Horizon Record’s Gene Berger does not know how early people start lining up for Record Store Day … he just knows they look like they have been there a while when he arrives at 7am ahead of his store’s 8am opening. It is the busiest day of the year – more than Black Friday or any other time around the holidays – and it is not even close. Music lovers of all ages and musical preferences come together on what has become the most important day of the year for your local, independently owned record stores.
“It was 2008 and implosion felt like it was only months away when we got the call,” Gene says about the inaugural Record Store Day. That year featured a handful of releases and participating stores but, still, Berger recognized the impact of something that would grow significantly in the years to come. Today there are over 400 albums released to celebrate the event, with in-store performances and celebrity sightings seemingly commonplace.
In 2015, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready stopped in and left with a haul of records that would lead to the band mentioning Horizon during that evening’s show at the Bi-Lo Center. That same day, Roseanne Cash happened to be in town as well and dropped by to support the event. This year Tyler Ramsey, the former lead guitarist of Band of Horses and an artist that Gene calls “our own personal ambassador for Record Store Day”, will be in-store for a live performance featuring songs from his first new album in seven years.
I have always known Record Store Day was a thing but it was not until I sat down with Gene, and later with loyal patron and RSD veteran John Darrohn, that I fully grasped just how important the event is for the record collecting community. The albums available on this day are not releases for the sake of releases but, rather, truly special albums that you will not find anywhere else the other 364 days a year. These are records that are printed in such limited quantities that you will likely never see a copy again, much less have the opportunity to buy one.
Darrohn explains how people in line have printed copies of the full list of available albums, highlighted and notated as a guide to their hunt. An album that has a few thousand copies going out into the world should be an easy grab but “when you see an album only has 1,000 or even 500 copies” you have to get in line pretty early. By early, he explains that in past years he would be there at 6:30am and be the first one there but last year he arrived at 5:10 and was still only in the eighth spot.
“This is my culture. This is my crew,” he tells me as he explains the camaraderie that exists amongst shoppers. While there may be some level of competition between those vying for the same records, there is also mutual respect for those that share such a passion for music. “I spend more time in line than in the store shopping,” he adds as he is a man on a mission once the day officially begins.
I asked Gene what he was looking forward to this year and he noted that the new Pearl Jam release Live on Easy Street is going to be a highly sought after album and that “We’ll always have a special place in our hearts for Pearl Jam” since the 2015 visit. Personally though, it is the obscure jazz reissues that get Gene’s motor running. “That’s where I’m at,” he says as he rattles off a list that starts with Herbie Hancock, runs through a host of artists I have never heard of, and concludes with A Rough Guide to Arabian Jazz which I suddenly want to add to my own collection immediately.
John shows me the room in his house which, if it was my residence would be lined with bookshelves, but here it is filled with records. He shows me his favorite records to listen to and which ones are part of a collection that will never be unwrapped or feel the touch of a needle. Above it all, he knows exactly which ones were Record Store Day releases and which year he bought them.
It is the energy behind all of this that I simply find fascinating. I love music and the opportunity to submerge myself in a new album but I have never explored the more devoted, collector side of the business. The idea of standing in line at 5am for just about anything is hard for me to wrap my mind around but I love that there is a significant – and ever growing – part of our community willing to do just that. Further, even if you’re like me and 5am just isn’t happening, there is a still a live performance at noon and a local, independently owned small business that is open until 10pm for your shopping convenience.
Record Store Day is Saturday, April 13. Check out the full list of releases at RecordStoreDay.com and start making plans for your Record Store Day experience today.