Calgary Stampede 2019 pt. i
Yeehaw, it’s that time of year again in Calgary where the train lines are packed with cowboy boots, plaid, and a sea of cowboy hats. Victoria Park and Erlton Station flood with people coming from opposite sides of the city to meet in the middle for the Greatest Outdoors Show on Earth. There’s few people I have met, even outside of Calgary that haven’t heard of the Stampede. People come from all over just to check it out and endure ten days of food and entertainment. Even with it all being on the same site, it’s often difficult for people to decide where they want to end up for it all. For myself, I tend to stay close to the Coke Stage, documenting the different acts there as well as those who are engaging with them. Not even the shops and food really distract me from much. Honestly, I usually am in such awe of the Ferris Wheel as I roll up to the grounds that it seems the flashing lights are all that really keep me engaged outside of the live music.
This year I challenged myself to interact with a lot of the stuff that was going out more. While I couldn’t eat most of the food I definitely enjoyed interacting with people who were and found myself documenting a lot more of what was going on with the grounds. That is, unless the rain completely took over. It is a very Calgary thing to have the most fickle of weather but it’s this season that seems to be the most questionable. With June storms now pushing back into July, there has been substantially more rain at this years outdoor show. The Sneak Peak night was potentially one of the least busy that I have seen in years. It wasn’t until it got a little bit darker that more people started coming in to see what was going on that Thursday night. For the most part, overcast kept the second day at bay but by the first Saturday of it all severe Thunder Storm warnings had potential to put a damper on it all.
There was a lot of luck in the first half of Stampede. A lot of storms rolling through and missing the shows almost with a strange purpose. The first Saturday had intensive downpours, only to stop right before the openers set, sprinkle in between Dear Rouge and Bishop Briggs and then go back to a beautifully mild overcast. As for the Sunday it was one of the first blue skies and sprinkled clouds on the grounds. It wasn’t until after Dashboard Confessional played that the storm started looming over. Yet, the sky still left the festival in peace and enabled everyone to simply enjoy the fantasy world that was built around them.
Certainly one of the highlights of the first half of Stampede was Orville Peck. The man most certainly seemed honoured to be a part of the Stampede, posting about it on social media leading up and even addressing it to the crowd during his set. Having been in Calgary before, there was a selection of people I saw from his performance at Commonwealth also littered in the crowd around the Coke Stage. To some, he’s more of a spectacle with his fashion choice and how unique his music is in modern day Country, but to many he is more of a breath of fresh air. He places these droning chords that are something closer to the shoe-gaze world of music but he sings soulful like old Country Acts such as Conway Twitty. His songs are unique and have topics that are clearly of deep interest to him that make his performance all the more impressive. And then, there was one of his final songs where he whistled parts of his song into the microphone for a part of what he called a Cattle Song that blew away the crowd. “Impressive, no?” He gestured out to the crowd and it certainly was.
It’s always interesting to have conversations with different people who attend the Stampede because they always go for different reasons. When you box yourself into a certain aspect of it you almost don’t realize how much is actually going on. You almost have to stumble (or forcibly stumble) upon it all. For myself, in the eight years of living here, and even being in the distant surroundings, the only appealing part of the Stampede was the massive amount of music that came with it. Whether it was the Coke Stage, the Cowboys Tent, Nashville North, or the larger shows at the Saddledome, that was all I could see. This particular Stampede was eyeopening to me, seeing acts such as the Tight Rope walker as well as acknowledging just how much artist have their work displayed up at the Stampede. Having been once in the art section of the Stampede, I knew it existed I just had never known to what extent. The whole grounds are huge and honestly you may think that you can spend only an hour there but with the expanse of it all, it’s almost better to take the time to venture further out and see just what all is actually there.
Another part of the Stampede which is always talked about is the food. You see it everywhere on the food network, people talk about it all the time and there’s weird cult culture around the mini donuts. I barely have enough fingers left for the amount of times someone has asked me to grab a bucket of donuts from the grounds. There’s enough sugar in each food truck to send you into a food comma just but looking at them. I’ve seen deep-fried everything, a burrito of cookie-dough and cotton candy various kinds of lemonade, and of course the colossal onion which apparently is both delicious and dangerous. I am always in awe wandering down where all of the food trucks gather and taking in all of the odd smells as well as see all of the bright signs that try to get you to go in. It’s when you get a little bit closer that you actually see all the intricacies of the food that is going out. It’s no wonder that Guy Fieri came through and was to host the cook-off this year!
Another anticipated show was, of course, T-Pain. For many Calgarians, they have never had the chance to see him perform and to be able to have a free show with entry was a true blessing. It was the first day of Stampede where I saw people rushing the stage. Even then, there was even a person who rushed the stage almost a half an hour into T-Pain’s performance just to give him a mixtape. All I can say is that it didn’t end very well for this eager person, but there were lots of enthusiastic people in the crowd going off on all of T-Pain’s songs that he’s featured in. With an impressive 25 song set-list T-Pain really brought it down, singing all of your favourites from “Buy You A Drink,” to “Get Low.” He danced enthusiastically on the stage all decked-out in checkered pants and colourful steam-punk sunglasses. It was an honour to get to experience it all.
Photography: Brandynn LP