CALGARY — The 100th annual Calgary Stampede just might live up to the hype. The Stampede kicked off its 100-day countdown on Thursday afternoon at Olympic Plaza with a sample of what’s to come. One great thing the 700,000-plus attendees can expect in July is plenty of fireworks — for six of the 10 nights of the festival, the skies above the city will light up with synchronized pyrotechnics around town. That’s on top of the nightly fireworks displays that culminate the Grandstand Shows at the event dubbed the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
“This is the year of Calgary,” declared Naheed Nenshi, the extraordinarily popular mayor who addressed a fawning crowd of 5,000 people decked in white hats and western gear in the city’s main public gathering place. Nenshi, a Muslim who has broken through all kinds of barriers, donned a cowboy hat himself and had fun with the moment in his affable style that made him electable. “The Stampede is for everybody,” he said, adding that Calgarians would show the world why their huge festival is such a phenomenon.
As the centennial celebration draws near, Calgary appears on the verge of a massive PR success. Morning talk-show host Kelly Ripa will be in town soon to bring attention to the Stampede’s 100th anniversary to her millions of fans. Earlier in the year, CNN named Calgary as one of the top places to travel in the world this year, and Vacay.ca hailed the 100th Stampede as the No. 1 destination in the country for 2012.
“When I was growing up in British Columbia, I thought the Stampede was the place to be. It’s where everyone came or thought about coming,” said Ian Tyson, who was introduced as the Calgary Stampede parade’s grand marshall. Tyson, a member of the Order of Canada, is an acclaimed singer-songwriter whose song “Four Strong Winds” is considered the unofficial anthem of Alberta.
Vegas-style Entertainment: Country music star Paul Brandt gave fans a glimpse of what to expect from July 6-15, when he will headline the Grandstand Show every night of the Stampede. Brandt sang three songs, including his breakout hit “Alberta Bound,” at the kickoff celebrations. During the Stampede he will be joined by the Young Canadians, a sexy and energetic dance troupe that wouldn’t look out of place in Sin City. They revved up the crowd on Thursday, too, with a fun and risque dance number.
Free Breakfast: For the 10 days of the Stampede, breakfast is free. Chuckwagons traditionally line up and serve pancakes (er, flapjacks) to the hundreds of thousands who come out each year. During these times, when so many major festivals gouge visitors on food costs, it’s a shock to find anything for free — let alone homemade breakfast. The complimentary pancakes are such a staple of the Stampede, in fact, that people here seem to take it for granted.
“It’s a great way to get over a long night out and get going again,” said an attendee on Thursday named Gil.