Using whatever adjective or expletive you wish, it was one hell of a __________ storm. When water, mud, and other debris overflowed the banks of the Bow and Elbow rivers in the relatively dusty city of Calgary on ironically the first day of summer, it seemed that all cultural and musical events in the city would be dead in the water—literally.
The first casualty was the Sled Island Music and Arts Festival, which had already begun and was heading into its main music events when a state of emergency was declared for the city and many of the hardest hit districts were ordered to evacuate. Though the festival was officially cancelled, many of the artists already in the city performed at relief concerts in unaffected communities to raise money for flood victims.
The Calgary Stampede, that love-it or hate-it event that transforms the city for 10 days in July, had its site engulfed by mud and water. The Saddledome, home to the Calgary Flames hockey club and venue of choice for the large touring shows throughout the year, was said to have water up to the 10th row of the bleachers, wiping out dressing rooms, storage facilities, and electronic equipment.
With its 101st year in jeopardy, the Stampede overseers watched as the city slowly gathered steam and after a few days of cleanup and evaluation, Bob Thompson, Stampede president declared that the show would go on “come hell or high water”. Some have challenged this stance, but for the morale of the city the phrase has become the rallying cry and unofficial slogan of the populace taking back its city from the flood waters.
The Stampede site’s Nashville North, the live showcase of all sub-genres of musics country and western; the tent of tight jeans and raucous revellers is ready to rumble. And the Coca Cola stage, a permanent outdoor venue that houses hypnotists and performers by day and alternative rockers by night, will blast anyone within earshot. The music venues are primed and ready to fire.
Cowboys, sitting immediately outside of the confines of the Stampede site erects a concert tent during the extravaganza and houses shows within their permanent building throughout the year; the building is clean and tent is ready to go having been inaugurated for 2013 by Alice in Chains just the other day.
All were optimistic for the complete Stampede music experience until the afternoon of July 2nd when it was announced that the Saddledome could not be resurrected in time for the big shows. So unfortunately, the Carly Rae Jepsen, Tim McGraw, The Dixie Chicks, and KISS concerts have been postponed. Though the tours should swing by in the near future, the energy of the concerts mixed with Stampede partying will be lost. Gene Simmons, that personable frontman of KISS Tweeted that the city should not lose hope. Nice to know that the long-tongued one is thinking of us.
The Bruno Mars show set for the week after Stampede has also been postponed, but the Rush Clockwork Angels juggernaut is still set to land in full glory on the 24th. Surely the pyrotechnics of the Rush show will assist in drying the rafters of the building—who says rock shows have no intrinsic benefit.
Prince’s Island, the small city park situated as the name implies on an island on the Bow and summer home to the Calgary Folk Music Festival, suffered extensive flooding and once the water dissipated, the site was mired in mud and a thick gumbo sludge. With the aid of 250 volunteers, the city parks people have been working on cleanup and at this time the festival is still a go, even if some aspects of the events will have to be altered. Having a permanent concrete main stage is a plus in a situation like this, but with all the electrical systems destroyed, there is still work to be done. The forecast is good since there are still a few weeks to go before launch, but it is still a wait and see situation; Mayor Nenshi is a regular attendee so the vibe is definitely positive.
Other venues both inside and outside of the downtown core are steaming ahead. There may have been hiccups, but the Deerfoot Casino, the Republik, and the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts venues are moving on.
It’s been a few strange weeks, but the energy and enthusiasm of musicians, artists, and the community at large has been spectacular. The water may have won this battle, but not the war.
Photography by: Charles Hope