Calgarians sing the blues as bigger, heavier concerts bypass city

Big name acts are leaving Calgary out their Western Canada tour dates. The city's saddle-shaped concert venue can't support the growing weight of these shows and the elaborate equipment that's strung from the roof.

From Ariana Grande to Drake, to Michael Bublé, more performers skipping Calgary

Several upcoming concerts are scheduled for Edmonton but not Calgary, possibly due to weight restrictions on the Scotiabank Saddledome roof. Clockwise from top left: Pete Townsend, Shawn Mendes, Elton John and Carrie Underwood. (Getty Images/Canadian Press)

It's a song and dance routine you've probably heard before, but in some cases you wouldn't have actually seen it — at least not in Calgary. 

You may have had to make the trek to Edmonton to see some of the more popular singers and musicians perform at Rogers Place, that city's 20,700-seat concert arena.

Four months into 2019 and the list of performers who have skipped or plan to snub Calgary in favour of Edmonton — and gasp, even Saskatoon — is growing.

Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran and Michael Bublé have all recently played Rogers Place, but have all kiboshed a trip to Cowtown. 

You can soon add Shawn Mendes, Carrie Underwood, Ozzy Osbourne, The Who, Elton John and Celine Dion to the list. 

"Nothing's really wrong with Calgary," says Ian Low, one of Canada's top concert promoters.

The Live Nation exec says the biggest hurdle for Calgary continues to be its hockey arena and its saddle-shaped roof. It's simply not strong enough to support the elaborate — and very heavy — speakers, lights, sets and other production elements included in more and more shows. 

"For example, Drake came with an almost 200,000-pound show that would never work in Calgary," he said.

Low, who is the president of the company's central region, says many shows are getting bigger and heavier.

Performers who recently played in Edmonton and skipped Calgary, clockwise from top left: Michael Bublé, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake and Ed Sheeren. (Canadian Press, Getty Images )

Grande, who performed in Edmonton last week, brought 145,000 pounds of gear along with 22 tractor-trailer units.

He says the average "show weight" is somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000 pounds, but some acts are pushing close to 200,000 pounds — that's about 90,000 kilograms. 

Low says the Saddledome roof's maximum weight load is 40,000 pounds, or roughly 18,000 kg, during the winter (to accommodate for snow load) and up to 80,000 pounds during the warmer months after the snow has melted.

Those same restrictions don't exist at concert venues in Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, where crews can easily string up 200,000 pounds of gear.

Other factors

Jim Cressman, a concert promoter with Calgary-based Invictus Entertainment Group, says there are other factors to consider as well.

He says there could be a scheduling conflict between the tour and the Saddledome's availability, there could be another "competing" artist playing in the market at the same time who could cut into a performer's ticket sales — and he points out Edmonton's Rogers Place, which opened in September 2016, is still enjoying a honeymoon phase.

"Of course, the artists themselves are all ramped up about getting an opportunity to play a brand new, state of the art building," Cressman said.

"Those things factor in as it pertains to why markets sometimes get skipped," he added.

Cressman says the Calgary Stampede could also be a factor where some artists commit to a performance during the 10-day event and will therefore skip other opportunities to play in the city.

"It's not like they won't get to the market, they just may not get to it at the same time on this tour," he said.

Relief may be coming

The Calgary city councillor spearheading the yet-to-restart arena negotiations between the city and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation says the concert snub is something he hears about all the time.

"People are tired of driving to Edmonton for concerts," said Jeff Davison.

Davison, who heads up the city's event centre committee, describes it as a financial and cultural loss for Calgary.

"We're the fourth most liveable city in the world ... yet we don't have the ability to bring in global acts. That's a huge concern," he said.

Davison says the city continues to prepare an offer to take to the Flames' owners about a new arena. 

So when could crews break ground and start construction? 

Davison predicts the earliest would be 2021 — followed by at least two years of construction.


Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.