Canadian artists celebrate a return to performing in front of live audiences at Calgary Stampede

After a year and a half of almost no live music in the city because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's making a comeback in Calgary at the Stampede.

Pandemic put a pause on live music performances across the country

High Valley's Brad and Curtis Rempel are performing Wednesday though Sunday at the Calgary Stampede. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

After a year and a half of almost no live music in the city because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's making a comeback in Calgary at the Stampede.

Performers are flocking to the city and taking the stage for the first time in at least 17 months, and they say it feels good to be back.

A number of acts performing at this year's Calgary Stampede spoke with the hosts of the Calgary Eyeopener and The Homestretch this week about what it feels like to perform again in front of a live audience.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. 


Hometown: Warkworth, Ont. 

Question: You will be playing the stampede in front of real live human beings who are going to want to get up and dance. What's that going to be like?

Sacha: It's going to be interesting. I guess I'm trying to wrap my mind around that I'm not going to be singing to, you know, tailgates and headlights, like at the drive-in shows, and hearing horns for applause. So I'm preparing myself to get back to the real world here.

Q: You released your EP The Best Thing last summer during a pandemic. How did that work out for you? What was that like? 

S: It turned out to be the best thing that I did.… I just decided to pull the trigger, and in this online world, even online shows and online connections took off. And so it just so happened to be the best timing for me to release my EP. And I have to say that there's been quite a few major fortunate outcomes in doing so.

Terri Clark

Hometown: Medicine Hat, Alta.

Q: How happy are you to be up in front of a live audience again? 

Terri: Words cannot describe it. You know, in a way, it just makes me feel like there's no way it's been 18 months. It feels like it's been 18 days. Maybe it's just such a natural feeling for me that it just felt like, you know, when you have these friends that you haven't seen in years and you get together and you feel like you were never apart? It just falls right back into place. That's kind of the description I would give.

Q: Normally, the Grandstand show, you'd look out there and every seat would be packed as far as the eye could see. Not to mention the people standing in front. What's it like this year? 

TC: You know what? I think it's pretty good. And I'm hearing everybody say it's about half capacity of what it normally would be because there's not a lot of tourism that's able to happen here. But we're still getting people from B.C. and Saskatchewan and Alberta.… I would say the middle of the grandstand toward either edge, it's pretty full, and the whole upper tier in the middle. It's just a flanking, the far left and far right, where every seat isn't full. But every night I've been really impressed with the attendance, under the circumstances.

Sam Roberts Band

Hometown: Montreal, Que.

Q: How are you feeling about performing at the Calgary Stampede?

Sam Roberts: To say that we're excited, it would be a huge understatement at this point. We can't wait. It's been such a place of great memories for us over the years.… I couldn't think of a better place to do it.

We played for cars at a movie drive-In theatre last year, so I'm not sure if that counts. I know there were human beings inside the cars, but  right in front of actual living and breathing people in an audience — I think we figured out it was all the way back in October of 2019 that we last performed.

Q: How have you stayed fresh?

SR: I hope it's fresh. We think we are, you know, we tell ourselves we are. But no, we were making a record in that time. So we're definitely still keeping busy making music.… Touring has just been such a fundamental part of our lives. And to not have lived like that for the last while has been strange, to say the least. But I think, you know, the idea of getting back on the road is probably to me, this represents a real return to normal at this point.

High Valley

Hometown: Blumenort, Alta.

Q: How are you feeling about performing at the Calgary Stampede? 

Brad Rempel: I'm feeling pretty great. Our sound check, it's the latest we've ever done in our lives. We were up there until about 2 in the morning. So we definitely slept in and are feeling awesome. Now it's like I've got butterflies even when there is nobody there. So I can't imagine how it'll be when the place is full.

Q: How did you spend the pandemic?

BR: We live south of Nashville by about half an hour or so, out in the country. My wife and I started building this cottage out there on some land and we've been flipping houses. It's been crazy doing stuff to stay busy, but it been a lot of fun.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and The Homestretch.