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Small Town Bringdown: Crowds fill Kingston streets to celebrate everything Hip

The downtown streets were closed early as people sat on patios or found their spot in Market Square, where the show will be broadcast to those without tickets.

Gord Downie at the final Man Machine Poem show in Kingston.

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David Bastedo/Live Nation

Gord Downie at the final Man Machine Poem show in Kingston.

There were the makings of a Small Town Bringdown all day Saturday in Kingston.

Never before had locals or visitors seen the small southeastern Ontario city quite like it was leading up to The Tragically Hip’s highly anticipated show at the K-Centre, the last of the hometown band’s Man Machine Poem Tour and a celebration of the band’s three-decade long career dominating Canada’s music scene.

The streets downtown were closed early Saturday, with crowds pouring onto the Lake Ontario waterfront to listen to cover bands croon The Hip, filtering into the historic city’s unique pubs and restaurants or onto their busty patios to enjoy cold beers while listening to the local rock band’s albums on repeat. Others found their much-coveted spot in Spring Market Square, where the big screen was set up outside of City Hall for the many fans who couldn’t snatch tickets to the show.

“This could be the last time they’re live,” Kingston native Hollie Ann Davidson, who didn’t score tickets but brought her 15-year-old son Joseph out to watch the concert live outside, said late Saturday afternoon.

“We came home this weekend … just so we could experience this together,” said the Orleans resident, adding that while lead singer Gord Downie’s diagnosis of brain cancer might be terminal, “this music’s never going to die.”

“I want Joseph to share with his kids, eventually, too,” Davidson said. “If the band never plays another concert after tonight, the music will live on – it’s legendary.”

This summer’s news of Downie’s illness, and the tour that has taken the five beloved alternative rockers across the country, from Victoria to Toronto, and back to their proud hometown, seems to have captured the attention and emotion of the entire country.

“It’s not just Kingston culture, it’s Canadian culture,” Davidson said.

Fans old and young alike, including this Ontario family, left notes of love and well wishes for lead singer Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip outside of City Hall in Kingston, Ont.,  prior to what is said to be the well-loved Canadian band's final show.

Kristen Lipscombe/Metro

Fans old and young alike, including this Ontario family, left notes of love and well wishes for lead singer Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip outside of City Hall in Kingston, Ont., prior to what is said to be the well-loved Canadian band's final show.

It wasn’t just those who were born and raised in Kingston who showed up Saturday to experience The Hip. Fans from across the country, and even south of the border, made the trek to take in what could be The Hip’s final curtain call, although the band itself hasn’t officially said that as of yet.

“You should see us in our gold suits that we’re going to put on later,” said Dana Seaton, 38, who travelled to Canada’s first capital city along with his wife Kaila Caroll, 29, from another Kingston – the one on Rhode Island.

The K-Rock Centre show was their third stop on The Hip’s cross-country tour, a cost the couple said was more than worth it to see the small town Canadian band that captured their American hearts.

Fans in Kingston hold up a flag honouring Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.

Kristen Lipscombe/Metro

Fans in Kingston hold up a flag honouring Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.

“They’re wonderful,” Seaton said. “There’s a whole mystery about them.”

“I had a friend that introduced me to them, and said I’ve got tickets to a show in New Hampshire, get in the car we’re going to listen to them the whole way there, and I’ve been into them ever since.”

“I have a very big place in my heart for Canada now,” Carroll said.

More to come.

Follow @krislipscombe on Twitter for live updates from Saturday night’s show in Kingston.

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