Recovery is a Carnival – Alberta Flood Aid

A carnival represents the upheaval of power, where the fool becomes king and the king becomes slave; a temporary change of social order and societal structure. After the flood, company presidents grabbed their gloves and boots and shoveled the mud out of working class homes, elevating the displaced with their sweat and grit.

At McMahon Stadium, the boardroom suits danced side-by-side with diner waitresses and normally stilettoed lawyers boogied with auto mechanics, the only noticeable difference being the brand of their jeans.

The carnival atmosphere started early in the parking lot as the BootsOn Stage Festival brought the growing crowd to a high level of expectation for the larger show to follow. A small stage folded out of the box trailer of a diesel transport truck provided the opportunity for a number of local bands to strut their stuff and contribute to the cause while an appreciate audience ate the food from the Calgary Stampede Caravan folks who normally flip pancakes, but were here to flip burgers and get a little rockin’ in their two-step. Boots were evident, as requested by the concert organizers, but most kept to sandals or running shoes as summer had finally hit, arriving a little later this year.

The stadium was late to open, not because of technical issues with the stage or sound system, but because of the lack of person power at some of the gates. As was demonstrated with the Halo High Water and Rush for Flood Relief shows, all auxiliary staff were volunteers-unsung heroes stepping up once again to help out with energy and good cheer.

Loverboy got the show off to a hot start, igniting smiles all around as people quickly recognized the hits that they thought they had forgotten. What better way to open a show than firing on all cylinders out of the gate? No pretense of warming up, just the songs ma’am and nothing but.

Mayor Nenshi made a brief appearance, introduced by emcee Brent Butt, drawing an enthusiastic response along with hoots and whistles aplenty. Nenshi has been called a rockstar politician and the moniker fits: he is inspiring, confident, charismatic, and combined with a little bit of boyish charm, the perfect combination for a rockstar.

Tom Cochrane quickly followed the mayor, playing guitar and harmonica with Ken Greer on piano and pedal steel guitar. It’s too bad that some of crowd’s attentions were lost to Prime Minister Harper during the set as Harper entered the stadium at ground level and slowly took a seat in the stands. His presence was curious since the Government of Canada was not listed as an event sponsor of the show, but he is a music fan…

McMahon Stadium, Calgary | August 15, 2013
Photography by: Ian Mark

Cochrane ended his short set with “Life is a Highway”; his metaphor of life as journey not destination, which might be similar to what many are feeling right now. Note that the original video for this song had Cochrane dancing on Alberta hoodoos and prairie grass, juxtaposed with a young couple driving the back roads around these landscapes; the prairies tied to the song, much like Cochrane is tied to Alberta-always receiving a warm welcome.

Colin James and Jann Arden, bluesy rock and sensitive pop sets, contrasted nicely and set the stage for Ian Tyson, the real legend of the night. Closing in on 80 years, the troubadour of the west was in fine form, his voice clear and strong, with just a hint of the rawness that has plagued him for the past several years. His songs were sweet love poems to the land of blue sky and gentle reminders of the power of a good melody.

Corb Lund, who has written songs with Tyson, thanked him as they switched places on stage. Lund, sporting a thick, full beard played his tribute song to the people, which he wrote while performing at the Calgary Stampede in July entitled “Blood, Sweat and Water”. The song brought a few tears as it touched emotions still a little too raw to manage.

Randy Bachman, backed by The Sadies, played a blistering little set that got the crowd dancing and cheering, showing that great songs survive the test of time and the many, many changes of style and fashion. A few issues with his guitar didn’t detract from his energy or spirit.

The Sheepdogs’ no nonsense 60s flavoured southern rock opened a few eyes for better or worse, though their lack of between song banter, given the running commentary from the other artists, made them appear a little aloof, but given their intense rise to prominence, some growing pains are to be expected.

Matthew Good and Johnny Reid added more texture as the sun set and twilight enveloped the stadium. Good’s eclectic mannerisms and curious lyrics complimented Reid’s celebratory good cheer. At one point the stadium glowed in a surreal display of light as Reid asked the crowd to fire up their cellphones. Several thousand points of LED light glowed brightly in the wash of darkness; the 21st century cellphone light replacing the 20th century butane flame; finding community in the glow of artificial light.

Nickelback closed the show with a blistering set that included “Rockstar” and the full brilliance of the light show. The older people in the crowd, many of whom appeared to be hearing the band for the first time, seemed pleased knowing the Canadian rock was alive and kicking.

Given the complexity of so many musicians, the show ran smoothly. Egos were carefully packed away and there seemed to be a sincere camaraderie between everyone, including the sponsor representatives and the agile crews that kept everything running. There were a few glitches with mics and guitar connections, but nothing that wasn’t more than a small nuisance. And given the images projected on the side video screens, the live broadcast to television and the web was well shot and expertly directed.

The professionalism of everyone on the stage was returned from the crowd with sincere appreciation; cheering loudly, clapping often, and toasting with drinks held high. This shifting of social place was acknowledged and played against, but never interpreted as a permanent change.

And the fool, who would be king for a day, may have been sitting behind this writer. Drinking to excess, but remaining pleasant, our fool/king provided very vocal gratitude and comment to everything spoken, sang, or referenced from the stage, or narrated in the many videos that were inserted during television commercial breaks: “Thank YOU!”, “you know it”, and the ubiquitous “fuckin’ A” being a few of his favorite acknowledgements.

Every carnival needs a fool/king to speak the truth and every recovery needs the honesty of emotion. Alberta Flood Aid provided entertainment and emotion and a renewed sense of community. It’s too bad that this knowledge often needs tragedy to bring it to the fore.

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