Community not quite sure how to feel about this year's Calgary Stampede
A lot of what makes the Calgary Stampede a unique fair is the way rank and file Calgarians, and Calgary companies buy into the 10-day event.
This year, while the province pushes forward on reopening plans, and the Stampede board follows suit in planning the fair, it appears outside Stampede Park things are moving at a much slower pace.
Many popular venues will be either scaled back, or gone altogether. Large corporate parties and stages will be among the hardest hit again this year.
Dave Howard, an event promoter with the Event Group is usually setting up those venues by mid-June, said this year it’s quiet.
A family takes in the sights during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary on Friday, July 8, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
“Our corporate clients and your corporate clients do not want to be at risk of putting on an outdoor showcase with a band or an indoor showcase with a band inviting their clients and their employees only later to have an outbreak of COVID-19," Howard said. "I mean, their confidence just isn't there that we've actually reached to a point that we can be doing this.”
Howard added that finding bands willing to travel and play under COVID-19 restrictions is challenging this year.
“We're having a hard time in regards to getting bands to travel to Alberta from anywhere in Canada," he said. "That's becoming difficult because less-capacity ( venues), that means that we can't pay the bands as much.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL MUSICIANS
That opens some opportunities for local musicians to fill in the live music gap as restrictions ease heading into Stampede.
Tom Phillips is finally starting to see an uptick in bookings but it's still far from a regular year heading into Stampede.
“Everything's really late this year.” said Phillips as he prepared for a backyard gig on a Monday night “I think clients are tentative. For instance, normally I would be completely booked by April. In this case, they're just coming now. I don't think everybody's really sure it's going to happen. Will there be another wave (of COVID-19)? Will the variants hit? What's going to happen? Are people going to go out?”
The 2018 Kitchener Blues Festival.
The fate of the ubiquitous pancake breakfast is also up in the air, with the city’s largest one at Chinook Centre being scaled back again this year. It will be a drive-thru event in 2021, with attendees given a kit to build their own pancake breakfast at home,
Most years 40,000 people attend the event. It requires nine to 12 months of planning.
“40,000 people in this lot, in a short time frame just wasn't really meeting the needs of what we felt was good for good for us. And for our guests. We just want to be able to do it bigger and better next year,” said Chinook Centre general manager Paige O'Neill. “We just couldn’t, ‘throw that dart’ and make a prediction (about the 2021 Stampede).
"So this year, we want to just celebrate it a different way."
There were huge lineups at Chinook Centre's Stampede breakfast on Saturday morning, the largest event of its kind each year.
Even smaller community pancake breakfasts will be harder to find. Stampede interim CEO Dana Peers said the caravan committee, which stages scores of those flapjack flipping events, hasn’t even begun planning this year.
“Those discussions are ongoing, with those groups and with those volunteers to understand how they can operate. You'll recall last year the caravan (committee) did even operate as a drive thru," said Peers. “So, again, everybody's making modifications and changes and trying to adjust to the ongoing rules and regulations.”
Even finding Calgarians willing to dress the part might be harder this year. Alberta Boots Company has over 6,000 pairs of boots left over from last year after a cancelled Stampede. Staff are slowly starting to see sales pick up as Stampede 2021 approaches.
Businesses like the Alberta Boot Company have experienced a noticeable drop in sales without the Calgary Stampede this year.
“We've definitely seen a bit of a ramp up here over the last little bit, I think people are kind of awaiting word of what's going to happen," said Ben Gerwing, manager of the Alberta Boot Company. “We're hoping that people just want to get back to that bit of normalcy that we've been missing out on for a while. So, hopefully that means people want to come get some boots.”
Even the largest of the off-site Stampede events - the Stampede Parade - will be scaled back in 2021. It will run through Stampede Park prior to the opening, and members of the public will not be allowed to attend. The Stampede is advising people to watch it on television and not try to come to the park.
There are still serious questions about the safety of gathering in public, even after most Albertans have their first vaccination jab.
“Even one shot of the vaccine doesn't mean we give up on physical distance and give up on masks.” said Craig Jenne an infectious disease professor at the University of Calgary. “We have to be aware that no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, and importantly, we do have things in Alberta such as the Delta variant, which seems to (still) be able to infect people with (only) one dose.”
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