Wednesday, July 23, 2014

DC Record Fairs

The VVers realized an event that they attend on a semi-annual basis involving their favorite thing besides pizza (read: VINYL RECORDS) has never gotten a fair write-up on this old blog.  Here goes:

recordfair_fall09The first DC Record Fair that these VVers got a chance to dig in the crates at was in 2009 at the then tiny Comet Ping Pong.  VVer #2 lived spitting distance from the venue and late in the afternoon the two VVers got up the gumption to go check it out.  Of memory (this is five years ago now!) is that the VVers learned that if you show up late enough you might just get in for free (the woman taking admission didn't have change and waived these lucky souls in) and be prepared to be elbow-to-elbow with lots of like-minded record heads.  At the time, Comet only had their main front room and smaller back room (normally full of with ping pong tables).  It was jammed.  Luckily the VVers bumped into record buddy and past Vinyl Vagabonds contributor, Rob, who was working at Smash!  He was co-running their table at the event when he noticed VVer #1 checking out a particular oddity and exclaimed "that's a great one, weird and great."  The record in question?  Neil Young's Trans; now one of the VVer's favorite albums.  Trans is most certainly Young's oddest album.  Maybe it is because--as read in his autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace--Geffen really F-ed him and didn't allow him to make the videos to accompany this out of character electronic music.  Or is it that Trans is really made up of two separately recorded records (the styles of songs on this album vary greatly from vodcoder-induced, synth-backed tracks to country, honky-tonk tunes)?  In any event, it is a good one, and anytime the VVers get a chance to write about Trans, it's a done deal (more on that later)!  Smash! always brings it for these record fairs, and they are one of the VVers favorite vendors to buy from.  Not only do they have stellar records, but almost everything they bring is steeply discounted from the sticker price.  Score.

Other fairs have been held at the Black Cat, Fillmore, Riot Act (since changed to Penn Social), Artisphere, and some now-defunct warehouse on 14th Street.  Black Cat's upstairs is a good venue for the fair, though a bit strange to see the place (and the bartenders) with the lights on.  The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD also came through as a good venue for the fair (maybe these VVers are biased because they were living walking distance at the time).  As noted before, Silver Spring IS a vinyl mecca, so it absolutely makes sense for the fair to be there.  A guy from the nearby printmaking shop was at the Fillmore doing on-the-spot printed "DC Record Fair" tote bags.  VVer #1 decided instead to go buy a blank t-shirt from around the corner and get the friendly printer to screen him a one-of-a-kind DC Record Fair shirt.  Neat-o!  Penn Social is smack downtown which can make for tough parking.  It's a split level venue, which detracts from the unity of the event.  Nice bar, but otherwise, meh.  There is also the random 14th Street show that the VVers reminisced about recently because that is where they found Neil Young's Time Fades Away.  Nearby customers encouraged VVer #2 to buy it and it was certainly worth it as the VVers haven't seen it anywhere since.  It's a record Neil has called "the worst record I ever made."  Ha!  Record fairs are full of moments of interaction with other customers and vendors with such obvious passion for music.  It is fun to remember the specific events and places involved with each record purchase!  Lastly, the most recent fair was at Artisphere in Rosslyn, VA.  Although it has been held here before, the VVers have never ventured west of the District for a fair.  It's a nice, big, open space with high ceilings and a great venue for the DJ's spinning old school go-go and hip hop.  One DJ even played "PARTY TIME!?!" (he must have known these VVers were in the house!).  Noticeably absent from this event was a cool DC Record Fair poster, which in past events, have been eye-pleasing.  What the VVers did stumble upon was none other than a maxi-single of "Sample and Hold" from Trans!  Extended Neil Young dance mixes!!!  Definitely never seen or heard before!

In many ways record fairs are like comic conventions.  Lots of older, somewhat sweaty collectors ready to tell you what's what and why you don't know squat.  Thankfully most of the vendors the VVers have met at these things are either really nice, or so obviously not nice that it's fairly easy to navigate away from them.  Many deals are to be had if a buyer picks up records in quantity (a good vendor wants to make the buyer happy with a deal and move the records at the same time.  Who doesn't like that?).  Bulk-buying can lead to buying some pretty random stuff in the effort to get a good deal.  A lot of that extra random stuff gets chucked or resold down the road, but a few interesting items penetrate the collection.  Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's LP The Message is a good example of this.  Never would have picked it up solo, but when the seller is trusty it's a go! 

The crowd can be a mixed bag.  It is usually filled with record collector weirdos (wait, is this about the VVers?) and hipsters who are just starting their collection.  They can be equally annoying to share the floor with, but both can offer insight into what is interesting for the ears.  You can listen to what the collectors and vendors are talking about if you are big into the rarities, and it's always fun to see what "aha!" moments the young'ins have when pouring over the dollar bins on the ground.  When getting advice keep in mind that plenty of folks have no idea what they are talking about and/or have wildly different tastes than you do.  During a recent fair (possibly in an effort to buy something out-of-the-box), VVer #2 heard a guy flipping through a crate and say, "now this is a good record" and put it back.  Eyeballing it and making note, VVer # 2 later went to that box and picked up the LP by Arthur Verocai.  Upon asking nearby folk if they knew anything about it, a few really talked it up as a good re-release of the Brazilian musician's funky, first album from 1972.  It looked just random enough and was on some funny record label "Luv N' Haight;" sounded like an ok bet, so it was bought.  Was it good?  On the first few listens, not really; the VVers are looking to ship it out.  Needs less lounge and more funk.

Two things that you will undoubtedly ask yourself while at the fair:
Why do they stack their boxes so far away!?!  Nobody has arms this F*#$^*#ing long!  I'm standing on my motha f#*(&(@$^in tiptoes for f@@(# sake!!!
Why did this guy pack these boxes so tight!?!  I can't even squeeze in a pinky!
Which is why you should follow these simple --
Vinyl Vagabonds Approved Rules of Engagement
1. Carry plenty of one-dollar bills, vendors don't carry credit card machines
2. Wear plenty of deodorant
3. Bring an LP-sized record tote for all of your finds
4. Decide if you're an early bird (first crack at the goods) or a latenick (best prices)
5. When done looking at a row of boxes, kindly step aside to let others in
6. Don't expect a deal, be pleasantly surprised when you get one
7. Remember to take breaks and enjoy a coffee or cocktail to help you through the day

Record fairs are well worth your time and trouble, and never have these VVers left empty-handed.

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