Faces in the Crowd – The Final Vinyl Cafe

Posted on March 1, 2017 under Faces in the Crowd with 2 comments

” So long for now” ( SML )

The lights in the auditorium dim. The set on the stage is simple. There’s an arm chair, a small coffee table and a floor lamp. There are no flashing lights. There are no big screens. A lanky figure walks on to the stage to enthusiastic applause. He sits down in the chair, puts a book in his hands and peers out over his glasses and begins to read.

“ Dave and Morley…”

It was the spring of 2002. Legendary Beatles singer/songwriter, Paul McCartney was coming to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to do a show. Most baby boomers can tell you exactly what The Beatles sang on their first trip to America when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th., 1964. Most of us were, and still are, great fans of “The Fab Four.”

My son, Peter became a McCartney devotee as a teenager so when we got word of Sir Paul’s imminent arrival, we knew that this show was a must see… at any cost.

We arrived at the ACC early on a Saturday morning to pick up our tickets. Oddly, the concourse area was empty. There was a security person but we were the only two people waiting for the ticket window to open. I picked up the tickets ( about a mortgage payment’s worth! ) and turned around to see a familiar face staring up at the wall at the ticket prices for the event. It was none other than Stuart McLean of CBC “ Vinyl Café ” fame. Even though I had never met him, he felt like one of the family. That’s the kind of rapport he had with his fervent audience.

It wasn’t a matter of being star struck. It just seemed natural to walk over and say hello.

He was thinking about going to see McCartney but was slightly aghast at the ticket prices. I told him that there were times when you just had to bite the bullet if you wanted to go and see one of your idols. I also related to him very briefly the tragic story of my niece’s husband Melvin Hibbs . Melvin had died just a few months earlier in a plane accident. I told him that life was short and that he really should go to the show. The conversation only lasted about 5 minutes. He asked me for my e-mail address.

A few weeks later, I was very surprised to get a message from Stuart. He had gone to the concert after all, had a fantastic time and thanked me for giving him the nudge to empty his wallet. He wanted to do a story about the encounter and asked me a few more questions. On June 2nd., 2002, I was the subject of one of his vignettes on “ The Vinyl Café” on CBC radio. However, the story was really about Melvin and Audrey. I enjoyed my “ 15 minutes of fame.”

We stayed in touch and a year or so later, he did a Maritime tour. He was coming to Port Hawkesbury and he invited Audrey and I to come as his guests, including a “pre show” meal in a back room at SAERC. We had a pleasant hour together and he and Audrey had some time alone to talk. He was so gracious, so kind and so genuine. The show was fantastic and it was a night we remembered for a long time.

Stuart passed away on February 16, 2017. Hard core CBC radio fans went into mourning.

Stuart Mclean epitomized everything we cherish about being Canadians. He was humble and self effacing. He never sought fame and fortune. It just appeared on his doorstep after years of paying his dues. He didn’t go for big venues and gaudy light shows when he travelled the country, taking his show on the road. He liked the small, intimate, soft seat theatres where he could make eye contact with everyday people. His kind of people. He gave us a geography lesson as he crisscrossed the country for years. His shows always featured music and he went out of his way to showcase up and coming talent.

The theatre lights have been dimmed. The lamp has been turned off for the last time. The book is closed. The last chapter has been written.

Stuart McLean loved Canada and its people. And they loved him back.




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2 Responses to Faces in the Crowd – The Final Vinyl Cafe

  1. Sharon Pinkohs says:

    I don’t well up in tears often, but this was one of those few times.

    Thanks so much.


  2. Carmen says:

    Hi Len, this was a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to one of our best-loved icons. I hope you don’t mind, but I shared it on my Noseybook ‘wall’. . . 🙂 Happy trails!

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