Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
The “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” sure has grown since Guy Weadick put on the very first Calgary Stampede in 1912. This year’s Stampede combines the rodeo competitions, agriculture exhibits, commercial exhibits, midway rides, and some top music and entertainment. The Stampede attracts over one million people every year.
For 2020, admission is unchanged at $18 for adults ($9 on Sneak-a-Peak), and $9 for seniors and children under 12.
Rush seats (unassigned seating or standing by the infield) this year are $20 for the Rodeo and $20 for the Evening show & chuckwagon races. For the rodeo, the Rush seats are often the best, most intimate view, but for Chuckwagon, you want to find yourself and empty seat high up for the best perspective.
Coca Cola Stage
Free rock & roll entertainment is provided each year at the Coca-Cola Stage, located just inside the Stampede Station LRT entrance between the BMO (“Round-up”) Centre and Weadickville. This event is free with your gate admission. Concerts start at 9:30 pm except where indicated, and Appearance times and dates are subject to change.
All sorts of acts entertain Stampede-goers here during the day, starting at noon, from children’s entertainers, magicians, and hypnotists… worth sas top by!
Visitor Tip: Head to Weadickville and grab some eats, and find a spot in front of the Coca Cola Stage early (for popular acts, the good spots are gone by 6-ish) to dine and chill out for a bit before the concert starts. Remember, some of these acts can set you back $40 or more at the Corral or Saddledome!
Nashville North provides free on-grounds country entertainment. You’ll find it in the big tent in the middle of the Midway, and after noon you can hear it from a distance. Nashville North has seating and standing room for several thousand people, and has beer coolers around the outside wall. There’s a dance floor in the middle, so you can dance to your favorite artists. Be prepared for line-ups to get in (sometimes as early as 4 pm), and if a major recording artist is featured that day, the tent may be filled to capacity early!
You can two-step straight into Nashville North and avoid any lines with the Stampede Buck the Line package for $175, which you can buy online.
The parade opens up the Stampede, and is always the first Friday morning of the Stampede. The parade is always a highlight of the Stampede, even for people who’ve lived in Calgary all their lives. About the only people who skip it are those hung-over from the night before’s festivities.
The parade is televised locally and across Canada (9:30 – 11:30 am). It attracts about 250,000 people, plus another million on TV).
The parade begins WESTBOUND on 9th Avenue at MacLeod Trail, and continues to 10th Street SW, and then EASTBOUND again along 6th Avenue to MacLeod Trail. This is the REVERSE of the traditional parade route. The parade begins at 9 am, and runs till about noon (depending on where on the route you are).
Parade watching tips
Here are some tips from experienced parade watchers:
- Park outside the downtown core or catch the C-Train into downtown. The traffic this day is BUSY.
- Get to your chosen spot early. The police block downtown access for cars by then. The good spots on 6th Ave fill up by 7 am, and on 9th Ave by 8 am. For those taking pictures or videos, head to 9th, so the morning sun is behind you (good tip the TV networks).
- Bleacher seating gives everyone a view (though you have to pay for it), and your feet don’t get as tired in cowboy boots.
- If you’ve got children, bring your own refreshments and snacks. If you forget, there are lots of corner street vendors who will help repair your vocal cords.
- Sit your kids street-side on the curb. That way they’ll have an unobstructed view. Watch your kids during the parade, so they don’t run up to animals, floats, or mascots.
- Wear your cowboy hat for protection from the hot sun.
- After the parade head to the Stephen Avenue Mall, and people watch (all the suits & ties inCalgary have magically disappeared).
- If you’ve got kids, head down to the Stampede grounds. Or go to Heritage Park…it’s not as busy, its harder to lose the kids, and its educational (check out the New-for2009-Gaoline Alley exhibit area.
- Do your morning shopping or banking outside the downtown core! Most downtown establishments don’t open ’til noon because everybody’s at the parade.
- Record the parade on TV. You can relive some of the better floats or bands, and compare notes with friends. The local stations will also replay the parade highlights that evening and again over the weekend.
If you have Kids:
- Head down early to get a spot at the curbside
- Pack lots of juices and snacks to keep them busy during the wait
- Scout for public bathrooms and porta-potties so you’ll know your way when the crowds are packed in
- The “Pre Parade” starts about a half hour before the first horses make their way by.
If you are a grown up:
- If you want to get an early start in the bars on Parade Day, watch the parade on 4th Avenue.
You’ll get a half hour head start on the others getting into line from 9th Avenue.
(unless you are heading to a bar south of 9th Avenue, in which case your “early escape” may be blocked by the Parade, still in progress).
- You can also watch the parade on the big screens at most of the town’s watering holes, which open early all Stampede.
Set your Home VCR or Tivo to record the Parade, then you can watch it whenever you return home, instead of waiting for (or just missing)
the various stations’ encore telecast of the parade.
- If you want to make a protest or get free advertising: the CFCN/CTV cameras are on 9th Ave west of 8th street
and the CBC & Global cameras are between 5th Street and 7th Street. You’ll see the positions are picked the night before by the each broadcaster’s trailers.
Wait for a good float or marching band; then make your move when the networks don’t really want to cutaway.
NOTE: Because of the unpredictability of animals in the parade, DO NOT move onto the street, or you may find yourself spending Stampede behind bars (nt the liquid kind).
Elbow River Camp
The Elbow River Camp (formerly called the “Indian Village”) serves two functions: it provides a place for Indians to stay on the grounds (more about this later) and to teach others about the traditions of the Plains Indians.
The Elbow River Camp is now across the Elbow River footbridge by the East Entrance, near the Saddledome.
Indigenous heritage is as much a part of Western heritage as the cowboy. The Indians have been traditionally granted free admission to the grounds. One year (I believe in the 60s) the Stampede Board chose to begin charging admission. The Indians did a rain dance and it rained non-stop until the Stampede Board welcomed the Indians for free. They did another dance, and the sun shone again.
The Elbow River Camp has numerous events scheduled throughout the day: a teepee raising competition, cooking and crafts, beadwork, native theatre and dance. You can even inspect the teepees and talk to the Indians resting inside (sings will tell you which teepees are open). Sitting on the grass in the Camp surrounded by the colorful teepees, gives a moment of peace in a busy Stampede day.
How a Teepee is built
While traditional teepees were made from animal hides, today’s teepees are made from canvas. In building a teepee, the first step is to fasten three or four poles together as a base. More poles are added to give the teepee its round shape. The canvas is wrapped around after being tied to one of the poles and raised into position. The opening at the top allows the smoke to exit the teepee and the top flaps always faces downwind. The bottom of the canvas is staked to the ground. The door flap is fastened to the front with wood “pins”. Blankets are spread around the circumference for bedding, and the fireplace is set up in the center of the teepee.
The Indians (they are respectfully called First Nations these days) actually camp in their teepees over Stampede, so you need to ask for permission to enter their teepees. You may look, and ask questions, but don’t touch anything.
Some of the crafts and native skills competitions are quite interesting to watch (or try!), and keep in mind these pre-dated television reality shows by a few thousand years.
Since 1912, the rodeo has been the focal point of the Calgary Stampede. The best cowboys, cowgirls, horses and bulls compete in six rodeo events. The original five events include Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Bull Riding, Calf Roping, Barrel Racing (for women), and Steer Wrestling.
Each day of the Stampede, riders win “day money” for the best several places in each event. This prize money is on par with the other rodeos. The top 10 riders based on the combined scores/times advance to Saturday’s semi-finals on July 17. This field will be made up of the top seven riders plus last year’s Canadian Champion, last year’s World Champion and this year’s Rodeo Royal Champion in each discipline. The top prize day is a winner-take-all on the final Sunday of Stampede, where prize money of $50,000 per event are handed out.
2020 Ticket Prices
Afternoon Rodeo seating from $33 to $295 depending on event data & seat location. Rush/Standing room admission $20.
Chuckwagon Races (with Grandstand Show) seating from $49- $128 depending on event data & seat location. Rush/Standing room admission $15.
Get the Rush Seats at the gate (2016: $20) . They’re cheaper (though pre-bought tickets save you Stampede gate admission) and you’re in the “party zone”,
and you can even wangle a good camera angle on the infield rail for a few seconds.
You can wait in a short line and can watching 2 riders have their shot, before the next group gets their close-up.
The chuckwagon races are run every evening from 7:45 pm. From the Opening Friday to the final Sunday evening of the Stampede, and are followed by the Evening Grandstand Show and Stampede Fireworks.
The races involve 36 teams and drivers (each with 4 outriders) who run in 9 heats with 4 wagons in each heat. The best teams each evening get “day money”, which the drivers share with their outriders. On the last day of the Stampede, the last race involves the fastest four teams, with the lowest cumulative time in the previous nights’ races, and they race for the really big money! Over the ten days of Stampede, there is over 1.15 million in total prize money awarded.
The drivers & teams
The drivers lucky enough to race in the Stampede are nominated by their professional groups, as the best in the Canadian racing field and the American racing field. The
World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) submits 25 drivers to the Calgary, and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) submits 11 drivers.
Often outriders may ride with several wagons over the course of an evening, and are paid by the race for their work, plus get a portion of the Day Money paid to the fastest teams (regardless of which race they happened to be in) each evening.
Sponsorship of the Wagon Tarps
The sponsorship/advertising on the tarps for each wagon is paid for by various corporations who bid for the right for their ads to be on the wagons of their chosen drivers. The proceeds of the tarp auction are split 50/50 between the Stampede and the drivers. The Stampede sponsorship amounts can be significant contribution to each team’s annual racing budget, even before day money and top prize monies are taken into account.
Background of chuckwagon racing
In the early days of cattle drives on the prairies, the chuckwagons would race each other, fully loaded after dinner was served. This event was first added to the Stampede back in 1923, and the audience and the prize money has grown ever since. By 1949 there was a racing circuit sanction by what is now the World Professional Chuckwagon Association with over ten racing events held each summer in Canada.
The Stampede Grandstand has 17,000 seats, and can accommodate another 8,000 with standing room and in the infield.
How a Chuckwagon Race is run
In each race the four teams and their four outriders “break camp” after the horn is blown. They toss two tent poles and a barrel (representing a camp stove) into the back of their wagon before they mount their horses and follow their wagons on a “figure eight” around two barrels before circling the race track. The first team across the finish line is usually that race’s winner, and all four outriders must also cross within ten seconds of the lead horse. Time penalties are assessed for infractions such as a barrel being knocked over in the figure eight, a tent pole or stove not properly loaded, wagon interference on the track, or one or more outriders crossing the finish line too far behind his chuckwagon.
The Grandstand Show is put on every night of Stampede. But there’s more to it than that! The evening begins with the “Rangeland Derby” chuckwagon races at 7:45 pm. After all the winners are announced, the Grandstand Show begins.
The 90 minute stage show features stage entertainment, skits and musical numbers, featuring the Stampede’s own Young Canadians celebrating 50 Years of the Grandstand Show. Hundreds of Calgary performers, world-class acrobats, extreme athletes, and others who have worked together since their auditions months before, put on this spectacular western-flavored show.
Just as the crowd applauds, the fireworks begin to finish off the night from the best seats in the Stampede.
The Grandstand Show has in the past been enjoyable and family friendly, but for those in their 20s may find it “lame”, not being interested in canned entertainment for tour bus groups (Young Canadians – Canadian Idol group songs – can you tell the difference?). Head off to the Nashville North tent and enjoy great country bands (though there will likely be a line to get in); but listen for the fireworks portion of the show (they’re so close you’ll hear them over the loudest bands) and then head outside again.