Hang on to your Stetson, Pardner! Get ready for excitement, tension and exceptional drama. There’s a rootin’, tootin’, rip-roaring, down-and-dusty rodeo that takes place in Calgary, Alberta, Canada every July – the famous Calgary Stampede known as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth – and yep, it’s happening again – July 5-14. Each year, more than one million visitors from around the world come to Calgary to experience the heart-stopping action of the world’s richest Rodeo featuring bull riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and more fun than should be legally allowed! This is also one of Canada’s largest music festivals, with five stages and 300 performers, including a slate of international music headliners. Calgary, located in the heart of the Canadian West, one hour from Banff and the Rocky Mountains, is a vibrant, bustling city of over one million inhabitants and the proud host of the Calgary Stampede since 1912.
How the West Was Once
Because of the unique origin of rodeo, it has a fascinating history. From the vaqueros to the American cowboy, rodeo history is filled with interesting characters and a multi-cultural mix of customs and practices. At the heart of rodeo, however, is a sport which arose out of cattle herding and was based on the skills required of working ranch hands. A highlight of the Calgary Stampede is its bucking stock, a rare and highly respected breed; their bulls are a hard-hitting, no-nonsense bunch that challenge the best cowboys in the world.
I had the fun-filled pleasure of attending the Calgary Stampede last year: a ten-day citywide celebration and the most memorable western experience I could ever have wished for. The moment I de-planed, I just knew that this experience was going to be something really special. The airport was filled with happy, partying people and live, loud, good western music with songs like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and that perennial Hank Williams favorite, “There’s a Tear in my Beer.”
A Parade Fit For Royalty
I began my adventure at Rope Square, where hundreds had already gathered to line dance and enjoy (free) delicious pancakes and bacon served right from the back of a chuckwagon! I loved the Stampede Parade, a 2 ½ mile extravaganza that kicks off this greatest outdoor show on earth, a ribbon of pageantry that featured 40 floats, 30 marching bands, 750 horses, riders and celebrities (a few years back, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were one of the parade highlights).
Midway Family Fun
On to the Stampede Midway at the fairgrounds. This place has enough to impress even the biggest thrill seekers, from hair-raising rides to challenging games, live music, agriculture shows and hundreds of shopping and food experiences – something here for the whole family. And let me now just say a few words about those food experiences. I had some terrific choices – giant squid on a stick, octopus pizza, cricket grilled cheese. I went for the somewhat safer bacon onion bomb and deep fried pineapple rings, topped off with a hot ice cream donut sandwich. Heaven.
The Wow Factor
Soon, the reason I was here – rodeo – the heart of the Calgary Stampede. It is one of the largest and most famous events of its kind in the world with the toughest competitors and the high quality of horses, bulls and steers. I witnessed amazing events: ladies barrel racing, steer wrestling, bronc riding as cowboys exploded out of their chutes and were shaken like Margaritas in a blender, calf roping done in seconds with no harm to the animal, and bulls roaring into the arena, their riders twisting, turning, flipping sky high and trying to stay on for the required eight seconds. Eight short seconds, piece of cake, right? Not if you’re on a flinging, jumping 2,000 pound crazed creature who wants nothing more than to get you off his back! But stay on and ride the cowboys did, and with élan and class.
Indian Village has played a major role in the stampede from its beginnings. Bright, colorful, remarkable, I was captivated by authentic native dancing, 26 hand-designed tipis representing five Canadian Indian nations, dancing, drumming, arts and crafts, storytelling, and some traditional dishes like bannock, a delectable pan-fried bread. I had a guided tour that gave a rare glimpse into the tribes’ traditional lifestyle.
Each night, there are the chuckwagon races with competitors vying for more than $1m in prize money. It is heart-stopping action, start to finish, a hooves pounding, ground trembling event and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I was blown away by a rare, behind-the-scenes dressing room tour to see hundreds of props and costumes used in the spectacular Grandstand Show. I met members of the Young Canadians, a group comprised of 125 dedicated youth ages 7-21 from the Calgary area. The Young Canadians train and perform throughout the year culminating in their performance for an international audience of over 150,000 spectators at the annual Grandstand Show at the Stampede. A finer, handsomer, healthier, more engaging group of young people I won’t soon see. They were fantastic!
My VIP Cowboy Dressing Room and Chute tour: Be still my heart! I mean, come’on – the chance to check out those cute Brodys, Chads, and Chances – real-life, professional, competing cowboys – Yes! And standing right behind them as they mounted those insane bucking broncs and careened into the arena – the very best way to experience a rodeo!
It was a pleasure, after a long, hot day at the Stampede, to return to the relaxed calm of the Marriott Downtown Hotel. Located close to parks, music venues and art galleries, I enjoyed their One 18 Empire restaurant – unique, and with a menu nothing short of innovative. After dinner, it was fun to socialize at their Whiskey Bar with others finding this Stampede event just as awesome as I!
Grandstand Show Spectacular
As the sun set, magic filled the night and the 90 minute outdoor musical spectacle began. It was nonstop entertainment by internationally acclaimed guest artists including Sheryl Crow. Dazzling and explosive, it concluded with an award-winning fireworks finale – a fitting end to this over-the-top event. So, this July, all you cowboy and cowgirl wanna-bes, pull on some boots, put on a Stetson and come on up! The Calgary Stampede is sure to transport you from the world as you now know it!
If You Go:
Calgary Stampede Ticket Information (www.calgarystampede.com)
Tourism Calgary (www.tourismcalgary.com)
Marriott Downtown Hotel (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yycdt-calgary-marriott-downtown-hotel/)
Modern Steak Restaurant (www.modernsteak.ca/)
Barbara Barton Sloane, is a well respected publicist, and the Yonkers Tribune Travel and Fashion Editor. She is constantly globe-hopping to share her unique experiences, from the exotic to the sublime, with our readers. She keeps us informed, as well, on the capricious and engaging fashion and beauty scene, and eloquently gives notice to various establishments throughout Westchester County and neighboring communities,