BIG Winter Classic took place during a seasonably sunny day in February, on the lovingly weathered brick patio of the Calgary landmark, the Ship and Anchor Pub. The event was an opportunity for hundreds of Calgarians to come together in the name of great music, great vibes and great people.

BIG is a cultural philanthropy project that a group of individuals started in hopes of showcasing the contemporary scenes around Calgary that juxtapose the “Cowtown” roots for which it we are more commonly known. The group’s inaugural event kicked off in July of 2013, coexisting with the world-renowned Calgary Stampede. Typically, Stampede is catered towards the corporate individuals, from Calgary and beyond, who enjoy country music, cute cowgirls (or cowboys) and don’t mind indulging in numerous alcoholic beverages – or at least don’t mind being around a lot of people who have. Although BIG has nothing against drinking, the founders were frustrated by the underexposure of the various scenes in Calgary, which exemplify how creatively conscious our city is. It was this underrepresented niche of artists, and their audience, which inspired BIG and provided the vision and wherewithal to create such an event.

On the heels of a successful 2013, BIG set out to organize a mid-winter, outdoor festival that showcased some of the best local talent Calgary has to offer. During the first portion of the event, an outdoor stage was set up on one side of the Ship patio. It was big enough to fit 100 people, at the most, but there was plenty of room on the sidewalk for the countless curious folk walking down 17th Avenue to catch a glimpse of the event.

The Hockey Fight, a local band that sports old school hockey jerseys and bloody, bruised make-up, kicked off the day. With their early 2000s punk rock vibe and exclusively hockey-related lyrics, they pumped up the crowd like true pros and got everyone in the mood to party in -10 C weather.

Distance Bullock followed, a one-man act who enchants audiences with his guitar and electronic vocal recorder, successfully employing the musical styling and emotional draw for which artists like Bon Iver have forged a path. The Soft Option then rocked the patio with their post-punk, fronted by the enticing Chris Zajko, who dances and engages an audience like Mick Jagger. Next, the Cowtown Opera featured two incredibly talented, unassuming women belting out angelic opera sounds, stunning the crowd and demonstrating how truly beautiful a singing voice can be. SAVK, who have been making a name for themselves with their captivating indie rock, wrapped up the outdoor portion of the festival. By the time SAVK finished their outstanding set at 6 p.m., the crowd was cold but the energy was still electrifying.

The second part of BIG Winter Classic took place inside the Ship, a bar that is as warm and inviting as the dark, booze-filled cabin of a ship travelling on calm waters. Jung People kicked off the show, playing their exclusively instrumental post-rock songs, which thread together the sounds of a guitar, a drum set, a cello and a violin. They instantly held the crowd’s attention in the way that Sigur Rós might. Next, the Ex-Boyfriends amped up the energy with their intense rock and roll tunes. Their energetic lead singer, Djewel Davidson, performed with such fury that his pants fell down as he jumped around on stage – if that’s not truly rock and roll, then what is? And just when we thought the crowd couldn’t rock out any harder, the Mandates crushed and had the entire crowd dancing with reckless abandon. Eamon McGrath wrapped up the night by keeping the energy high and the invigorating rock and roll pumping.

BIG’s first annual Winter Classic was a smashing success from the perspective of everyone involved. One aspect that resonated throughout all of my conversations with the bands was their appreciation and respect for Calgary’s music scene, which is not only richly diverse, but also outrageously supportive to aspiring musicians. The venues, the bands and the fans just want to see great art being showcased and admired for what it is. Events like the Winter Classic are integral to Calgary and the underrepresented creative culture that is flourishing in its own backyard.

By Kayla Beattie
Photos by Sebastian Buzzalino

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