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Calgary has once again turned into hayseed central
July 11, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Jul 11, 2012/ Troy Media/ – You can use a lot of adjectives to describe the Calgary Stampede, but the one that’s most likely to draw guffaws is the word ‘cool’.
The Stampede is about as cool as grandma’s Corolla, as hip as a trip to Wal-Mart, and as trendy as the Grand Ol’ Opry. I’m surprised that a picture of the Stampede doesn’t pop in Wikipedia when you google ‘embarrassing events to be associated with’.
As Calgarians reassemble to celebrate the Wild West that never was, the city has once again turned into hayseed central – with drunken ‘fauxboys’ of indistinct socio-economic status weaving their way along downtown sidewalks at virtually every hour of the day or night. Oil patch engineer? Or box store stocking boy? It’s almost impossible to tell when they’re all dressed up in sweaty cowboy shirts, shady Brady hats and Ian Tysons (the nickname I’ve attached to their oversized Wrangler gingko jeans).
A few of the ladies have distinguished themselves, too, with their Daisy Dukes and tank tops exposing too much cellulite and not enough humility.
There’s a healthy dose of cornpone sprinkled on your defiantly unhealthy corndogs, mini-doughnuts, deep-fried Jello and cotton candy. It’s everywhere, from the LED-gilded cowboy hats for sale on the midway to the western ‘art’ pieces that make the BMO Centre exhibition hall look like it’s been invaded by Robert Bateman wannabes; from the Irish pubs decked out with rough plank railings to the ubiquitous hubcap-sized belt buckles brandishing some corporate sponsor’s name.
Then there’s the main event. The rodeo is fascinating in its violence, but the hosts sound like they arrived via time machine from Alabama in the ’50s. Where do they get these guys who crack jokes as old as yer six-shooter, with lines as predictable as an episode of Two-and-a-half Men?
Calgarians react in curious ways to this annual orgy of bad taste. Some of us embrace the silliness, put on our white Smithbilts (the cheap ones are made in Mexico, by the way) and jump in with both of our posture-destroying pointy-toed cowboy boots. Then, there are those who consider a visit to the Stampede grounds about as attractive as getting your tooth drilled while listening to Kenny Chesney.
‘You’re not going to like the way I’m dressed today,’ confessed a reporter friend of mine over the phone. ‘I’m in linen pants and running shoes. I can’t stand the Stampede.’
In fact, it’s cool with a certain set to ridicule the self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Earth. Organizers know this, and are trying to broaden the demographic, if only just a bit. In preparation for its centennial year, organizers boosted the advertising budget by 20 per cent, and contracted with the Karo Group creative agency to put together a big-budget campaign to tweak the Stampede’s image. The television ads are brilliant in their campiness, contrasting movie footage of two-steppers from years gone by with images of modern Calgary, overlaid with a rockabilly tune.
The good news for Calgary is that all those Stampede-haters are having about as much luck curbing this event as Bob Barker has had in his quest to end calf-roping. A total of 184,483 believers attended the Stampede grounds on Sunday, the largest one-day attendance in the 100 years since vaudevillian Guy Weadick shuffled up from the U.S. and convinced four local investors that a paean to cowboys would sell. Barring unforeseen disaster, the centennial is on track to blow the doors off the 1992 record of 1.2 million visitors over the 10-day event.
As any former high school math nerd can tell you, being uncool sometimes just means you get the last laugh. Who cares about being hip when being the opposite lands an estimated $300 million annually for the local economy?
I, too, laugh at the Stampede, but I do not head for the hills, like some of my snobby, hay-naysayer friends. Instead, I head to the closet, sort through my collection of half-dozen cowboy hats, pull out my favourite shirt, belt buckle, Ian Tysons and boots – and head for the nearest beer tent.
As corny as the Stampede is, it still somehow manages to generate a sense of magic that rivals some of the world’s great annual festivals. Left or right; white, black or Asian; academic or truck driver – for 10 days each year all the differentiators become invisible in this overgrown costume party. We know the code – we say ‘Yahoo!’, not ‘Yeehaw’, and we never, never admit to being as gassed as we look. We hope our wives, our bosses and that police officer who just pulled you over can all find forgiveness in their hearts.
Time to go. I hear they’re serving vodka and OJ with your flapjacks and sausage this morning. Now, that’s the Stampede spirit.
Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief of Troy Media.