Platter lovers flock to Wilmette, Evanston record stores
Ed O'Sullivan of Mundelein sifts through the record bins at Hip Cat Music in Wilmette Saturday afternoon during Record Store Day. | Eric Davis~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:22AM
Everything sounds better when it’s running at 33 and a third rpms (or 45, or perhaps even 78.)
If that resonates with you — if you prefer music spun out from a spindle, occasional pops and hisses notwithstanding, to the electronic immediacy of an iTunes download — then you may well have been roving the record aisles at your favorite local music store Saturday, helping celebrate Record Store Day.
Record Store Day, the 2007 brainchild of music store employees and fans determined to champion independent record stores and the joys of music you can hold in your hands, celebrated its fifth birthday Saturday. More than 700 stores nationwide and hundreds more internationally took part.
In what has become an increasingly popular tradition, storeowners uncrated special vinyl and CD releases, all of them limited runs made exclusively for the occasion; musical artists set up their kits and performed for attendees; and music enthusiasts of all stripes turned out to boost sales and enrich their collections.
Locally, there was plenty of evidence Saturday that music lovers were more than willing to ditch digital and buy local.
At Vintage Vinyl, 925 Davis St. in Evanston, self-described Chicago mom Shannon Roth used her smart phone to keep the list of records she wanted to buy.
“My parents had eight-tracks, but my sisters had records, That’s how I got to like them,” she said. She and her husband, a former DJ, have a record collection, and she was adding to it Saturday, although she couldn’t find the Phish platter she’d wanted, or the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” record that was a Record Store Day special release. She was able to nab a Black Keys album she said, ticking that off her list.
Christina Lee also had been trawling for Phish. The Chicago resident only began collecting records six month ago, she said, “Because I had heard the sound was better. And it’s true, it is a very warm sound. Plus, I quite enjoy the album art.”
Evanston residents Tom Rough and Piper Davis were both veteran record fans. Rough still has the Screaming Jay Hawkins and James Brown albums he bought at Vintage Vinyl 25 years ago as a college student, he said.
“It’s still a fun experience to take an album out of the jacket and hear it pop when you put the arm down on it and start the music,” Rough said.
Davis agreed. Their collection, 300 to 400 albums strong, gets a regular workout, including the Van Morrison that daughter Euphemia likes to dance to, she said.
A few blocks to the south at 2nd Hand Tunes, 800 Dempster St., shopper Shannon Hicks didn’t know it was Record Store Day, but that didn’t matter.
“I love browsing for records,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite things.”
At 11 a.m., customers were light on the ground at 2nd Hand Tunes, but only because the big rush came 11 hours earlier, when owner Johnny Balmer opened the doors at midnight.
Sellin’ at midnight
Balmer’s store has been involved with Record Store Day since the beginning, he said, and this year’s midnight sale had been the most crowded and successful one he’d had.
“I talked to one guy who camped outside the door since 8:30 p.m. (Friday), with a lawn chair and everything,” Balmer said. “It’s a huge event and this year it’s been kind of amazing.”
At Wilmette’s Hip Cat Records and Music, 3540 Lake Ave., Kenilworth teen McKay Womsley cradled the Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Police albums she’d just bought.
It was her first visit to Hip Cat, she said, a specific Record Store Day destination. She’d grown up with her father’s record collection and now was working on one of her own.
“I like the way the music sounds, I like the jacket art,” she said.
As Womsley exited with her finds, Hip Cat owner James Cooper talked power ballads and the failings thereof, while ringing up another buy for enthusiast Ed O’Sullivan of Mundelein.
The power of vinyl
O’Sullivan, a regular customer who lauded Cooper’s expertise on all things Pink Floyd, had also snapped up some Mississippi John Hurt and a special boxed collection of the ’90s hip-hop band Pharcyde. He was yet another treasure hunter scouting for the elusive Phish and Grateful Dead releases.
O’Sullivan was a true believer in the power of vinyl. He started Record Store Day at 5 a.m., out in McHenry, he said, and Hip Cats was his third stop.
“I love collecting vinyl. It’s something I own,” he said. “You don’t own digital, you can’t look at digital the way you can look at an album cover.”
For Niles record aficionado Robert Tanchez, a Hip Cats fan for years, depending on digital downloads for one’s music was more than uninteresting; it was downright dangerous.
“The thought of losing my entire collection with one mistake, one wrong button … I can’t risk that,” Tanchez said.
Music you can feel
Cooper and Vintage Vinyl owner Steven Kay understand the passion of people like O’Sullivan. They are why Record Store Day is a success, Kay said Friday as he was preparing for Saturday’s rush.
“A person has a different visceral response to buying music in a real store as opposed to buying something online. A record is interactive in a way that you don’t have with an iPod or on a computer.
“It’s way more enriching, not only with the quality of the music but with the social experience.”
The message was the same from Cooper, a confirmed audiophile, who readily ticks off why records trump any other way of listening to music.
“All the instruments and vocals are more pronounced on records, the treble and base and drums are easier to hear, if you’re listening to classical, the violins are crisper, you can understand background vocals.
“Plus, you don’t have to use a magnifying glass to read the lyrics.”
More and more people are returning to the sound of records, or discovering them and other non-digital delivery systems like compact discs for the first time, “and I think Record Store Day was a great step in making that happen,” Kay said.
For Balmer, watching someone discover the joys of records is part of his fun.
“It’s kind of cool to see people coming in and building their own collections and maybe discovering bands like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones for the first time -- or at least the first time on vinyl.
“It’s especially cool in this age of buying everything online, to see them come in and have the experience of handling something real.”