The Vinyl Cafe Christmas Show – a review

Posted by Richard

My daughter gave me an early Christmas present this year. And what a gift it was. She and I braved the first big Calgary snowstorm of the year to trudge to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Centre for the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert with Stuart McLean.
If you’re not familiar with Stuart McLean you owe it to yourself to fix that as soon as possible. He is sometimes described as the Canadian Garrison Keillor and the comparison is quite natural. They are both superb storytellers who make old-time style radio their main medium. But Mr. McLean is no mere imitator. His stories usually revolve around a character named Dave who owns the Vinyl Cafe, a record store (Motto: “We may not be big, but we’re small”), his wife Morley and their children, Stephanie and Sam. Perhaps the best place to start enjoying McLean is to listen to two of his classic Christmas stories – Dave Cooks the Turkey and Let It Snow. [check for more podcasts here].

The show was scheduled to start at 8pm at which time Stuart McLean walked on stage to tell us that the beginning of the show would be delayed by 10 or 15 minutes to allow people to get there through the storm. “Right now,” he said to much knowing laughter “there are couples having a bad time trying to get here. There’s a guy hearing his wife say ‘I told you we should have left early!’ Let’s give that guy a break, shall we?” This set the tone for the rest of the evening. Stuart is nothing if not kind and thoughtful of the needs of others, particularly guys who, like his character Dave, mean well but often mess up. This was a welcome respite from the harshness of the weather and traffic outside, not to mention the harshness of the malls which I’d endured earlier in the day. So the show would be delayed but we didn’t have to sit around and wait. We got a bonus as Stuart stayed on-stage for some Q&A, answering questions about his literary influences, his characters, and some of the stories in particular. It was a great time of give and take with the audience. Though the venue is quite large he made it seem small by taking questions even from the balconies. His gifts as a host and people-person were apparent. Whenever a couple entered the theatre he greeted them with “Welcome. We were just waiting for you!”

Then the show began for real. The Vinyl Cafe orchestra were in fine form and the musical guests were superb. Stuart likes to showcase little known but excellent Canadian talent on his show. This year it was Jill Barber and Matthew Andersen, both recent East Coast Music Awards recipients. The sultry voiced Ms. Barber sang Chances and Mr. Andersen sang So Gone Now. Both also gave us terrific renditions of standard Christmas Carols, with Matt provoking a standing ovation with his heartfelt O Holy Night. The sanding ovation did not surprise me. It was the audience’s way to acknowledge Mr. Andersen’s wonderful performance but also, I think, to say “Yes! This is what Christmas is about. The ‘holy night’, the ‘stars brightly shining’, the ‘dear Saviour’s birth’ and ‘the soul fe[eling] it’s worth’. This is what we love about Christmas. Thanks for reminding us.” There is something about gospel-truth proclaimed in a non-preachy way that is very powerful.

Stuart regaled us with two wonderful Dave and Morley stories and one Stephanie story that made me so glad for the priceless gift of literacy. He also had a personal story about his first Christmas away from home (his family traveled across Canada to surprise him on Christmas eve). He show ended, all too soon, with a singalong of Sleigh Ride.

It was a wonderful evening for a proud dad and his university senior daughter to share. There is so much in this world that is harsh and cynical. We walked out into the snowy Calgary night glad for the reminder that there is also plenty of kindness, gladness and laughter to be enjoyed in this world. In the words of my daughter’s favourite Christmas carol:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Thanks, Mr. McLean and co. for reminding us of that. And thanks, E. for a wonderful Christmas gift.

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~ by Michael on December 14, 2009.

One Response to “The Vinyl Cafe Christmas Show – a review”

  1. Stuart puts on a great show, both on the radio and before live audiences. His stories of Dave and Morely reassure us of life’s positive values and he tells us that if Morely and Dave can survive some of Dave’s bizarre life experiences, anyone can make it through their life journey.

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