What we did at the Calgary Stampede

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

The Calgary Stampede is over for another year which, for some, is a blessing. While we at Under The Rockies aren't rodeo fans, we are big fans of the music and live performances that come along with the Stampede. We did a lot this year from interviewing and photographing Scott Helman to photographing Vance Joy, Lights, OK Go, Arkells, July Talk and Francesco Yates.

It's time to say goodbye until Stampede, until next year. But not until we do a re-cap of everything we did this year! Commentary by Mary McComish looks like this while commentary by Joshua Platt looks like this.

July 3

I went and saw Kiesza perform during the first day of the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth". I arrived at 8pm, an hour before the show, to a dead crowd which instantly came to life when her band soundchecked "Hideaway" 20 minutes before the show.

Kiesza, once again, put on a fantastic show. She's a performer through and through, from her dancing to her amazing, mindblowing vocals

It was a bit of a letdown that her show was only an hour with no encore. The performance felt like a teaser of what I saw at her MacEwan Hall show in April. If you've never seen Kiesza live, you're missing out and should probably buy the next plane ticket to wherever she's playing next.

July 5

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

My first day of the Stampede happened to be Day 3. I was unable to photograph Kiesza and Brett Kissel, so I started with arguably one of the biggest names to play the Coca-Cola Stage this year: Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy. Given that this was the first day, and first Stampede that I’d ever photographed, I wanted to ensure I got down with lots of time. I met up with a friend and we ate at Ed’s - I know we’re not a food blog, but this is one of Calgary’s hidden gems when it comes to restaurants. Afterwards, I went to the grounds and wanted to make sure my media pass was going to work. Long story short, it did, after being helped by security and the lovely Jodie Walsh who was the stage manager for all 10 days at the Stampede this year.

I was really nervous for the set, not knowing what to expect. The biggest disadvantage of shooting an outdoor show that begins at 9:00 on a July night? The light. The sun hasn’t set and, while that does help for some easy shots where you can totally lower your ISO and up your shutter, it doesn’t allow for the most stunning of shots. Given this, and the fact that Vance Joy is just a guy with his acoustic guitar, I really had to play around with the stage lights in order to get somewhat unique and interesting shots. I was blown away at how busy his set was. He played probably the shortest sets of Stampede, but closed with his hit, "Riptide", which, if you were standing at the very back, could have seen through hundreds of teenagers with their smart phones up, blocking your view entirely. 

July 6

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

I love Lights. I've seen her seven times, interviewed her twice (including for this website) and own a ton of her merchandise. So when Lights mentioned she'd be playing the Stampede during one of our interviews, I was obviously planning on going. I went when she first played the Stampede in 2011 and vividly remember her covering "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who so I was very interested to see how she'd follow that up.

I went down to the Stampede later that evening, proceeded to eat all the food (pizza, falafel wrap, mini donuts, lemonade) and then went to watch Lights. Just as she started, so did the rain. A lot of the crowd quickly left when the weather started but true Lights fans stayed behind to watch the show. I thought the rain only enhanced the experience.

Lights played a good chunk of her catalogue, including two favourites of mine, "Don't Go Home Without Me" (a song from Little Machines I had yet to hear live) and "The Last Thing On Your Mind" (one of my favourites from The Listening).

Lights is currently playing festivals and probably working on Little Machines acoustic. I have a feeling she'll be touring for that so I'll make sure to clear space on my calendar.

Day 4, my second day, featured photographing Lights. I didn’t really do a whole lot before, because I knew that I’d be shooting the show and didn’t need to show up really early (photography perk: you can show up 20 minutes before the show and be closer than front row, at least, for the first three songs). The crowd wasn’t as packed as the previous night, but Lights’ loyal Calgary fans sang even through some brief but heavy rain showers. With that being said, guess when it rained? Her first three songs. While it made for some interesting shots, it was a challenging set to photograph, and extremely difficult to keep my camera dry for.

July 7

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

Day 5 was OK Go, a band that I’ve known since I was probably 8. However, I found myself to be really tired that night, so I basically just headed down to the grounds an hour before the show. OK Go played a fun and unique set for the Coca-Cola Stage: they had confetti canons that they fired off at various points throughout the set. I got some shots that I was pretty happy with, and called it a night after that. To be perfectly honest, as much as I would have loved to stay to get a really cool crowd shot, I couldn’t due to my gear. I didn’t have any sort of wide angle lens with me, so that really defeated the purpose of hanging around.

July 8

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

In any other circumstances, I probably would have skipped the Stampede this day but Under The Rockies had an interview with that night's Coca-Cola Stage performer, Scott Helman. Normally Joshua would accompany me to the interview but, instead, Aya Nakamoto joined me. Hopefully we'll see more stuff from her on the website in the future.

A huge thanks to Scott and Laura Fraser, his publicist, for their time and kindness. Definitely keep an eye on Scott because you're going to want to brag that you listened to him before he blew up to a Shawn Mendes level of popular.

 PB Cupboard's deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. So good.

PB Cupboard's deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. So good.

After the interview and before Scott's performance, Aya and I scouted the grounds and I stopped at the infamous Peanut Butter Cupboard for a peanut butter and banana sandwich (deep fried, obviously, it is the Stampede). I could only finish half of it but it was so good. Hopefully they become a yearly staple at the Stampede. Vegetarians need deep fried junk food, too.

We watched Scott perform, enjoyed it, and we waited for Francesco Yates to go on. When he first started, I didn't pay much attention because I was grabbed and pulled into a hug by a stranger. With the Stampede promoting #SafeStampede so heavily, this was definitely something I wasn't expecting, especially since I was in a populated area. I managed to push the stranger off and he went on his way. Maybe my height (I'm 4"9) made me look approachable but, keep in mind, you have no right to touch someone without their consent. If something unfavourable happened to you at this year's Stampede, you can share your story here.

Despite that, I was able to watch some of Francesco Yates' performance. I definitely think he's super talented and he's definitely one that we all need to keep an eye on as well.

Day 6 was a bit of a two for one night at the Coca-Cola Stage, as Canadian artists Scott Helman and Francesco Yates played on the same night. I headed down to the grounds with my best friend of 16 years. Under The Rockies’ own Mary and our newest member of the team, Aya, interviewed the incredibly talented Scott Helman. I had quite a relaxing time that day, actually, and all I had to do was show up and shoot the sets. Scott Helman played a short but engaging set and I really enjoyed his music. I had some time to kill, so I just had a drink with my friend and headed back for Francesco Yates’ set. I was surprised at how many people had left after Scott Helman’s performance, as Yates was equally if not a bit more engaging than Helman, due to the fact that Yates isn’t as bound to his guitar on stage as Helman. I only stayed for the songs I shot but, from what I saw, I was impressed by his stage presence and think that he is going to be one to watch for sure.

July 10

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

I love July Talk. I love the dynamic between Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis. I love their stage antics and the way their voices are total opposites but mix so perfectly together. I first saw them at last year's X-Fest and again at the Covert Concert where they announced the Coca-Cola Stage performers. Both times, they killed it. If you haven't seen July Talk yet, you should fix that.

HUGE props to Leah for repeatedly asking the crowd if they were okay and taking time out of July Talk's set to make sure everyone felt safe. 

This was my last night at Stampede for 2015. This year, Under The Rockies accomplished things we've never done before. We did an interview with Scott Helman, I watched Joshua photograph most of the Coca-Cola Stage shows and I just got to have a blast with friends and family. I can't wait to see what next year brings.

On Friday, I had to work at my “real job", so I headed down before the set. As usual, July Talk killed it. Shooting the first three songs were extremely intense and I felt even more pressure knowing that they had to be published in only black and white as per the band’s request. I had to go for somewhat lackluster photos but I knew that they would contrast sharply in black and white. In all honestly, if you’ve ever seen July Talk perform, it’s impossible to get a “boring” looking photo, as their bizarre stage antics make for photos worth more than a thousand words. The crowd for them was crazy and sweaty; a perfect rock show.

July 11

 Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

Day 9 of the Calgary Stampede was my last one, and while I was excited for it, nothing could have prepared me for the exhilaration that I experienced. My friend texted me early in the day because she saw that the Arkells were looking for someone to take #arkellsallaccess photos. I had no idea what this meant, but all it required me to do was send a link to my photos. Soon after, I got an email from the lead singer, Max, saying that I could meet up with him and take some photos of the band from on stage, in addition to my photo pass. I went down to the grounds and had dinner and then texted him around 8:00 p.m. It was the coolest experience. I went down to their green room and, being a huge fan, got them to sign my copy of their record. We had a laugh about that as I didn’t want to come across as thinking it was me meeting them, because I knew I had to take some awesome photos of them. Hopefully I did, and I think they turned out pretty well.

They had a meet and greet next, so I just sort of laid low and took some candid photos of their fans and them. I didn’t even end up getting a photo with them, because I’d rather be behind the camera than in front, especially in a situation like that. All five members are so down to earth and it was a pleasure to be in their company. Afterwards, Jodie (the stage manager) showed me where I could shoot from on stage. The Coca-Cola Stage is not ideal for shooting on stage, due to its small size and light fixtures. I found it to be a bit of a challenge given that the band really wanted shots of their fans from onstage. I got some, but some of my view was obstructed. That was alright, because I knew that there wasn’t really a way to work around it physically. Even shooting whatever I did on stage was quite a rush, as none of the other photographers got to do so. The Arkells delivered one of the best shows of the Stampede. Seeing it from onstage was a totally different perspective that I’m glad I had the privilege to witness. I didn’t stay long after the show as I really had all the photos I needed. I just stayed for the fireworks and I called it a night: I really couldn’t ask for any more.

My past week has been absolutely exhausting but incredibly exciting. It’s going to be quite a lull this week, in terms of the constant go, go, go mode that I’ve been in. Looking back at the Stampede this year versus last year, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Last year I was dreaming of taking photos of some of the bands, and I had no idea how I could get there. This year was more than I could have ever dreamed of. I went from shooting from the little elevated green space by stage left to shooting on stage. It was an amazing Stampede, as usual, and I extend thanks to all of the backstage security at the Coca-Cola Stage, who were friendly and amazing at what they do, Jodie Walsh and the Arkells for entrusting an 18-year-old to capture their show and for giving me, not only the best bragging rights, but a day that will forever be one of the best I’ve ever had. This week and the 2015 Calgary Stampede has been so memorable and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.