Last Saturday, crowds descended on Goner Records and Shangri-La Records to celebrate what may be among the most obscure of holidays.
Record Store Day was first celebrated in 2007 as a means of showing support and celebrating the culture and music provided by independent record stores. Celebrated nationwide in over 700 independently owned stores and hundreds more in Canada and Europe, the holiday marks a chance for musicians to make public never-before-released rarities and one-offs that are only available on Record Store Day.
"There's a collective of independent record stores that came up with this idea, and it's just grown from that," said Zac Ives, co-owner of Goner Records. "It's a nice way to get people out to support us."
Because of the limited nature of these special releases, most stores only receive a few boxes with an assorted collection of the day's goodies. A few widely anticipated releases included rare LPs from Widespread Panic and Animal Collective and studio releases from Stax Records. The devoted vinyl community gathered outside Memphis' two participating stores hours before their doors opened at 10 a.m.
"I arrived at 7 a.m.," said Chris Lemanski, after he'd finished shopping at Shangri-La. "You really felt secluded; that it was a special thing that only about 20 or 30 people would experience, only the diehard fans who are willing to sit outside and wait."
Before the doors opened, the audiophiles who had lined up early began strategizing by asking each other what they were there to buy. At Shangri-La, three small boxes on the front counter held the day's releases, and they were quickly surrounded in a free-for-all as the patient few rifled through the rare treasures.
"Going into the store, it felt like Christmas in a sense because you're not really sure what you're going to get," Lemanski said. "You know you're going to find something. Everyone was excited for the same thing: that they might be able to get something they've been looking for, something they know they won't ever see again."
"It's always been a good day [for us]," Ives said. "This year may have been our best [Record Store Day], and it seems to get bigger every year."
In the age of the mp3, it might seem strange that some share a passion for vinyl. But collectors still wax poetic about their love for the medium.
"'Why vinyl?' is like asking 'Why drive a stick-shift car over an automatic?,'" Lemanski explained. "Automatic is easier, and you can get where you want without thinking too much. Vinyl for me is just simply about having much more control and closeness. It's a bit more of a sincere sound. You have the warmth to it and the detail."
"I don't think [vinyl] has ever really left," Ives said. "For me, vinyl is more tangible; it's a real object. Especially now that everything is moving toward digital, the tangible aspect is really preferable to people who are looking for more of a listening experience instead of just clicking on iTunes."