With the Calgary Stampede fast approaching, expectations are high for one of the best party seasons the city has seen in nearly a decade, fuelled by sky-high commodity prices and pent up demand linked to the pandemic.
Festivities have been muted over the last few years; the 10-day event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic and attendance far below average last year, with border restrictions still in place.
But many are expecting a joyous, boozy series of celebrations in a few weeks’ time.
When tickets went on sale for the “Best Damn Stampede Party,” about two-thirds of the tickets were snatched up in two days, said organizer Rob Laidlaw, who is expecting a sold-out event.
Because of the pandemic, the usually annual party — held on the Stampede fairgrounds — is returning this year for the first time since 2019.
“It’s off the hook. So many people are clamouring to get tickets,” said Laidlaw, who is also vice-president of Acumen Capital Partners.
“The enthusiasm in the city is just bubbling. You can feel people have had this pent-up desire to get back out and start stampeding.”
Not only is the price of oil hovering around multi-year highs, but the value of natural gas is also the highest in more than a decade. That’s why this year’s parties in Canada’s oil capital could rival those in 2013 and 2014, when oil prices were above $100 US per barrel.
“I mean, there’s a whole other buzz going on in Calgary again that we haven’t seen in about eight years,” said Laidlaw. “I’m thinking it could be one of the best Stampede weeks ever.”
Hay bales, fake-wood fencing and cowboy-themed window murals will soon begin appearing throughout downtown Calgary in preparation for the annual event, which typically draws more than a million guests each year.
It’s not just the oil industry in a celebratory mood this year, but many other sectors who throw parties during Stampede to recognize their staff, schmooze with clients and welcome out-of-town guests.
“In terms of our sales, corporate packages, premium seating and venues, the response is overwhelmingly positive,” said Calgary Stampede spokesperson Kristen Anderson, about the support from corporate Calgary this year.
The city’s hard-hit hospitality sector experienced a boost in business when the Global Energy Show took place earlier this month. But this Stampede season is expected to provide a noticeable financial shot in the arm.
It’s not only for bars and restaurants, but also taxis, hotels and many other businesses, said Deborah Yedlin, president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
“Anecdotally, [I’m] hearing more companies are hosting clients again at a level that they haven’t done before,” she said.
Oil and gas companies are collecting record revenues this year because of unexpectedly high commodity prices. Business activity is also picking up for the many service companies that cater to the oil industry, from welding shops to parts suppliers.
Current commodity prices are an extraordinary change in fortunes for oilpatch compared to 2020, when prices cratered, even briefly turning negative.
“When the economy is not doing well, certainly, Stampede events are not doing well,” said David Howard, president of The Event Group, which hosts concerts and other live events in the city, including dozens linke to Stampede.
He describes Calgary as having a renewed optimism this year, compared to the previous few.
Still, the ongoing labour shortage is limiting the number and the size of events that companies want to host.
“I wish we had the team and the ability and the venues to do more,” said Howard. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to take on new accounts because of staffing.”
Not only are servers, bartenders and security required to host most Stampede parties, but other positions, like sound technicians and decor specialists, are in short supply, he said.
The 10-day Calgary Stampede officially kicks off on July 8, with actor Kevin Costner chosen as this year’s parade marshal.