Record Store Day

Let your freak flag fly


What: Record Store Day

When: 12 pm Sat., Apr. 22

Where: Independent record stores everywhere

Cost: Varies


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Most days of the year—almost all of them, in fact—Avalon Records leads a pretty unassuming life. It has been holding down the same corner of downtown Bellingham at Railroad Avenue and Magnolia Street for three decades, and owes a decent portion of its longevity to its nonmusical inventory. Odds are, if you have ever had use for a bong, a tapestry for your wall or bed, a poster of “The Great Wave of Kanagawa,” incense, cheeky stickers or a hacky sack, you have purchased one or more of those items at Avalon.

I have certainly bought some of those things there—I’ll let you try and figure which ones.

But all of that other inventory only exists to serve Avalon’s true identity, which is that of a record store. And that is what the shop has always been, long before vinyl’s current resurgence as the preferred way to purchase and listen to music, and back when selling records wouldn’t generate enough income to keep the lights on, much less the doors open. Through changes in the store’s ownership and changes in the music industry itself, Avalon’s commitment to vinyl has been steadfast.

That’s likely why the shop identifies so strongly with Record Store Day, the yearly celebration of all things vinyl and the independent outlets that traffic in it. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Record Store Day arose out of a need to stem the slow die-off of independent record stores by creating an event unique to the culture of such shops, one that would not be merely a symbolic gesture, but would instead generate revenue—preferably a whole lot of revenue. They designated a Saturday in April, got a bunch of independent record stores on board—and then they unveiled the celebration’s core concept, which, in retrospect, has proven to be a stroke of genius.

Instead of merely marking down existing stock and educating people as to the importance of independent record stores, Record Store Day (which is an organization unto itself as well as an event) had the bright idea to enlist artists and record labels to release exclusive content in limited numbers on that day only. Participating stores could order freely from the list of Record Store Day exclusives, but they would not know what and how many they would receive of anything until it showed up in their shops. For those looking to score specific albums, they only way to do so was to wait in line outside their neighborhood record store before opening and then pray like mad the records they desired would be found within.

That system remains in effect, but the scale has changed just a bit.

That first Record Store Day offered 10 special releases. A decade later, that number has swelled into the hundreds, which speaks to the wild, unqualified success of the event. Among the gems in this year’s roster are The Johnny Cash Children’s Album (back on vinyl after 40-plus years, quantity limited to 3,000), Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” (a 7” out of print for 32 years, quantity: 5,000), the Ramones ’76-’79 Singles Box (quantity: 3,500), live albums from David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead, and more—and that doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of the surface.

Because I’m not much of a record collector, for me, Record Store Day has been less about the exclusive releases—cool though they may be—and far more about the giant party that Avalon Records throws each year.

As previously mentioned, Avalon leads a decidedly low-key life. But underneath that mild-mannered exterior beats the heart of a shop that likes to cut loose, and Record Store Day is when they put their penchant for partying, along with their inventory, on full display.

This year’s celebration takes place Sat., April 22, and as they always do, Avalon is going all out. They’ve long since compiled and sent off their wish list to the Record Store Day powers that be, so all that remains is to prepare for the annual, all-day, all-ages, rain-or-shine, free sidewalk concert that happens in front of the shop each year. Per usual, the lineup is entirely local, and the music begins at noon (the shop itself opens at 9:30am) with Danny Vogel, and continues in one-hour intervals with the Second Hand Suits (who will play a set of their favorite garage rock songs, “including one from Bellingham’s loud and drunken past”), Brittany Collins and the Bad Vibes, Maneken Hand, Mo Stafa Super Group, and Marv. Anyone is welcome to wander by and check out a portion or stay for the whole thing.

Kitty-corner from Avalon, Everyday Music will also have their own selection of Record Store Day releases from which to choose, and they’ll fling the doors open at 9am, so strategize accordingly. Not to be outdone, one of the coolest indie record stores you’ll find anywhere, Anacortes’ the Business, will have its own allotment of Record Store Day loot to peddle.

Whether you choose to queue for rare and coveted albums to add to your collection, show up to watch a band or two, or take advantage of one of the other deals that are part and parcel of Record Store Day, know that you’re participating in what has become the world’s largest music event—a celebration so big that it causes Avalon to let their freak flag fly.

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