The Lucky Charm moseyed on over to the 104th Annual Calgary Stampede, billed as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” This title had us curious about the Greatest INDOOR Show on Earth, but after investigating a series of brothels and poker lounges, we had to accept that the lowly West Edmonton Shopping Mall had already claimed this title. But I digress.
The Stampede began in 1912 to celebrate Calgary’s western heritage and pioneer spirit. It also brings a whole-heap ‘o’ money to the town, so they do it every year. Capitalism! And who wouldn’t get excited to attend a “ROMPING RANGELAND RUMPUS” ?
The 10 days of the Stampede kick off with a parade and it’s a real doozy, second in the world only to the Rose Bowl Parade. This year it had more than 700 horses, multiple marching bands, floats galore and much much more. Entries came from as far away as Denmark. It was an exciting place to be!
A particularly poignant parade entry was some of the people of Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta, thanking all of Canada for helping them when massive wildfires raged there last summer. Over 80,000 were displaced and there was not a dry eye in the stands as they went past.
Most of the floats maintain the western theme, even this entry for “Men In Kilts Window Washing,” whose slogan is “No Peeking” and is apparently an actual company. Capitalism, again!
Even the street cleaners get into the spirit.
Though the Alberta town of “Vulcan” can’t be faulted for ignoring the Western theme.
Captain Kirk surely doesn’t own any cowboy boots!
The Parade leads directly into the Stampede Grounds to open up the party. Over a million people attend the Stampede and the official slogan should really be “Your State Fair on Steroids.”
Of course there’s livestock … lots and lots of livestock!
What a big, handsome stallion … and the one on the left, too!
Besides midway rides and hawkers selling Sham-Wow cleaning cloths, there are also literally hundreds of other forms of entertainment. Talent competitions. Hypnotists. High diving shows. Stunt motorcyclists. Canine trick stars (all rescues!). Tractor pulls. Sheep shearing and cattle penning competitions. Trick riding shows. Art auctions. Live musical performances galore. You can’t possibly do it all, but we did enjoy the Snowmobile Daredevils and the Peking Acrobats.
One of our favorite events was the Cowboy Up competition, where riders had to coax their horses through a timed obstacle course.
This course also included the famed “Wait For Me Without Moving While I’m In the Outhouse” obstacle, which every woman who has ever attended a sporting event with her man knows all about.
But the “real deal” is a real rodeo, and since it has one of the world’s richest purses (over $2 million!), it gets the best cowboys (and girls). They compete in saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.
The iconic event of the Stampede are the Chuckwagon Races, nicknamed “hell’s half mile” and designed to imitate cowboys breaking camp really really quick, like maybe because a predator or angry ex-girlfriend is on their way.
I will assume you have never been a competitor in this team sport and explain it in a general way.
1. Be in a wagon with 4 spazzed-out horses who have been bred only to run this race. Have two of your friends (“outriders”) on horses. Wear matching outfits so nobody gets confused. One friend holds the team of horses on a mark until an air horn goes off, when the other friend in the back throws an old-fashioned camp stove into the back of the wagon. Then they both have to get back on their horses, lickedy-split.
2. Drive your wagon in a figure-8 around the barrels with your outrider buddies in hot pursuit. If they don’t finish the race within 150 feet of you, you lose points. Remember, each individual horse has to catch up with the team of 4 horses running together. Not easy!
3. Crushed barrel = bad. Points docked.
4. Run around a huge track really, really fast, hoofs-a-blazin’. It was waaaaay exciting to watch!
5. Finish before everyone else. Duh! Move on the the finals. And, the purse for this event alone is $1,000,000+, so it’s serious business.
In one of the heats, the wagon actually dumped over (the driver jumped out in time) and the horses dragged it ON ITS SIDE for 3/4 of the way around the track before they could stop the team.
After the evening chuckwagon races, the stadium is quickly transformed for the “Grand Spectacular” Show. The behemoth stage has been patiently waiting off on the side all day for its turn in the spotlight. A tractor drags it out onto the chuckwagon track and within 20-25 minutes the whole thing is wired up and ready for the show!
What makes the show even more extraordinary is that the 120 performers known as the Young Canadians are all kids ages 11-18, who study dance, voice and performance year-round in preparation for the Stampede.
The white figures at the top in the photo below are drummers suspended hundreds of feet above the ground … whoa! Shortly thereafter a huge grand piano and player also flew over the crowd.
Also a part of the show are a laser light show, trick motorcyclists, flaming tightrope walkers, fireworks, and much more more. It is a dazzling spectacle, truly awe-inspiring, and since Philip has been working in Las Vegas for the past 4 years, we’ve seen every Cirque du Soleil and over-the-top stage show imaginable … this was just as good, if not better!
The party-place of the Stampede is the huge, ever-popular bar tent called “Nashville North,” and on weekends in particular there is a 4-hour wait to get in and it’s standing room only. It’s similar to the Birds’ Nest concert venue at the Scottsdale-based Phoenix Open, but more real cowboys and less Botox. Many rising country stars have performed here over the years and it was a blast!
Back on the midway, mini-donuts are the traditional Stampede snack, with over 2,000,000 consumed here each year. Also, one beer every 7 seconds.
But there are some other delicacies in hot pursuit of the title on this year’s midway! Behold ……
Nothing says”western heritage” like a bacon burger served on a glazed maple donut.
Poutine is a delicacy originating in Quebec and is basically the pinnacle of Canadian fast-food.
It is french fries, topped with cheese curds, and drenched in light-brown beef gravy.
If you can’t decide between a burger and mac’n’cheese, why not both?
We know where your mind is going with this next one, and you should be ashamed.
Lastly, the Stampede hosted 3 big-name concerts (well, 2 big names + Jeff Dunham the Ventriloquist, who must have a very talented booking agent) in the Saddledome, where their hockey team plays. Zac Brown Band from Georgia was phenomenal! They played all their favorite country hits (and there are a lot of them!) but threw in some crazy-good renditions of hard-rock classics from Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Black Sabbath. Unexpected and so much fun!
We had a great time at the Stampede, and now we’re gonna stick around Calgary for another week and see what (non-cowboy) charms it offers up. Yippee yahoo, pardners!