On December 5, Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe rolled into Calgary for Day 17 of their 2013 Christmas Tour. Because of the blizzard earlier in the week, our drive to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium took a little longer than usual. But we allowed plenty of time and arrived just in time to be the first ones in the theatre when the doors opened at 7 o’clock. That meant we had ample time to admire the set and lighting, conceived to resemble an enormous, old-fashioned Christmas card. The house lights went down at 7:30 as scheduled, despite some empty seats (that filled up as Stuart came on stage, greeted the audience and launched into the first of three Dave & Morley stories).
Morley’s Christmas Pageant takes place when Sam and Stephanie are in elementary school, and first aired in the early years of the Vinyl Cafe. The story can be heard on disc one of Stuart McLean – The Vinyl Cafe On Tour, a two disc set that came out in 1999 and is available for purchase and digital download here. Near the end of the story, when Stuart said, “School was closed on Friday,” a baby cried out in the audience. He didn’t miss a beat, quipping, “Oh don’t worry…it was open again on Monday.”
As the applause wound down at the end of the story, Stuart noticed a gift on the edge of the stage. He picked it up, opened it and discovered it was filled with homemade Christmas tarts. We couldn’t tell for sure whether he tasted one, but that brightly wrapped gift left on the edge of the stage managed to disrupt his usually faultless delivery, and he fumbled a bit when introducing this year’s musical talent, Canadian singer/songwriters The Good Lovelies. Singing together since 2006, the group has recorded 5 CDs and are recipients of a Juno Award and three Canadian Folk Music Awards. Their first song of the evening was Hurry Home, a wonderful track from their Christmas CD titled Under the Mistletoe.
After just one song from The Good Lovelies, Stuart launched into a brand new Dave & Morley story. The story arc covered more than a year, and I was particularly entranced by one descriptive passage that went something like “the bone white moon of winter, when the stars seem to double in number”. So as to avoid spoiling the surprise for those of you looking forward to attending the 2013 Christmas Tour in person or listening to the show on the radio later this month, I’ll simply add that when Dave is in on-going proximity to a defibrillator, there’s considerable potential for both mishap and humour!
When Stuart called The Good Lovelies back out, they sang Santa Baby, also from their Under the Mistletoe CD. If you haven’t heard much from The Good Lovelies before, they recently posted their video for Maybe This Time (from the same album) on YouTube.
Stuart introduced the talented musicians providing background music and sound effects throughout the evening: John Sheard, pianist and composer and Dennis Pendrith, veteran bassist. And then, before breaking for intermission, he ran the traditional giveaway of CDs and books, with the able assistance of Grace and Sophia who volunteered from the audience.
We were surprised and touched when Stuart opened the second half of the show with a brief tribute to Nelson Mandela. John Sheard followed with a beautiful performance of O Holy Night, providing members of the audience with inspirational accompaniment for a few moments of reflection and prayer.
The third and final Dave & Morley story was all about the annual neighbourhood Christmas party. Don’t worry – no spoilers here…I’ll only say that the traditional neighbourhood party included a few surprise elements this time around!
To bring the evening to a close, The Good Lovelies performed a beautiful cover of Winter Song by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson and then led the audience in a sing-along version of Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland. Since this song is part of the Christmas program for the community choir I sing with, I knew all the words. I’d say that most of the younger members of the audience didn’t know any of the words at the start of the sing-along, but they’re quick learners and joined in for the very last line.
Perhaps Stuart was inspired by the prolonged standing ovation, or maybe he’d been thinking of surprising us all along, but when the applause finally faded away, he turned to John Sheard and asked something like “Do you think we should?” and then he and John performed (debuted?) an original song – a political satire that ranged from “St. Stephen” and the senate scandal, to Rob Ford, to Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. Too bad I follow the house rules when a theatre says something like “no flash photography, video or audio recordings”. On the way home, our youngest wished for an mp3 copy of the clever tune, to play anytime he needs a good laugh!
Apologies for the poor quality of the photos in this post. An iPhone 3GS isn’t the best choice for concert photography. Note to self…bring a point & shoot next year!
And for those who want to know how long the 2013 Christmas Tour show runs, we were on our way home a few minutes after 10 o’clock, so the show ran about 2 hrs 30 minutes including intermission and the extra song at the end.
Finally, if you haven’t yet discovered Stuart McLean and the quirky, small town stories of the Vinyl Cafe, there are several options for your listening pleasure.