the band’s first song, and once the sound began, it was barely louder than someone talking next to you.
After about 20 to 30 minutes of waiting, people began packing up their foldable chairs. Some were headed to Central Park Grill and others to nearby Riverworks, where they heard the sound was working properly.
People left mumbling how “horrible” the event was and telling security guards that they should be ashamed of themselves.
Tom Willett of South Buffalo originally left his tickets at home, and when he returned with them 30 minutes later, he saw hordes of people heading to their cars. His friend Sally Berry stood by the entrance where she could still see the screen and waited for Willett to return.
But Berry wasn’t too upset.
“Seeing it right here and knowing it could be Gordie’s last show,” Berry said, “that to me isn’t too bad.”
Pierce and her friends packed up their belongings from near the main entrance and moved closer to the food truck area, where they found the sound was at full blast.
With a clear view of Downie projected on the screen, Pierce danced, the peacock feather in her hat moving above the crowd as she shook her head to the songs. She seemed unfazed by the disruption.