The 2016 Calgary Stampede: A Look Back
Nothing in life is a guarantee. For me, I hold three things as a guarantee, and that’s birthdays, Christmas, and, well, the Calgary Stampede. Because every year, no matter the circumstance, they come around. Walking into the Stampede grounds each year as a born and raised Calgarian has an element of surreal-ness to it. Almost as if each year goes by faster than the last, or that I never really left. The Stampede somehow never loses it’s magic, but I think a lot of that is attributed by the now trendy aesthetic of carnival settings at night. Still, growing up, and even now, I’ve spent so many nights there that I wish would never end.
By the time I got down on Day 1, I was exhausted. Big crowds of people exhaust me somehow. I went and waited around with a bunch of other media people, and at 9, we shot the first band to play at the Coke Stage this year - Walk Off The Earth. They came onstage full of energy, and their unique approach to incorporating unusual instruments to their music was definitely a sight to see. After I’d shot the set, I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and wander around, but it was hot and I got a bit cranky so I didn’t really want to deal with people.
On Sunday, I should have been smarter and heeded everyone’s warnings. But no, I didn’t, so I did the unthinkable. The unfathomable. I went to the Cowboys Tent. Not only that, but I went to the Cowboys Tent sober. All joking aside, I was there to photograph Blink 182. It was chaotic, and ended up being the definite low-point of Stampede for me. It doesn’t really feel necessary to go into extreme detail about what happened because it’s over now, but the logistics were just really bad and I basically ended up shooting from the balcony and have maybe like, one good shot. It was just a lot of stress that could have been avoided. I had a positive experience with all the staff though, so thank you guys for that.
On Monday, I was back at the grounds to photograph one of my favourite bands to photograph, X Ambassadors. This night was potentially the worst for weather, and similarly to when I photographed Lights last year, it poured rain for their first 3 songs, and then the weather let up. Despite the rain, they killed it. They’re so amazing live, their energy and their music is so fantastic. I can’t even put it into words, so maybe you’ll have to catch them sometime (or watch my recap video at the top of this post!) The grounds were deserted after their show, so I walked around and took lots of footage and such.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to photograph Kiss at Fort Calgary. I got down early so I could photograph Moist and The Cult as well. It was such a hot day, I had dressed for rain in my Doc Martens and a beanie, but nothing a bit of Coors Banquet couldn’t fix. The media area was filled with the nicest people, and they treated us so well. I never go into events expecting food and booze to be a given, let alone free, so it’s the nicest surprise when it happens.
The first band of the day was Canadian alternative music icons Moist, who I’ve never actually seen before. They played in the heat of the day, I got a few decent shots considering I had to shoot from outside the photo pit. I went back and chilled in the media area, and then British punk rockers The Cult took the stage. They were really good, the light wasn’t the best given it was the middle of the day. And lastly, KISS took the stage around 8pm. Nothing could have prepared me for their set, not to mention that there was an 88 year old woman on the barricade. Talk about goals. We were only allowed to shoot the first 2 songs, which at the time I didn’t mind, but I could honestly photograph their whole set because they’re just so good. They stormed the stage with Detroit Rock City, and the rest was a blur. I knew that they would be fun to photograph, given that their stage appearances are far from boring, but what I didn’t anticipate is how much they looked at the camera and the photographers. They played to the cameras so well. Personally, as much as I like candid style photographs, I really like when the performers look at your camera. No, I don’t need them to acknowledge my existence, but I feel like their personality is better emulated through that photo, and not to mention it’s a shot that is entirely yours. Not to sound arrogant, but it’s true what they say - anyone can be a photographer, in the same way that anyone can be a doctor, a lawyer, or basically any career on the planet (with some exception, of course, I’m just speaking figuratively!) I continue to struggle with the question, what makes me stand out - both in life, and in my art, but honestly, I feel like it’s photos like the ones I took at Kiss that truly do stand out.
The band played “Deuce” next, and then we were escorted out. I watched the entire show from side stage (not on the stage, but the media area was set up side stage kinda). Gene Simmons spat blood, blew fire, and all sorts of other shenanigans. They even played “Beth” when the rain slowly started to fall. What truly astonished me about them is that they still play with a high level of energy, and seem to genuinely enjoy it, and it is really easy to see through performers who just go up there and fake it. Paul Stanley introduced every single song they played with a bit of a backstory, such as the year when the song came out, etc. I know that’s probably their “schtick” but I really appreciated that. It started to rain as it did almost every other day for the Stampede during their encore, “Rock n Roll All Night”, and the copious amounts of confetti they shot out looked like it had snowed in July. People left covered in the flurries but they were certainly not in a hurry to leave or admit that this amazing evening was over.
Thursday was a neat day. I went down to the grounds to photograph Mother Mother. I’m not really into their music and have seen them before, but they’ll always hold a place in my heart as the first band I ever really “photographed.” Let’s rewind. On July 1st, 2014 they played a free show in town on Canada Day. I was dying to get into shooting shows, and I figured this, a free show, is my best place to start a portfolio or just figure out how it’s done. I shot from the back, I got some okay stuff, but it was that show that pushed me and motivated me to take it further. I’ll always be thankful for that. After I shot the first three songs, I hung out with my friend Jacey from Vancouver. We have only met three times but every time we meet again it’s like we pick up where we left off, and I truly treasure relationships like that. We wandered the grounds and watched the fireworks and it was just a really, really special night. Bit of a backstory: the only reason we know each other is because our grandmothers, who were from Scotland, met each other in the 1940’s. They became friends, and then her daughter befriended my father, and now we are friends. It blows me away how destiny works and how we probably wouldn’t know each other if the stars hadn’t aligned. If this photography thing doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll go into...... Nah, never mind.
I didn’t go back to the grounds until the final night of Stampede, which was possibly the wettest. We showed up around 4 to interview Chuck and Sebastien from Simple Plan. We got to go into the dressing room for shelter, and had a solid interview with them. They were really genuine and nice, which was awesome! Then, we went to Ed’s (I feel like I talked about Ed’s in my blog post last year so I guess going to that restaurant is becoming a Stampede tradition). We had wings and beer and then once we were all fuelled up, headed back to the grounds. I shot the first 3 songs of Simple Plan, and I wasn’t as stoked on my photos as I thought I would be but I did get some good ones. It was pretty intense. Last time they played Stampede, I was front row with my Nikon Coolpix, and I thought I’d taken the best photos I’d ever take in my life. Little did I know that I’d be professionally shooting them a few years later. Then, as the band closed with the always angsty “Perfect,” that admittedly, 90% of the crowd cried to at some point in their teens, there was a lull in the air. And as the last firework fizzled out, it was another year come and gone.