The “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” has been music to cowboys, cowgirls, rural roughnecks, and city slickers since, what, 1912? - when some 100,000 curious souls, watched over by head of state, Queen Mary, and governed by Prime Minister, Robert Borden, decided to take in this demo. And now, decades of dynamic demonstrations later, let’s musically note that musicians Paul Brandt and Jann Arden lead the Calgary Stampede 2016 parade.
And if you can get past Canadian politicians of all stripes parading around for publicity, and get past the somewhat trashy “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” song, and ignore temporary new standards for relationships "it ain't cheating, it's stampeding" - this ten-day show should appeal to all family members.
But let’s say you want to actually work like a rancher, riding, roping, and driving cattle? Well, go straight south of Calgary, some 200 kilometers+ to Sierra West Ranch to do this stuff, while admiring the wide open ranges and the foothills-mountains – and know that as a reward when you do hit the Stampede, you can shoot the breeze and shoot back a Deep Fried Oreo Milkshake.
Speaking of work, it has to be said, Calgary, Alberta is going though totally tough economic times with tens of thousands being laid off from the oil and gas companies. Indeed, for the 2015 Stampede, attendance was “only” 1.17 million. Fossil fuels run this province, fuel financially the rest of Canada - but what is the greatest spark of Calgarians – facing city unemployment rates of 8% - and Albertans, paid and volunteer, who stage this showdown, is their grit, guts and gumption: of course, to a person, they’ll tell you this inability to get a pipeline approved east-west-or-south hurts huge, witnessed by traditional corporate Stampede bashes being cancelled, but they’ll tell you, that’s almost nothing compared to the 2013 Calgary Stampede – the one that took place under the: “Come Hell or High water” theme.
Why? That Stampede was soaked from head to toe from the waters that rose from the Bow River’s overflow, on June 20th just a scant two weeks or so before the Stampede was to open - and this FLOOD of the CENTURY, had created herculean tidy-up tasks, such as draining the Calgary Flames Saddledome, of its new lake some 13 hockey rows up in height/depth. (Unfortunately the Flames hockey performances are still pretty much of a wet firecracker...)
Nevertheless the volunteers who helped clean up the grounds – for god’s sake check out this picture of the Grandstand - should be congratulated for putting on a bang-on hootenanny that 2013.
Clearly Calgarians- Albertans-westerners are cowboy-girl tough and creative – and nowhere are these talented traits more on display than before, during, and after the Stampede. (And, did you know the CS grounds hosts about 1,800 other events yearly and has plans to boost its convention capacity?)
Of course, tough is relative – is there any group of men more manly than those engaged in the Bull Riding event, or more competitive than those in the iconic Chuck Wagon races? Alright, since you gotta know, possibly the firefighters entrusted to quell and quiet Northern Alberta’s Fort McMurray’s raging town-destroying catastrophic fires this year – might be as tough – and certainly as noble.
So, again this greatest gala on the globe, literally unfolds in a province that was under a cloud of smoke - but, uh, extra-terrestrials do take the CS in. Remember that Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, William Shatner, landed long enough to be the Grand Marshall for the 2014 Calgary Stampede and remember, too, you could have taken the Sling Shot ride and visited him back in outer space...
Speaking of out of this world, once again the Calgary Stampede will be plating new outlandishly named-and-concocted foods, this side of the Milky Way, for us connoisseurs of gastronomic adventure. There are 34 new “treats.” Here are some of the doozier ones: Saturday Morning Beaver Balls; Deep Fried Tequila Shot Bites; Biggest Baddest Brat (deals with Bratwurst, not out-of-control kids); The Golden Grasshopper Pie Pop; Fruit Infused Grilled Cheese...you get the idea. Descriptions defy diction - but they all look really... something...when not looking stranger than everything.
What else is new? Well, the Indian Village, a mainstay of CS history, has a new location: the new ENMAX Park. And as for new shows, the Dog Bowl has an intrinsic appeal: all the dogs that jump and dive around, have, to a canine, been rescued (or adopted) from animal shelters. How cool is that? And it will be outside to accommodate anticipated huge audiences. The 2015 Stampede, with its Super Dogs show, which ran for 37 years, was great, so this new show should be top notch - as well as should be the returning Peking Acrobats show, flexibly full of contortionists, tumblers, and gymnasts.
And for those of us wanting to go all athletic, if only for an hour, if you’ve an axe to grind, focus that frustration on its release via actual axe throwing at the Adventure Park. Or actually climb walls. Or play paintball. Or, best yet, get a FREE 10 minute massage and leave the exertions for later.
Now this being the Calgary Stampede, it IS horrible to some. For those that put animals on par with humans, and hate zoos, let alone exhibitions such as this one, the complaints of “cruelty to animals” ring loud and clear. And while it is true that pretty near every year, especially with the chuckwagon races, horses die, the Stampede does boast of its standards and veterinary care for all its animals.
Of course this won’t please the protestors, but for fence sitters, it might be good to know the management is proactive (with, for example, each animal being checked by a vet daily, and with the Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta SPCA having unfettered access to the Stampede) in trying to improve its record in animal care.
For sure the naysayers won’t appreciate Showdown Sunday, billed as “Rodeo’s Richest Afternoon” with cowboys looking to lasso some of the over two million in prize money, with the animals earning...well, the best-feed-ever that Sunday evening? Of course, for those that favor animal-over-man, check out Bull Riding: these beasts usually toss off their riders.
So, definitely...The Calgary Stampede, sure as shooting, has something to see, and be, for everyone.