TORONTO – When Jeff and Jen Malcolm watch the Tragically Hip’s big show in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday, it will be more than just a concert.
The evening, expected to be tinged with sadness and celebration, will be meaningful as both music fans and parents.
It wasn’t so long ago they spent hours together in hospital watching their young daughter Danielle bravely fight brain cancer. Hip frontman Gord Downie’s own battle with an aggressive form of the disease recently brought those emotions flowing back.
“We were definitely heartbroken,” Jeff Malcolm remembers of hearing about Downie’s condition.
Danielle is now six years out of treatment — a nine-year-old cancer survivor — and the Burlington, Ont., parents are paying tribute to their daughter and other cancer fighters with a backyard party.
The afternoon gathering with family and friends will culminate with a screening of “The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration” on CBC. They’re all ardent fans of the band and Downie.
“Send him off as if you were in Kingston, that’s what it comes down to,” Jeff Malcolm said, as he attended one of the band’s recent shows in Toronto.
Nearly a month has passed since the Hip began their “Man Machine Poem” tour, which culminates with the Saturday night show in their hometown.
While it’s not officially an end for the band, many fans assume the sold-out show at the Rogers K-Rock Centre could be the final one the Hip will play together. Even if it isn’t, it will be a momentous event in Canadian music history.
As the big day has neared, many Hip fans have pondered how to best mark the occasion in a special way.
Clint and Andrea Burmaster felt the pressure of choosing the right viewing party after they failed to secure tickets in Kingston. They said the Hip show is one of those all-important moments guaranteed to turn up in conversations with friends.
“When we look back in 20 or 25 years where were we? And what does that moment mean to us?” Clint Burmaster said.
“It seems like an easy decision, but it’s not.”
Countless bars and restaurants will be showing the CBC broadcast in its entirely, while a long list of independent movie houses and some cinemas at large theatre chains are hosting screenings. Across the country, local community groups and festivals will also mark the day with big events timed to the show.
The Burmasters were torn between keeping it comfy at home with their newborn baby or hitting up their friends’ corn roast.
For others, there’s no question how the evening will be spent.
Barry Yorke locked in plans with his 88-year-old mother almost immediately after he heard the concert would be on television.
“She’s also into the Hip,” he said, “which goes to show you virtually anybody can get into this music.”
Sounds of the band will also echo through Ontario’s cottage country where they’ll be the soundtrack to a bachelorette party.
Vanessa Lio is heading from Vaughan, Ont., to a cottage up north this weekend, where the bride-to-be decided it was essential to include the Hip concert in the festivities.
“It’s on the lake so we’ll just be enjoying the water, going out on the boat, and (having a) campfire,” Lio said.
“The Tragically Hip fits in perfectly with that.”
Halifax couple Lorne Flowers and B.L. Moran plan to spend an afternoon downtown where local businesses have organized a variety of events leading up to a public screening near city hall.
“You really need to be part of a crowd to feel the electricity,” Flowers said.
In California, Steve Swart is just thankful the Internet will help him say his farewell to the Hip from a distance.
After discovering their music at a used record store years ago, he became an enthusiastic supporter of the band, showing up at the Fillmore in San Francisco and even making the journey across the continent for the second Toronto show last week.
With few venues in the U.S. hosting Hip screenings, Swart was left with no alternatives but to stream the concert online. But he’s OK with that.
“Ten years ago I wouldn’t even have known about this show probably,” he said.
Jen Kirsch said she’s less concerned about which viewing party she attends. She just wants to ensure the people around her are true fans.
“I want to be where everyone is just singing along and passionate about the band,” she said.
“Surrounded by a bunch of people I love.”
Follow @dfriend on Twitter.