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Port Alberni-raised author returns home for book launch

Neal “Virgil” Brown to perform one-man show at Char’s Landing
Virgil Brown is a singer-songwriter and author who grew up in Port Alberni. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Neal “Virgil” Brown is many things—a singer, a songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist. Now he is also a published author, having recently released a memoir titled, Almost Famous in Alberta & Other True Stories.

The book is made up of 35 short stories, many of which take place in his hometown of Port Alberni.

Brown grew up in the United States but moved to Port Alberni as a teenager, finishing his high school career as the valedictorian for the Class of 1976.

“I forgot to go to the tuxedo store until the last minute,” he recalls. “So I was the only guy in the room with a canary yellow tuxedo.”

He also worked at the local radio station, CJAV (now 93.3 the PEAK), as the nighttime DJ, a job that helped to set him up for his career as a musician. Now a veteran performer, from street corners to cafes to concert halls, this open-tuning, finger-style acoustic guitarist will be returning to his old stomping grounds in Port Alberni on Saturday, Oct. 21 for a book launch and musical performance at Char’s Landing.

Brown will present his one-man show, playing original songs and weaving in some funny stories from his recently published book. Copies of the book will also be available at the show.

The title of his book comes from his time touring in Alberta in 1999, Brown said, after his album Smoke Rings was warmly received in the province.

“I got a ton of airplay,” he said. “I started getting calls to go up there and play. I was getting newspaper articles, radio interviews—all the things I looked up to as a kid working at a radio station.”

The idea for a book came about on New Year’s Day a couple of years ago, said Brown.

“I started thinking of my youth in Canada,” he said. “My folks were folk singers and they made this radical move to leave the U.S. and go to Canada to become farmers. I fell in love with Canada.”

Brown spent a few months recalling his past through voice-to-text on his iPhone. Before he knew it, he had more than 300 pages and 8,000 words of memories that he was able to edit and compile into Almost Famous in Alberta & Other True Stories. Many of the stories hearken back to his teenage years and the “wildness” of Port Alberni.

“It was so much fun to be a kid there,” he said. “We all had cars and would go cruising at night, stopping at J&L Drive-In for burgers. There was a sort of rock ‘n roll culture there.”

Brown plans to take the audience on a journey during his performance at Char’s Landing, feathering in old stories between his songs and switching between multiple instruments.

“I tend to get people laughing quite a bit,” he said.

The show will start at 7:30 p.m. at Char’s Landing on Saturday. Tickets are available at or call or text Char at 250-730-1636 to reserve.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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