If I had a bucket list, seeing Stuart MacLean live would be on it (right below sitting court-side at a Steve Nash basketball game). Last night, that dream not only came true but surpassed any expectations.
It was our first date night in ages, and we needed it. That morning at 4 a.m. our youngest decided she no longer liked her big-kid bed and is back to sleeping in her crib. When I informed our eldest we were going on a date later that night, she protested the entire day, then blockaded the door to refuse our exit. It was not pretty.
With our giddiness slightly dampened, we arrived at a packed Cowichan Theatre with only minutes to spare before the start of Stuart MacLean’s Vinyl Cafe show. Out walked a lanky Stuart, smiling, dressed in a grey three-piece suit. “I’m Stuart MacLean and this is the Vinyl Cafe,” he said, as only he can say it, into his radio-style microphone. He began with a brand-new Dave & Morley story. For the first few minutes I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying because of how he was saying it. When listening to his radio show, you don’t see how he randomly flails his arms, clasps his hands, lifts his shoulders, then flails his arms again like an orchestra conductor. His storytelling is a whole-body experience; as visual as it is audible.
I could have left happy after that first story, but then Stuart introduced his musical guest, Matt Anderson. Stuart said we would be saying about Matt, “We saw him before his was famous,” then out walked a 6-foot Matt with long curly hair, still wet from his shower. Not the polished image of the next-best-Canadian musician. My ridiculous prejudices took a humble exit stage left after Matt’s stubby fingers (as is his website url) played the most amazing sounds on his guitar (accompanied by Stuart’s musical director John Sheard on piano and some other talented dude on bass).
And then he sang, and when Matt sings he does so with his whole self. He uses a microphone, but none is necessary because his gospel-style voice belts out a sound that resonates right through your skin to your soul. His slow songs made me want to cuddle my husband; his upbeat blues (oxymoron?) made me want to dance in the aisles.
After Matt finished his first song, when we finally all stopped clapping, Stuart said, “That was Matt Anderson.” And so many of us said, “Wow.” “Yeah, wow,” Stuart replied. Later Stuart asked Matt if he’d had guitar lessons. “None,” said Matt. And after Matt’s incredible, goose-bump-inducing cover of a moving Curtis Mayfield number, Stuart said, “It’s probably best for all of us that Matt didn’t take lessons.” Amen.
There are so many other wonderful moments to share with you, like how delightful the other two Dave & Morley stories were, or how adorable the 5-year-old was who went up on stage to collect her prize for being the youngest audience member. Or how an 11-year-old girl named Madison charmed Stuart — and the rest of us. And just how easy Stuart makes entertaining look. As though he’s no different in real life than when he’s performing.
Between Stuart’s heartwarming stories, told in a manner of an evangelical pastor, and Matt’s soulful singing, it came as no surprise that Stuart ended the show with a sing-along, clap-along, audience-participation-mandatory version of You Are My Sunshine. It had all the feel-goodness of sitting around a fire at bible camp, minus the bible. What a show.