Nadia Elkharadly: Canadian Cowgirl

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled programming!  Thanks so much to Emer for covering for me in my absence last week.  For you see, I was busy stampeding.  Yes boys and girls, this little Egyptian Canadian girl was at The Calgary Stampede. 

I’ve been to Calgary before.  Having worked four years now for a Calgary based company, at least one trip to Canada’s texas was sure to be in order, and it happened fairly early on in my tenure here.  Suffice it to say, I was unimpressed with the new financial capital of Canada.  Downtown was small, and the streets were dead by 6pm.  Not much was available to entertain a die hard city girl like me.  So when my lovely friend Shevaughn came up with the idea that a bunch of us head out west and stampede it up for an early celebration of her birthday, I was down for the adventure but not about to get my hopes up for a rollicking good time.  Boy, was I ever in for a surprise.

Stampede is a pretty big deal in Calgary; so much so that sometimes, the communications infrastructure spontaneously combusts with the intensity of it all.  I had been given a few hints and pointers as to what to expect by my bosses and coworkers here: what to wear, where to go, what’s hot, what’s not.  But nothing could truly prepare me for the extravaganza that is the Calgary stampede.  Unfortunately my surprise had to be delayed by work:  I spent my Friday chained to my desk while my blondtourage got their day drunk on.

(I should probably explain what a blondetourage is; well, it’s a group of blondes that hang together, occasionally accompanied by me.  Blonde + entourage = blondetourage.)

When I was finally released from my paperwork prison, I dashed to the airport as fast as I could.  One flight later, and I was finally in Calgary.  From the moment I stepped off the plane I could tell that this was a different Calgary than the one I’d arrived in 4 years ago.  The airport was buzzing with people, nearly all of them decked out in full stampede “duds” as they’re called.  They were smiling, shouting, and vibrating with excitement and I needed to be apart of it.  The buzzing, ringing and beeping of my phone indicated that the party had clearly started without me.  Flagging down a cab, I managed to make it from tarmac to tent, made up and dressed in duds of my own, in 45 mins flat.  Not too shabby!

(Pictured: My blondetourage and our cowboy tour guide)

Yes you read that right.  This party was in a tent; a massive white tent, pitched in the middle of Calgary’s financial district.  The official name of the location was the Wildhorse Saloon. There were bales of hay, statues of cows and bulls, and people in hats, boots and checked shirts everywhere.  And the lineup was massive.  People waited hours to get into these places during stampede.  Luckily, my blondetourage was connected, and I was ushered in ahead of the crowd, though not exempted from the $25 cover that was apparently the universal cost of fun in Calgary that weekend.  Once I got in, I was mesmerized.  The place was huge, and chock full of cowboys and cowgirls.  The soundtrack was pure country music, and I was in heaven.  I finally saw what all the fuss was about, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride.

Calgarians sure know how to throw a party.  And cowboys know how to treat a lady.  Us city girls were smitten; we had our hands kissed, hats taken off and “howdy ma’ams” coming at us from every direction.  Any man not dressed as a cowboy was either invisible or dead to us.  We could talk to guys in loafers and striped shirts at home; this was stampede, it was cowboys or bust.  I’m still at a loss as to why this cowboy culture exists in the middle of Canada, but that night I didn’t care one bit.  All I knew was cowboys liked their beer and whiskey, they liked their hats and boots, and they liked their DANCING.  By the end of the night I had been twirled, tossed, lifted and dipped more than a martini shaker (or at least that’s how the mostly vodka contents of my stomach felt).  It was exhilarating.  I laughed, I sang, I doh-see-doh’d, I did it all.  And that was only the first night.

You can’t go to the Calgary stampede without checking out the rodeo from the grandstand.  I’m not going to get into the animal rights aspect of it, though I am an animal lover.  I knew it was a traditional part of stampede, and as such my friends and I were determined to check it out.  Thankfully, I did not witness the tragedy that took place a few days ago; my rodeo experience was scary in parts but extremely tame by comparison.  The highlights were the barrel races (blondetourage member Ashley was a barrel racer back in the day which made the event more personal), and the wild pony races.  Don’t know what a wild pony race is?  Well, take two of the cutest things in the world:  little kids dressed in cowboy gear, and adorable little wild ponies.  Then, throw three kids and one pony into the arena, and watch the hilarity ensue.  The goal is to wrangle a pony and get one kid to ride it for as long as possible.  Teeny tiny cowboy sized fun, topped off with a midget cowboy on his own pony herding the exhausted wild ones back to their pens.  The bull taunting rodeo clown getting knocked about in a metal barrel by one particularly angry specimen, I could have done without.

The fun never stops at stampede; we went straight from the rodeo to another party in another tent, this time at Calgary’s famous Cowboys.  Closed a few years ago, the quintessential stampede bar reopened to celebrate the stampede’s centenary, and everyone wanted in on the party.  Another lineup, another dose of blondetourage magic lineup avoidance later, we were in yet another party in yet another tent.

One thing I didn’t expect about Stampede was the musical aspect.  Being me, and loving music as I do, it was fate that even when I’m on vacation from all of my jobs, that somehow music, especially live music, would somehow find its way into my life again.  White at Cowboys that afternoon, blondetourage member Aleks Jassem ran into a friend from Toronto, who happened to be with a music lovin’ cowboy.  A few Red Bull/vodkas and musical trivia chatting minutes later, Aleks and I were invited to check out the music scene over on the Stampede grounds, as every night at the main stage there were a number of musical guests lined up to entertain the rodeo going crowd.  The headliners that night? AWOLnation.  The Californians were understandably confused, yet amused, by the cowboy craziness surrounding them, and were very nice and easy to talk to.  They were also incredibly patient with my inevitable music journalist interview type questions (it just happens, ok?).

Probably one of my favourite, and oddest stampede moments was hanging out with the Awol crew backstage, drinking beers and showing keyboardist Kenny Carkeet a new yoga move to incorporate into his preshow ritual.  All while wearing a cowboy hat, boots and daisy dukes.  Leaving the boys to finish up, we ventured to the side stage to take in the set.  AWOLnation put on a great show.  Having only heard their singles “Sail” and “Not your fault” I didn’t really know what to expect from their performance.  The loud, alternately heavy, poppy, bluesy tunes that followed have made me a fan for life.  Their energy was fantastic, their live sound was even better than recorded.  I was particularly impressed by bass player David Amezcua’s skill; the dude plays killer bass, and I may have tweeted that I want him to be my teacher.

After the show was the after party…or really returning to the party.  I’m not going to lie, it was kind of a blur.  Cowboys did not live up to the standard set up by Wildhorse the night before.  There were fewer cowboys and the music was more club than country, but the me and my blondes still made the most of it.  There was more drinking, more dancing, and more silly escapades in cowboy regalia.

I have to say, this weekend was a hell of a lot of fun, probably the most fun I’ve had in ages, and I’ve been to Las Vegas 5 times.  In my opinion, Stampede blew Vegas out of the water.  I loved the casual cowboy attitude, playing dress up, the rodeo, the music, all of it.  The fact that it takes place in Canada makes it all the easier and more enjoyable.  That’s right, I’m a Stampede addict, and I hope to be for the rest of my life.  Yeehaw!

Until next time,

Xo

N

Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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