Five years into its existence, the annual music geek-fest known as Record Store Day appears to be here to stay. More than 700 independent record stores across the country — including a few here in Buffalo — will take part in the festivities Saturday, a day celebrating, among other things, the glorious supremacy of vinyl over digital mediums; the too-tough- to-die tenacity of the independent music retailer; and the delicious fetishism of the serious music collector.
It's a day to let your freak flag fly, blow your whole allowance on exclusive product, show off your rainbow of colored vinyl, and get your hands on, among hundreds of other Record Store Day-only rarities, "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends" doubl-vinyl album. Saturday is also a day to celebrate the regional independent musician. All over the country, indie retailers will host some of their respective cities' finest homegrown talent during all-day in-store performances.
It's hard to believe that what began as the kernel of an idea in the (clearly music-warped) brain of indie-music retailer Chris Brown is now a major nationwide event, with hundreds of artists now considering a RSD-only exclusive release to be all but mandatory.
This year, in addition to the Flaming Lips, artists like Eddie Vedder, the Black Keys, Phish, Paul McCartney, M. Ward, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica and even the erstwhile retired David Bowie will drop goodies for their adoring throngs. All of these artists buy into the Record Store Day mandate — a grassroots, indie-centric variety of manifesto.
It reads, in part: "A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a stand-alone brick and mortar retailer whose main primary business focuses on a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50 percent music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70 percent located in the state of operation. (In other words, we're dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores — not online retailers or corporate behemoths)."
Here in Buffalo, two Record Theatre locations (3500 Main St. in University Plaza and 1800 Main St. at Lafayette) meet that criteria, as does Spiral Scratch Records (291 Bryant St.).
These three stores will be carrying a healthy share of the more than 500 exclusive releases — the majority of which are vinyl, but if you don't own a working turntable (perish the thought!), you'll still be able to find plenty of RSD-specific CD releases.
At Record Theatre in University Plaza on Saturday, you'll be able to listen to a wonderfully diverse array of local artists and bands while you shop beginning at 10 a.m. and continuing into the evening with the likes of Sleepy Ha- Has, Ten Cent Howl, Seashell Radio, Vox Humana, Nickey Gordon, Cassi Meyerhoffer, Cracker Japs, A Relative Term, Sleepy Sparrows, Ronald Raygun and High Flying Babies. Across town, Sprial Scratch will be hosting similar events.
What makes Record Store Day much more than a "Christmas in April" for the music industry is its defiant stance. The independent nature of the stores is construed as a blow against commidification, a "thank you" to the mom and pops and their clientele, folks who have helped to keep the music alive as record label mergers and big-box retailer dominance worked to stamp out community-based establishments and, by extension, community-based music.
The very notion of the word "local" had changed so radically by the time Brown and his cohorts launched the idea of Record Store Day that one might have reasonably assumed that noncorporate music retailers were about to go the way of the 8-track tape. Indeed, in Buffalo, revered independent stores like New World Record and Home of the Hits were either gone or on their way out. Record Theatre closed several of its stores. Best Buy, Target, Walmart and the like were becoming the go-to places for music consumers. Add the problematic nature of Internet shopping sites like Amazon.com and iTunes, and the whole thing felt like a fait accompli.
That has changed, partly due to the diligence of "lifer" music consumers, the type of buyers who have been spending money on vinyl, deluxe box sets, reissues and the like for years. It might not quite qualify as a consumer revolution yet, but all of this activity has certainly been a game-changer.
So come on, Buffalo. Strike a blow against the empire. Buy some vinyl!•