'He was so kind and so appreciative': Edmonton promoters remember Gord Downie
Brent Oliver and Terry Wickham recall their encounters with the late Tragically Hip singer
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Gord Downie always seemed to leave a good impression in his visits to Edmonton.
The singer and poet, who passed away this week after a battle with brain cancer, routinely came through the city on tour with The Tragically Hip and as a solo artist.
“He was such a sweet guy,” said promoter Brent Oliver, who first met Downie when he played a folk fest after-party at New City Likwid Lounge in 2000.
Oliver had booked Downie’s backing band, The Dinner is Ruined, but they brought the iconic singer with them to the surprise of concertgoers at the now-defunct downtown venue.
Oliver recalls Downie showing up in a “silly, round, '90s new-Bohemian hat.”
“He took pictures with everybody from New City. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy,” Oliver said.
“He got up and played and a lot of people were like, ‘Holy crap, that’s Gord Downie' ... He was super humble and he didn’t need to be.”
Oliver said he saw the Tragically Hip live at least five times but was a bigger fan of Downie’s solo work and the collaborative album he did with the Sadies.
He met Downie again a few years later, when the singer’s friend and tourmate Jim Bryson asked if he could bring him to a Calgary show headlined by The Hold Steady.
Oliver obliged and met them outside the venue before the concert.
“He got off the bus and he grabbed my hands and shook them and said, ‘Thanks so, so much for this.’ I’m like, 'Dude it’s a $20 show and you’re Gord Downie. Don’t you have a magic door for any venue anywhere in Canada that you can walk into?' ” Oliver said.
“He was so kind and so appreciative.”
When Downie left the room at the end of the night, he flashed a peace sign with a kiss of the fingers, like he did at the band's final show in Kingston.
Oliver heard from people closer to Downie that the singer lost his ability to speak about a month ago, and he was moderating a panel at a conference in Halifax Wednesday morning when he got the news about Downie's death through a text from his wife.
He announced it to the room.
“The wind of the entire room just kind of left,” Oliver said.
Folk fest producer Terry Wickham said Downie was always pleasant to deal with when he booked the star's solo project on two separate occasions.
“When he came to Edmonton, he was a perfect gentleman. You didn’t get any of that rock star kind of thing. There was no demands,” Wickham said.
“You hear about the riders and all that kind of stuff. None of that. In fact, they probably could have asked for more money and gotten it."
Wickham said he also had a family member die from brain cancer, so he has some understanding of the struggle Downie’s family is going through.
“It’s kind of what you do that you’re remembered for," Wickham said. "And I think he’s remembered very sweetly.”