Calgary... Not What We Expected.
For the bad reputation that Calgary has garnered from most of my friends, family, and colleagues, it’s actually a pretty impressive place. Before I go on to say what Calgary was for us on this trip, I’m going to debunk a couple preconceived notions that you may (or may not) have about this town.
We were in Calgary during Breakout West - A Western Music Showcase.
Calgary is not just a typical North American city; It’s a burgeoning metropolis erupting with multicultural exuberance. The mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is not only young by mayoral standards at 41 years old, but also is the first Muslim mayor to be elected in Canada, and this week he’s on Maclean’s list of the 50 Most Important People in Canada.
Calgary is not a town brimming with testosterone-heavy, thrill-seeking, narrow-minded rig workers; In fact it’s quite the opposite. That image of Calgary tends to thrive during the Stampede Days, when thousands of people who live outside Calgary flock to this metro center to have a mega-bash in their city. Most Calgarians we met were happy, productive souls you would be inclined to have a drink or two with. (…And we did.)
Calgary is not the culture-free place you’ve heard about where the Chad Kroegers of the world come from; Though Jann Arden, Tommy Chong, Leslie Feist, Todd MacFarlane, Tegan And Sara, and Paul Brandt are all from Calgary, Chad Kroeger is not. He’s actually from Hanna, AB – two hours Northeast of Calgary. Kroeger runs his label, 604 Records, out of Vancouver. When he’s not spending time writing with Avril in L.A. or partying in the South of France, he spends time between Abbotsford BC and Vancouver. So if you’re looking to avoid Kroeger, Calgary is probably a good place to go.
Fun Fact: The famous Canadian Caesar was invented in Calgary. It’s debated whether it was at a bar called Caesar’s, or at The Westin Hotel. (Which is now Caesar’s.)
So, here it is: My uncensored, raw recollection of our days in Calgary – and my new bias to this great city.
We rode in from Banff, after a quick meet up with a childhood friend of mine at The Rimrock Hotel. We watched a couple buy a $300 drink. Puke.
It was after a couple days driving from Revelstoke. We headed South to Nelson, spent the night with buddies in Ymir, took the ferry across Kootenay lake, slept at Creston, drove up through Kootenay National Park, and then through Banff National Park. By the time we got to Calgary it had been an epic 900km and a couple days. Clementine was tired, and so were we.
Me & Clementine at The Rimrock
We had been chatting with my good friend Gabe’s family – they lived in Calgary and were excited to see us. I feel awful for not getting a picture of them. We spent 2 nights there basking in their superabundant hospitality, though never thought to snap a picture with them. So, for all intents and purposes and to give you an idea of the type of wonderful people that Joe and Kim are, this picture will do just fine:
“Stay fit and Have Fun!”
We didn’t do much on the Friday we arrived… We got in to Joe & Kim’s around 9:30 Friday night, and we were desperate to get to sleep. Worst. Houseguests. Ever. But word had gotten to us that Gabe was coming the next day, so we got to sleep pretty quick.
After a day of touring the city, feeding ourselves silly, and enjoying the fruits of Calgary, we were in for a big treat. Breakout West, a Western Music Showcase for emerging artists, was in Calgary this year. We had figured out our plans, got our wristbands, and got ready to spend a night out in Calgary.
It was a night to remember from the start – we went to The Legion downtown to check out a great Femme duo called Jocelyn & Lisa. Immediately we picked up a new friend – a doctor from Cochrane, AB named Sandy. Sandy was sitting alone near the back but invited us to sit with him, and so we did. It happened to be the best decision of the evening. Throughout the rest of the night our group only grew larger as we all walked on top of the world.
Jocelyn & Lisa were a captivating duo filled with sultry stories about everything from painful heartbreak to breakaway freedom. Their sound grabbed us all by the collar and pulled us closer, so close that we hardly noticed when a perturbed gentleman behind us complained about a spilled beer, trying to start something with Gabe. But we were on cloud nine – with the music and friends, so Gabe quickly turned the situation around and bought him a new beer. It was moments after Jocelyn & Lisa finished playing that we decided to make for another bar to catch Daniel Wesley and Cowpuncher.
We walked down to The Palomino and open the doors to a packed bar. With a bison head mounted on the wall nearby that famous print of Johnny Cash flipping the bird to the viewer, I could tell this was my kind of bar. The four of us tried to find seating, but no luck, so we posted up by the bathroom. (Yeah, we were THOSE people.)
Daniel Wesley, a hybrid solo artist was midway through his set when we walked in. He was crooning through his stoner-surfer hit ‘Ooo Ohh’ when I realized I recognized his voice. He had the whole place singing along with him for a ton of the songs. Definitely a major blip on my New Music Radar… But he’s not new. He’s been releasing almost an album a year since 2006, working with well-known musicians and producers across the country.
Next up at The Palomino was Cowpuncher, a killer party-bluegrass outfit out of Alberta. I heard about these guys from my buddy Duane who smoked with them outside a gig in Kelowna. These guys are insane. Their sound belted across The Palomino as fists pumped and (more) beer spilled. It’s the kind of rowdy, upbeat outlaw sound I expected. Here is one of their lower-key tunes, Bridesmaids.
This is when we met the 5th member of our party – Amy, a culinary student going to school in Calgary. She was outside The Palomino on her own when Kasey and I invited her to join our rowdy crew. We pulled her inside to catch the last couple songs from Cowpuncher before we darted to The Republik for a special final band. By this point our fivesome had grown into a sevensome, (And I’m sorry ladies, I can’t remember your names!) and we were charged with so much energy it was obnoxious.
If I recall correctly, I was the only one of us that had heard of these guys – and I was so excited to show everyone this bombastic, explosive act.
Five Alarm Funk is a phenomena from another planet. With 12 pieces, their sound is simply put – Massive. Electric guitars, multiple drum kits, a metric tonne of horns, and a maniacal front man leading the charge, this band could lead an army of party-funksters against the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and I think they’d win. The audience was pulsing with energy, transfixed and hypnotized, and by the time the band cranked out the funk-metal epic Iron Pegasus, hoarse. It was primal. It was Latin. It was fearsome. At times it was elegant. All of the time it was raw, unbridled energy. It was musicianship at it’s best. This band is a must-see act if you are a human being.
Well, the night was over… We had to go our separate ways. Sandy, the catalyst to our party-funk night, had to head back to Cochrane, and our new friend Amy had to go back to her place. Kasey, Gabe and I were exhausted, but glad to be part of such an explosive night. 4 world-class acts in a town neither Kasey or I had ever spent any time in.
After such a great time in Calgary, the rest of Canada has a tough act to follow. With such great hospitality, friendship, and music, we didn’t want to leave.
But next up, it was a thorough car wash for Clementine, then it was off to Drumheller and eventually to Ontario!