Canada Celebrates The Tragically Hip

by Debi Moen
in Event Lighting
The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration during its live broadcast last August in Kingston, Ontario. Photo by Mike Homer.
The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration during its live broadcast last August in Kingston, Ontario. Photo by Mike Homer.

Emotional Live Concert Event Garners Honors for “Canada’s Band” and LD Brent Clark

LD Brent Clark sent us a link to a YouTube video. Expecting to see a band’s light show, cameras instead are aimed not at the stage but at the somber audience. Tears stream down a few faces as the band plays one last song.

This is a compilation of audience reactions in broadcast viewing gatherings from the final stop on The Tragically Hip’s 2016 — and quite possibly their final tour after 30 years and 14 albums as “Canada’s Band.”

Lead singer/lyricist Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. While dealing with it medically, he also dealt with it musically. He rallied the band and gave the command: Let’s tour while I still can.

This led to the summer of 2016’s “Man Machine Poem” tour of Canada, whose final show was broadcast live on Aug. 20, 2016. On March 12, 2017, that broadcast, The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration on CBC won six honors in the 5th Annual Canadian Screen Awards presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. Lighting Designer Brent Clark took home a technical award for “Best Production/Artistic Design in a Non-Fiction Program or Series,” while lighting director Tyler Pigeon and DP Alex Nadon were honored for “Best Photography in a Variety Program or Series.”

The award was emotional on so many levels, Clark tells PLSN. With the band since 2003 (with a few years off), the LD shares what made the tour so special.

LD Brent Clark received the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television award for the show’s production design in March.

‡‡         Designing by Time Zone

“When I was originally contacted by the band’s management a few months before the tour was supposed to happen and was told about Gord’s diagnosis, I was shell shocked - in disbelief - but decided to get down to work. The tour was tentative,” Clark begins. While he was on tour with The Stereophonics, Clark drafted initial design ideas…just in case.

“We had to wait until the last possible moment to announce the tour, waiting for Gord’s doctor’s approval. When we finally got the doctors’ green light, we were only a month or two out from the tour start, so we put the design into play.”

Honoring previous commitments, Clark was on tour in the UK, juggling calls and emails from Canada. “The tour sold out in a couple of minutes, so I was asked if we could redesign the show so we could sell 360 degrees. That was on a Friday, and we needed the new design by Tuesday. I was in the middle of a stadium show in Cardiff, so it was a crazy time.

“Because of how late the tour went on sale, I could not get out of a tour of Asia with the Stereophonics. So while the Hip was in rehearsals in Canada, I was in Japan watching via Skype at 4 am. Because I couldn’t do the whole tour, I had my friend Tyler Pigeon step in to operate, which was amazing!”

Clark describes what resulted in an award-winning production design. “The show was a retrospective,” he explains. “The band wanted to play what they called super sets — featuring four to five songs each from different record albums. So, the show was broken up into six record albums, or acts, each with its own unique look and feel. We started the show with the band in tight like they were starting out back in the garage or a small club. The first two records or sets were all white — no real look to them. All the video was black and white as well.

“Then we had a video break and switched the show up, trusses started to move and we introduced color, so it had this great build to it. The band never played the same set at each show, so these ‘record looks’ would get switched around every night and maybe not even the same songs per record. It was a challenge.” Brent adds. “As the tour got rolling I kept checking in; it was looking amazing and the band was playing great.”

The team at FOH - Brent Clark, Tyler Pigeon and Alex Jefferies (near to far)

‡‡         The Live Broadcast

When talk started about filming the final show in the Hip’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, Clark managed to be there. It was taking place at the Rogers K-Rock Centre, whose address is at 1 The Tragically Hip Way.

“Alex Nadon came in to balance all the cameras and serve as DOP. He did an awesome job, as did Tyler Pigeon.” Clark operated audience lighting, “which was fun and hard — so much emotion. I think the three of us at FOH all broke down at some point.”

The final concert, on Aug. 20, 2016, was broadcast live on CBC in its entirety and watched by 11.7 million viewers — one third of Canada; not counting the estimated 400-plus watching parties and radio and digital media audiences.

“It preempted three hours of Olympic coverage,” Clark says. “It aired with no commercial breaks, no filter, no delay, just live raw footage. Pretty spectacular. We stood firm on the fact that it was our show and that’s what they were filming, not a TV broadcast but a full-on rock show. Amazing.”

While the venue held 8,000, outside watching on the video screen were about 20,000 fans, Clark adds. “The same was true from all across the country. Bars and city squares broadcast the show so the whole country could be part of it,” he says.

Clark’s reflections mention Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “not as a politician, but a fan, in a denim jacket, rocking the entire night! With the crowd singing ‘O Canada’ to him.”

All night at FOH, Clark’s phone buzzed with texts and emails from friends watching in bars or having parties in their homes. “There were 5,000 people or so on the streets of my hometown (Guelph, Ontario) crowding the town square — and town squares across Canada. It will never happen again. Awesome!”

But that wasn’t the end. After that tour, while still battling cancer, Downie performed some solo charity concert performances called “The Secret Path,” a cause he initiated and continues to support. And LD Brent Clark joins him, continuing to shine a light along the way. Wherever the path will take them.

The live broadcast in its entirety can be viewed at  www.plsn.me/PLSN-Hip

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