Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe play to a packed house

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Photo: Cassandra Kerwin

Lynn Miles on guitar, Dennis Pendrith on double bass, John Sheard on piano and Stuart McLean singing the Drifters' song, "Save The Last Dance For Me."

Popular CBC Radio raconteur Stuart McLean and his show the Vinyl Cafe made a stop at the Capitole de Québec on March 30. Despite the stormy weather, a capacity crowd filled the theatre. As the lights dimmed, a café atmosphere settled in and pianist John Sheard played the opening melody to introduce the show. "Non Magnum Sed Parvi," said Sheard. "We may not be big but we're small!" This is their motto and it set the tone for the performance.

"Last time we were here, it was the month of December," opened McLean. "This time, it is nice to be here in spring!" Everyone laughed, except McLean who hid a smile. "Quebec City is becoming one of my favourite cities," he said, then added what most people were thinking: "‘He must say that everywhere.'" After a few questions to the audience to gauge their familiarity with the show and the way it unfolds, he described his characters Dave and Morley, a couple who run a record store called the Vinyl Cafe. His stories revolve around the couple, their son and daughter, neighbours and friends.

McLean began his story-telling with an audience favourite about Galway, the cat. He soon had everyone laughing as he described how Dave tried to toilet-train the family cat. "This is my favourite story," said Jeanne Chambers, an audience member and a regular listener to the CBC Radio series.

Between stories, McLean introduced Canadian country singer Lynn Miles. During the show, she sang several songs drawn from albums she has recorded over the last few years. "It is such an honour to be on the tour. I love the show!" said Miles. "Stuart mentioned some awards I have won, and I did recently receive a President's Choice Award. I am waiting to receive a plate of spicy chicken wings any day now!" she said, joking about the familiar grocery-store brand. Miles played her hit "On the road" from the album Downpour, backed by Vinyl Cafe regulars John Sheard at the keyboard and Dennis Pendrith on the double bass.

Among his own stories McLean included one submitted by Beth Barn, a listener from Toronto. Stories written by listeners feature regularly in a segment he includes on his radio show - "The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange." He explained, "‘Story exchange' is about you. You send us your story. It has to be short. It has to be true." The stories are often funny and touching, and very well written.

Sheard played selections from recent CDs he has released. He included a wonderful medley he composed using over 30 movie themes integrated into a four-minute piece. Introducing it, McLean said, "A couple of years ago, we did an entire show on the movies. It included John's following piece: ‘Movie night in Vinylland'."

The show ended with McLean leading the audience in song, a ‘60s hit by The Drifters, "Save the Last Dance For Me." McLean explained how that song was the reason he and Sheard got together to create the Vinyl Cafe in the spring of 1994. "As I was walking about town, I heard music from a bar. I walked in to see John playing the piano, with no one listening," said McLean. "He was playing this song, ‘Save the Last Dance.' He asked the entire room to sing, saying what have you got to lose? I was the only one who sang. We joined our acts and never looked back." He said, "We thought about stopping at Year 15," said McLean. "This is Year 20 and we are still having just as much fun!"

Sheard spoke with the QCT after the show. "It was an unusual and relaxing experience to play here because everyone was sitting comfortably with their drink. It's my second time performing in Quebec City, the first with the Vinyl Cafe." The tour visits many Canadian cities over six months, he said, and then he and his fellow performers return to song-writing and performing with other artists.

The Vinyl Cafe at the Capitole met the high expectations of anyone familiar with the radio show. Jess Milton, the producer, said, "From our point of view, it is like sitting among family in a living room, telling each other stories and playing music." William Ross, a local fan at his first show said, "I've read the books and listened to the podcasts. It is better live." Montrealer Sarah Lewis said, "Sitting here this afternoon brought back memories of road trips I made across Canada with my father. We listened to CBC Radio. The Vinyl Cafe captured our attention."