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Review: Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show

The best way to describe this year’s Calgary Stampede’s Grandstand Show is… fusion.

The show, Trailblazer, pays homage to those who push the boundaries and in many ways this show does just that. It fuses the history of past travelling western shows and circuses and catapults it into the 21st Century in both the imagery and musical arrangements.

Initially, we thought we’d put together a traditional review-style piece you’ve seen a thousand times (and grew tired of). Then I thought you might struggle to get through all of that. Instead, I’m going to just point out what I liked and didn’t like (as much), to help you make a decision on whether or not the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show is something you want to see.

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Buuuuttt… You’ll have to read (or scroll) to the end to see what I thought was the top act of the night.

Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show: Hot!

  • First off, the Polyjesters are a great Carstairs, Alta quartet that literally embody the fusion theme. They’re Twitter description says they’re a “genre confused group of musicians.” It’s true. But it really works. These guys are a great warm up and house band for the night, blending folk, bluegrass, swing and rock for some spectacular sounds.
  • Onalea Gilbertson – The Calgary actress has a personality that explodes off the stage and her singing voice is rich and powerful. Fun fact: Gilbertson’s first stage appearance was with the Young Canadians as a 14-year-old. She’s the ringmaster that guides the crowd through this year’s entire show.
  • The large ensemble numbers were especially good. The choreography, costuming and the singing were spot on. That’s one thing the 132 Young Canadians do so well, with their countless hours of rehearsal and practice each year. Bravo!
  • Stage production – Lights, lasers, pyrotechnics – this year’s show had them all. It was pretty amazing to watch.
  • Interactive Grandstand Show – This was cool. The Calgary Stampede’s trying to evolve into a hipper, more connected show and I think they’ve taken strides in the right direction. Along with being able to choose winners in the rodeo and chuckwagon races, people can tap into the show’s use of the Bell Flashpoint on their new app. This feature has your phone’s flash blink along with the beat of the music. It’s neat and was unexpected.
  • Fireworks – I don’t even want to guess how much money was spent here. But it’s a pretty awesome display of firepower. In the last 10 seconds, I think a million little explosions happen.  
MZ Laser (the ball in the middle) led into a spectacular fireworks show to end the night. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Lukewarm for us

We’ll be honest here – ALL of the show has extremely talented people in it. But as you’re sitting in your seat, you want that pleasant surprise – the crane-your-neck-to-see numbers. These ones were… good, but not great.

  • Joseph and Josette Wiggan – This duo had some blazing footwork. To me, it was a good tap routine – I’ve seen a good tap show before. It was a good, lively warm up for the crowd, but the early 20th Century swing remixed with a hard bass dance beat didn’t have me jumping out of my seat.
  • Aerial acrobat Timber Brown – A lot of viewers (especially those who haven’t seen him before) might be wowed by Brown – and they may vehemently disagree with me. It’s a solid act and his strength skills on the modified high bar are second to none. But, I got the feeling I’d seen it before.
  • Desparado – The Onalea Gilbertson rendition of the Eagles hit song was both beautiful and powerful. I questioned, however, why they would have a lengthy ballad that late in the show, when people are at the point where they just want to see fireworks and go home.
  • MZ Laser – This one was just OK. It’s a laser show inside a ball. What dropped it down too was the fact it followed Desparado and was equally slow. It did, however, lead into the fireworks. So, that’s a plus.

The top act of the night

The Malambo Gauchos and their bolas were easily the highlight of this year’s Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Aside from the amazing Polyjesters and their music, the Malambo Gauchos were spectacular. This Argentinian troupe and their bolas (long chains with a ball on the end), whips, drums and spectacular footwork were easily the best act of the night. Chains, sparks, and personality – this was the wow moment of the night that got the most crowd response.

It’s a shame they were sandwiched into the production, when I think they could have easily been the final, climactic act with a natural, explosive lead in to the end-of-show fireworks.

In my mind, these guys are worth the price of admission themselves.

Enjoy your Trailblazer trip at this year’s Calgary Stampede!