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"We may not be big, but we are small."
—The unofficial motto of the show
A weekly variety show on CBC Radio One hosted by Stuart McLean. Every episode, Stuart plays songs from up-and-coming Canadian bands, while interspersing the music with his funny and nostalgic monologues on the often-overlooked and beautiful things in life. In addition, there are regular features like "The Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange" where listeners are invited to send in true personal stories to potentially be read on air, and the annual "Arthur Awards" to commend exceptional small good deeds performed by ordinary people.
But the most famous segment of the show is Stuart's series of Slice of Life stories on the life of Dave, the owner of a small record store, and his family. Told in his signature wistful and quirky style, the stories made Stuart McLean nationally famous; his story of Dave's adventure in cooking a Christmas turkey has already became a classic Christmas special on CBC.
The show is presented in one of two formats: studio episodes recorded in Toronto where McLean tells his stories while playing recorded music and performance episodes recorded on location in various venues with live audiences on his frequent tours predominately throughout Canada with a handful of US playdates with live musical performances. The main other difference is that for podcasting purposes, copyright laws dictate that studio episodes cannot be reproduced with the music recordings while the live audience episodes with their stage performances can be made available in their entirety.
- Arcadia: One of Stuart's main loves is small rural towns; he has a tendency to wax very poetic over them.
- Bumbling Dad: Dave.
- Canada, Eh?: The show is dedicated to promoting Canadian singer/songwriters. Also McLean's accent becomes prominent with certain words (i.e., pronouncing "been" as "bean").
- Carrying a Cake: One of Dave's misadventures involves being entrusted with a wedding cake, then eating it while trapped in a dumbwaiter at an old mansion.
- Comic Book Time: Dave's children has aged progressively over the years, but at a very slow rate.
- Doom It Yourself: Dave tries to put in a new outlet where Morley wants to plug in the toaster. he has to put in a whole new wall
- Eccentric Townsfolk: By the dozens.
- Flash Back: GivenMcLean's fascination with the past, it is his signature style. He would quite often put half of the story on hold to allow for a very extensive digression on a character's background. In one of the anthologies, there is a story with a flashback embedded in a flashback.
- Foil: Mary Turlington, a neurotically perfectionist accountant, versus Dave, a laid-back rocker who seems to actually be enjoying his life.
- Hidden Depths/Retired Badass: Dave tends to pass himself off as a harmless bumbler, but he used to be a successful touring manager to some of the craziest and most tempestuous of rock bands, so he can call up his experiences of controlling rock and roll musicians when needed.
- How Do I Used Tense: Happens in a Stuart McLean book of Vinyl Cafe stories.
- Lighter and Softer: The early stories tends to be quite dark, but his stories has shifted exclusively to light comic fare about the Zany Schemes of Dave and his neighbours.
- Nostalgia Filter: Stuart's default tone.
- Only One Name: We never learn Dave and his family's last name.
- Gaslighting: Kenny Wong and his father's plan to stop a racist from coming to their restaurant without making a big ruckus. The plan unfolded over the course of a entire year as they imperceptibly changed the restaurant to make him subconsciously feel more and more uncomfortable until he finally left on his own.