by Brent Eades
Stuart McLean brought his popular Vinyl Café radio show to Almonte this weekend, performing two sold-out shows at the Ron Caron Auditorium. The evening consisted of two complete episodes to be aired on the CBC in September and October, exact dates to be confirmed.
In the first episode McLean opened with an amusing monologue about his wanderings earlier in the week along Mill Street and the riverfront, couched in terms of the classic English guide The Elements of Style. An excerpt:
Your main street is as perfect as a sentence written by Andy White. Allow me to parse it. Most main streets are complex-compound sentences — they go on and on and on, and rely on every manner of conjunction; neither their beginnings nor their endings are clear. They struggle up and then peter out in wastelands of car dealerships and big box stores.
Mill Street starts at Bridge Street and ends 300-odd meters along at Almonte Street, and there’s nary a car dealership or a box store from beginning to end… And if you stand at the top of the street as I did that Sunday evening, and you see it falling gracefully away, it disappears from your view like a bending river…
Mill Street is a hodge-podge of two- and three-story storefronts, antique stores, cafés, banks and a bakery and a book store and oh my! a street you can’t see from the top — the surprise of Little Bridge Street.
The musical guest was Jeremy Fisher, an Ottawa-based singer and songwriter. He played some tunes from an album that was recorded here in Almonte (and which featured local musicians Tracey, Kelly and Kaylen Prescott on vocals.) McLean then read a listener’s story submitted by Almonte resident Kelly Torck. The episode closed with a touching “Dave and Morley” story, recounting Dave’s struggle to let son Sam venture into the world and make his own mistakes.
The second episode turned out to be a very special one, a celebration of the Vinyl Café’s 20th year on air. It was quite different from the usual; McLean described it as a “rock opera version of the show”. It featured Ottawa band The PepTides performing musical treatments of stories from McLean’s latest book, Revenge of the Vinyl Café.
The PepTides are an unusual and highly talented act, with four band members and five singers who blend retro, cabaret-style staging and arrangements with lovely harmonies and powerful voices. They were named Best Band 2012 in a Metro News poll and have attracted a devoted following in the region.
This weekend’s show was the best I’ve seen in quite a long time. The Millstone will publish the air dates for the two episodes once the CBC makes them available.