An evening with Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Tour has been a GeoKs’ family tradition ever since our youngest son was able to sit quietly through an hour of storytelling and music. Every summer, we eagerly await the email announcing the tour dates and the follow-up email with the password for advance ticket sales. At least once each fall, we wonder which classic Dave and Morley story we’ll hear live and what new stories we’ll be privileged to hear before they are broadcast on CBC. And the first Thursday of December we settle into “our” seats in the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium to enjoy an uplifting, heart-warming show.
With our oldest son away at university, our anticipation of this year’s show was tempered by wistfulness. In all likelihood, that sense of melancholy predisposed us to come away slightly disappointed. Or maybe, after 20 years, Stuart McLean is finding it a little harder to come up with great new Dave and Morley stories. Perhaps it was that while we found the harmonious blend from Chic Gamine polished and smooth, they lacked the energy that past musical guests (such as Matt Andersen, Danny Michel and Hawksley Workman) brought to the show. Or it could be the lacklustre stage decor, which included a sadly plain, artificial tree plunked down on each side of the stage in a (failed) attempt to downplay the giant speakers. Whatever the reason, we simply didn’t enjoy this year’s Vinyl Cafe Christmas show as much the past several years.
That being said, Stuart McLean’s is an amazing narrator! While our sons are now too old for bedtime stories, I think that had we discovered the Vinyl Cafe when they were toddlers, I might have occasionally skipped out on the nightly ritual of reading aloud and instead fired up a Vinyl Cafe CD and allowed Stuart’s voice to lull them to sleep.
Long-time fans and first time listeners laughed together throughout the first of three Dave and Morley stories. We first heard “Christmas at The Turlingtons” on Stuart McLean’s A Christmas Collection, released in 2005 and available for download at Zunior (along with other Christmas classics, like “Dave Cooks the Turkey” and “On the Roof”). Before the break for intermission, Stuart told a brand new Dave and Morley story involving Dave’s friend Kenny and a sensory deprivation tank. Dave and Morley’s daughter, Stephanie, played a major role in second new story. Set at Christmas time, I suspect this one will be broadcast on the Vinyl Cafe between now and the end of the year.
On the musical front, Chic Gamine harmonized beautifully on a few Christmas songs. My favourite number was “Shake Off Your Worries” which you can enjoy on YouTube. Talented composer and pianist John Sheard played a medley of carols from his “A Festival of Carols” album. And he and Stuart teamed up to perform original lyrics (mainly political commentary and satire and all quite funny) to a traditional tune. To close the show, Stuart invited/cajoled/chided the audience to join in singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.
As usual, the show let out right around 10 o’clock. We hustled along the slippery sidewalk to the distant parkade (our penalty for arriving just half an hour before show time) and we moved quickly enough that we beat the traffic jam. During the short drive home, we chatted about the show. And while we couldn’t reach concensus on our most/least favourite parts of the show, we were in full agreement on one thing: Stuart McLean’s is a master storyteller and we’ll be back in “our” seats next December to enjoy another episode of the Vinyl Cafe Christmas show.