“We’ve played a number of times, we come there every Christmas, and we always look forward to it – it’s a lovely visit,” said Stuart McLean, in an interview last week.
McLean, a popular storyteller and CBC radio host, will be at The Banff Centre this Saturday (Dec. 3). The show has been sold out for quite some time.
“Banff comes in the middle of the tour for us and it’s almost like a day off when we get to Banff – even though we don’t – but it always feels a little more friendly, a little more low key, it feels like we’re among friends when we come to Banff,” said McLean. “It’s a bit of an anomaly in the tour and we just love it.”
Based out of Toronto, McLean’s radio show, The Vinyl Cafe, is a mix of fable-like stories and independent Canadian music. His stories tend to be about family and small-town life, and the music he showcases tends to be organic and wholesome in nature.
After years of touring in Banff, McLean has many memorable experiences.
“We tend to walk down the main street – I bought a pair of boots in Banff – and in warmer weather we’ve done some hikes,” he said. “I’ve climbed Tunnel Mountain, we’ve gone up the gondola and walked down, and done all those things people do when they come to Banff.”
Musical guest Hawksley Workman will join McLean for the show.
“He’s an amazing two-time Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter,” said McLean. “He has a very idiosyncratic style, he’s a real one of a kind performer; half cabaret, half pop and totally off the wall, just a totally different, unique performer.”
Workman’s style runs the gamut of musical genres, and the songs he’ll play will more than likely range from rock to folk, with odd stories of his own thrown in.
Of the stories McLean will tell, three feature his memorable Dave and Morley characters. These loveable characters are based around Dave, who owns an independent record store in a small town.
“We’ll have two brand new Dave and Morley stories and one old favourite of mine, and a bunch of other stuff too,” he said. “One of the new stories is a series of misadventures that befall Dave when he takes Mary Turlington’s car to the carwash.
“And the other is a flashback to Dave’s 10th Christmas when he was a boy, in Big Narrows, Cape Breton, and he heads off to buy his family their Christmas presents and falls under the seduction of a table hockey game he sees in a hardware store and is faced with the moral dilemma of who to spend the money on.”
McLean developed these characters over the last 18 years, since he began doing the show.
“They began with Dave, but he was only a minor character for the first season, and then he acquired a family, and then they slowly elbowed their way to the centre of the stage, and over 18 years about them, they developed slowly and organically into the people that they are.”
McLean also writes books of these stories and releases audio recordings of them, and with this tour is promoting new works: The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks, in paperback and signed, which is a collection of essays about the Vinyl Cafe, and The Vinyl Cafe Family Pack, a collection of four CDs, with each disc dedicated to different characters.
While most of the shows on the tour are big cities, including two shows in Calgary today and tomorrow, McLean’s content tends to focus on smaller places.
“I do like small towns,” he said. “I’ve always liked the scale of small towns, the humanness of understanding; it doesn’t overcome you, it doesn’t diminish people, it just, let’s you live your life in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.”
Pinning down where exactly is his favourite place is difficult, he said, though Banff certainly ranks highly.
“I like different places in Canada for different reasons,” said McLean. “I like some of the B.C. towns, because it’s always autumn when we go there, the weather’s always pleasing and gentle. I like the small towns towns of Quebec, because that’s where I grew up, and the geography is familiar and comfortable to me, I love some of the small towns of Nova Scotia, because for some reason I feel at home among them.
“I think often some of my favourite places are the places I’m in, I always seem to find good reasons to like the places where I am.”
While this show is sold out, McLean said he’ll be back in Alberta to tour the province more throughout February and March.
“We try and visit all these places every two years – we have a regular pattern all across the country – and it’s time to come,” he said.