Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Independent spirit looms large.


Two weeks ago I went to Nashville to attend the yearly convention of CIMS (The Coalition of Independent Music Stores). This year we were joined by AIMS (The Alliance of Independent Media Stores), thus a large percentage of the great record stores left in the country were represented. One would have thought that this would have been a gloom and doom filled week in bummersville, but it was completely the opposite. In fact it was an amazingly uplifting blast. Here was a group of retailers who are not only facing the same economic downturn that everyone else is suffering, but are also in a business that is suffering a period of severe turmoil. What I found was a group of super-smart, brave, tenacious music fanatics who are determined to remain of value to their respective communities. And community was indeed the common denominator in almost every aspect of this gathering. During the day we sat together and openly discussed our stores, how to best conduct business, the future of music and most importantly we shared the specific and subtle ways we have each become part of the fabric of our home towns.

At Twist and Shout we have been very lucky to live in a great music community. We have always had an embarrassment of riches in the concert department including the greatest outdoor venue in the country: Red Rocks. We have a strong local scene that is right now at its strongest ever, and we have sort of taken for granted all the musicians, journalists, politicians, and just plain cool folks who regularly shop in our store. What I learned was that every independent store has the same story. Each one of them has quietly become part of the town’s heartbeat. By offering an egalitarian social outpost that caters to all who love music, the record store has become one of the few genuine “town square” experiences left in America. Unlike work or parties or sporting events, at the record store, everyone is just themselves. I have often posited that people come to the record store to validate their own identity. I know for me, in my formative years of record collecting, the experience of finding a record that I thought I would never find was a life-affirming thrill. “I can’t believe they have this! I was looking for this! How did they know?” It was great to think that there might be someone else like me out there. Each in his or her own way, the gathered record store owners have tried to contain that emotional reality in a brick and mortar shell for all to share. To sit in a room with a bunch of people who have this experience in common and hear how they have each uniquely fit into their own communities was fascinating and inspirational.

As if to make solid this very ethereal and smoke-like concept, we discussed the second annual Record Store Day. I think it is fair to say that last year everybody in the music business was blown away by the fun and excitement that surrounded this celebration of the idea and reality of the record store. There were musical performances, and sales, and more special CDs and records than you could shake a stick at. Each store tries to make this day a memorable event for employees and customers alike, and this year is shaping up to be huge. There are very limited releases from some HUGE artists that I think will excite people and motivate them to get in on that day.

Also on everyone’s mind was the imminent launch of the independent community’s digital solution. In the next couple of weeks we will have our own download store with the great music you find in our store everyday, as well as some exciting exclusive stuff you won’t find at other download sites. I don’t think a few years ago I would have believed it if you had told me that vinyl and downloads would be competing for my attention in day to day business, but there you go. Vinyl is experiencing a jaw-dropping resurgence, and downloads are taking their place as one of the ways serious music lovers consume music. People want it all, and we are trying to give it to ‘em.

In addition to all this heavy business stuff, we found lots of time to party and see music. Among the highlights was a series of shows at an amazing store called Grimey’s. Not only do they have a really cool record store in a house, but, in the basement of that house was a venue where they have concerts all the time. We saw great sets by a bunch of acts, but my favorites were a rousing set of screaming gospel-rhythm and blues from Mike Farris, a hypnotic singer/stand-up bass player named Amy Lavere, and the house being brought down by the legendary Del McCoury. If you like Bluegrass, you love Del.

Much of the best stuff comes after the shows though, when a bunch of record store owners get together in hotel rooms, get crazy and really talk about stuff. Unfortunately, I am bound by the limits of my own damaged memory and the 5th amendment to not repeat those stories... …yet.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

What's up from Magnolia Thunderpussy in Columbus Ohio! Grimey's was so much fun! 3 weeks till record store day!!!!