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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Why the Vinyl Cafe is very Canadian

A week ago Thursday, I went to see The Vinyl Cafe live at our auditorium. But because I've been busy doing other things--i.e., homework--I haven't bothered blogging about it until now.

I love The Vinyl Cafe, and nothing beats going to see it live. I went the last time the show was in Thunder Bay, two years ago, and I'll go when it comes back in two years. Until then, I'll continue listening to the show in podcast form and nurse my lovely swag, which this year consists of Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe and the Planet Boy CD, both of which I got signed by Stuart!

The musical guests accompanying The Vinyl Cafe were The Good Lovelies. I love how The Vinyl Cafe gives play to Canadian artists, especially new or relatively unknown artists--I've some songs I really like from listening to the show.

Why do I so love The Vinyl Cafe? We often define Canadian identity by negation (for example, Canadians are "not American"). Yet if I had to name something quintessentially Canadian, I would choose The Vinyl Cafe. Say what you will about what sort of programming the CBC is producing these days: the seats in that auditorium were packed on March 19, filled with people old and young.

As Stuart likes to do at these shows, he picked out the youngest and oldest people in the audience and gave them some prizes. Morgan, a 12-year-old girl, was not the youngest, but Stuart invited her on stage to showcase the prizes (albums from The Vinyl Cafe and associated musical acts). Upon learning that Morgan plays the piano, Stuart invited her to play something for us--and she did.

The oldest people in the audience were 93 and 95 years old (Stuart ended up giving them both prizes--he tends to be generous that way). The youngest person in the audience was an absolutely forthright and precocious 7-year-old named Connor. He was sitting in the balcony, and when Stuart had identified him as the youngest and asked, "How should I get your prize to you?" Connor's response was, "Can I come down there?" Only it was in the loud, auditorium-quality voice only a 7-year-old has. So Connor came down on stage and did some very interesting dance moves. After Stuart presented a cake to one of the musicians, because it was her birthday, Connor also asked for a piece of cake, as 7-year-olds on stage are wont to do. Schenanigans such as these prompted Stuart, upon returning from intermission, to joke that they were "losing control of the show . . . we'll look back and say, 'Remember that time in Thunder Bay when we lost control of the show?'"

But as he went on to explain, that tended to happen whenever The Vinyl Cafe performed live. The shows always "teeter" on the brink of losing control. Stuart always gets the audience involved with everything, turning his performance into dialogue rather than monologue--frequently commenting, for example, when we laugh in anticipation of something about to happen in a Dave and Morley story. We tend to get ahead of him.

The Vinyl Cafe is all about story, not just as a form of entertainment but as a way of bringing people together. The audience that night, listening to Stuart's stories, to the musical performances, and to the forward requests of 7-year-olds, couldn't help but feel more intimate with each other. And in that sort of atmosphere, we can relax, and then we can laugh at ourselves and at each other. We laugh at Dave and Morley because we do the same things, get in the same sort of situations, and so we're laughing at ourselves. The same goes for the stories Stuart shares from other listeners through the Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange segments. Through music and story, The Vinyl Cafe lets friends and strangers alike share a common experience.

Thus, The Vinyl Cafe is quintessentially Canadian because it captures that quixotic Canadian oxymoron of self-deprecating pride in our country. By sharing stories, and sharing our stories, Stuart and his crew let us make fun of each other and of ourselves, even as we take pride in the things closest to us, like small towns, cherished shops, talented musicians, and lucky children. Sitting in the auditorium in that warm and charged atmosphere, I understood what pathos was. The Vinyl Cafe is all about expressing moments, and what it achieves is always beautiful, and very Canadian.