It’s amazing how many people are willing to pay good money to watch a radio show; a show that you will hear for free in a little while. Yet, that’s exactly what more than 2,000 people did last Tuesday and Wednesday (April 24 and 25) at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.
Two sold-out audiences forked over $39.50 per seat for the privilege of watching Stuart McLean (right, Ben Flock photo) record live episodes of The Vinyl Café radio program for national broadcast.
And I can understand why. The Vinyl Café is one of my favorite national CBC radio productions, and it does the heart good to learn that I am not alone; to witness hundreds of people united by their devotion to Stuart McLean, a national treasure, a great storyteller and a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
The Vinyl Café also features live musical guests, and good ones at that. Special guests this time around were Ron Hynes, the Great Big 3, Rhonda O’Keefe Arsenault and Hey Rosetta! Ron Hynes was great as usual – his version of The St. John’s Waltz was the perfect encore to McLean’s opening monologue, which sought to capture the essence of our fair city (as McLean does for the host cities wherever he performs). The Great Big 3 were a trio of folk-singing women from New Brunswick, with a name apparently inspired by their physical size and large voices. I also enjoyed the solo vocal from Rhonda O’Keefe Arsenault (her and McLean go way back). The most riveting performances, however, came from Hey Rosetta! This alternative group, fronted by the charismatic and gifted Tim Baker, is destined for greatness, if they just keep on doing that thing they do.
Four of the show’s biggest stars do not exist in real life. They are the characters who populate McLean’s weekly stories, which revolve around Dave, owner of the World’s Smallest Record Store, his wife Morley and children Stephanie and Sam. While I do enjoy McLean’s opening monologues, they are a little predictable in their celebration of all things ‘local’. Yes, it’s the Dave and Morley stories that I like the most. Most often, they are side-splittingly funny, though they can be poignant on occasion too.
McLean read two new stories for this show which were a bit of a disappointment. One involved Stephanie’s experience working as a waitress; the other a strange disease that afflicts Sam, turning his skin green. They were okay, but not in the ‘classic’ category.
Two full programs – each about an hour long – were recorded live on both nights, with an intermission to break things up. (If you attended one night and are wondering what you missed on the other, you didn’t – the same shows were performed twice, giving the editors at least two takes to choose from when putting it all together.)
The first of the two locally recorded programs airs this coming Saturday and Sunday (May 5 and 6) and again on Thursday (May 10) in a new time slot. The second program will air May 26, 27 and June 1.
However, you will not see the funniest parts of the show, which were the occasional moments when McLean flubbed his lines whilst reading his stories and monologues. He was not afraid to milk a mistake for a laugh, occasionally stumbling over the same word to the point that the audience applauded when he finally got it right, thus ruining a good take – and making him crack up even more.
These were the moments that made the evening memorable for me. You won’t hear them on the radio, so I encourage you to get a ticket to the live show, the next time it comes to town (don’t hesitate – they sell out quickly).
For more on Vinyl Café, visit the official web site.