Pinball wizards ready to light it up for first city championships and to support Calgary’s all-ages music scene

It’s apparently a good time to be a wizard again.

Not one of those pasty faced kids with a cape and an owl — the cool ones.

The ones who back in the day would skip school, steal all the quarters from their dad’s change tray and head to the arcade where they’d spend all day among the flashing and blinking lights, ringing and chinging of the bells, putting flippers to balls to bumpers.

Pinball. It’s back, baby.

“There’s a massive resurgence,” says Graham Mackenzie, who truly began getting into it a year ago.

“It’s very tribal. It’s a rabbit hole, once you get into it … There’s a lot of art to it, not just with the creation of machines, but playing the machines and having a feel for the machines — I had no idea, it was a big education for me.”

He continues. “It’s different than video games, there’s something different about it, interacting with the ball and the machine, there’s something there.”

There’s also a league for local pinball enthusiasts, the Stampede City Pinball League, which is headquartered out of the Atlantic Trap and Gill (510 Heritage Drive S.W.), which has a dedicated room for the players with eight to 10 machines always on hand.

That number will more than double this weekend when the very first city championship takes place, the Silverball Rodeo.

“It will be the most pinball machines in one place in Calgary since the death of the arcade era — so maybe 25, 30 years,” Mackenzie says of the two-day event, which is open to anyone.

“They even have old machines, retro and rare machines, and brand new machines, like Game of Thrones, Metallica, Aerosmith — so it runs the whole gamut. You get a real flavour for it.”

Thos who are interested can enter in advance by emailing the Calgary Pinball League at or there will be registration from 11 a.m. to noon on the Saturday, with a $30 entry fee.

Organizers are hoping to cap it at 100, so that everyone gets as many plays as possible on the Saturday, with the tournament, a round robin format, running from about 12:30 until 7 p.m. and the scoring based on points,

“Any skill level, anyone — there can be a four-year-old competing for the city championship,” Mackenzie reiterates, explaining that will there will be men’s champion, women’s champion and youth champion crowned with cash prizes and trophies.

And then on Sunday, the Top 12 finishers will face off for the grand champion title during the day.

“Then as soon as we crown the champion and the finals are over we’re going to launch into live music,” says Mackenzie, who also happens to be the man behind the Major Minor Music Project — an organization that is working to secure this city an all-ages venue, and has been holding fundraising events to make that happen.

Fittingly, both days’ events will be open to all-ages, to participate or just watch, with all of the machines being set to “free play” once the winner is crowned on Sunday and the music kicks off from 4 p.m to midnight — kids, though, do get the boot at 9 p.m.

Some of the 15 bands on tap include local talent Woodhawk, Night Committee and The Static Shift with Edmonton’s Worst Days Down, Regina’s Black Thunder and Vancouver’s Jesse Lebourdais also pitching in for what’s dubbed as Rock ’n’ Roll Pinball.

Tickets for the Sunday are $15 advance and $20 at the door, with the hope being that Mackenzie and the kids he’s trying to turn onto live music and become a part of the city’s music community will be that much closer to their goal thanks to the new crew of pinball wizards.

“I’m alway trying to bring in all of these different groups and communities to get the all-ages music venue,” says Mackenzie, who’s held axe throwing and bowling nights.

“With Major Minor that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to get an independent all-ages venue back. Just getting everyone together … and coming together and meeting together is our whole directive.”

(Photo courtesy: Adam Goodwin.)

The Stampede City Open Pinball Championship takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Atlantic Trap and Gill. Rock ’n’ Roll Pinball takes place Sunday at the same venue, with tickets available by clicking here.