Saturday, April 18, will mark the eighth annual Record Store Day, a worldwide event designed to raise awareness and support for independently owned record stores. For the second year in a row, this means that three separate celebrations will be taking place in Birmingham: two in Five Points South at Charlemagne Record Exchange and Renaissance Records, and one in Avondale at Seasick Records.
It’s a massive day for all three stores, who expect huge customer turnout and the highest sales of the year. Daniel Drinkard, who opened Seasick Records in November 2013, admitted that he was surprised by the volume of people who came to the store’s first Record Store Day.
“Last year, we really had no idea what was going to happen or how crazy it was going to be, and it was nuts,” he said. “We made as much in sales that day as we would normally make in a month.”
Marian McKay, who opened Charlemagne Record Exchange in 1977, agreed. “People are just really fanatical about their music, which is great,” she said. “It’s really added a lot to the surge of album sales.”
Gary Bourgeois, who co-founded Charlemagne with McKay before opening Renaissance Records just a block away in 2003, was also surprised by the number of customers that the event brought to his store.
“A couple of years ago on Record Store Day, we made the mistake of opening up at 12 p.m., which is our regular time for Saturdays, instead of earlier in the morning,” he said. “When we got there, the line was already back to the Five Points fountain. It was terrifying! I didn’t know whether to open the store or just keep on driving.”
Record Store Day, which occurs annually on the third Saturday in April, is a promotional event founded in 2007 that quickly grew to be a worldwide phenomenon, receiving backing from many major figures in music. This year, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is serving as the event’s official ambassador, a role filled in the past by Jack White, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Iggy Pop. The event’s website claims that there are “participating stores on every continent except Antarctica,” while Universal Music’s independent sales manager, Marc Fayd’Herbe, recently declared Record Store Day to be “the single best thing that has ever happened to [independent record stores].”
“I think Record Store Day was the beginning of the comeback [for vinyl], which has been great for us at Charlemagne,” McKay said. “We never went out of style. We always had vinyl!” The event, she says, has reignited local interest in record collecting.
Part of the Record Store Day’s success is due to special vinyl releases, often available only in limited quantities that are released exclusively for that day. Previous years have seen exclusive releases from artists such as Radiohead, Miles Davis, David Bowie and James Brown, while this year’s roster of exclusive releases includes records by Sun Ra, Run the Jewels and Paul McCartney. Birmingham favorites St. Paul and the Broken Bones will be releasing a 12” single with a disc cut in the shape of Alabama, which will feature covers of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” and David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” both of which were recorded at the Alabama Theatre last November.
But while these exclusive releases draw customers to the stores, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. For Bourgeois, while exclusives “make it more exciting,” it’s the sense of community support that really makes the day special.
“The whole spirit of Record Store Day is for people to support their local record stores,” he said. “It should be fun. Everyone’s in a good mood! We get about 200 or 300 new records just for that day and everyone just helps each other find the records they want.”
The same is true for Drinkard, who is collaborating with other local businesses for a multifaceted, all-day event. “The special releases are cool, and they’re what drive most people to come out,” he said. “But I try to make it a bigger event and add all these different aspects, because why the hell not?”
Those “different aspects” include a new beer from Good People Brewing Company, Black Vinyl Ale, that will only be available at the store on that day. Yellowhammer Creative has contributed a poster to the event, as well as limited-edition t-shirts. Coffee and food will be provided by Saturn Birmingham, Ono Ice and former Bottletree chef Tom Bagby, while barber Newman Evans will be providing haircuts. DJs from Substrate Radio will be spinning records throughout the day with breaks for screenings of a short documentary on the store by filmmaker Scott Hodnett.
Drinkard will also use the day as a platform to officially announce the store’s plans to move to a new, larger location in Crestwood at the beginning of June. Drinkard expects that the space — which will also feature a permanent barbershop run by Evans — will allow Seasick to expand its stock of both new and used records.
For Birmingham, Record Store Day serves as a reminder of the city’s flourishing music scene, highlighting in particular the integral role of independent record stores in their respective communities. That Birmingham, a relatively small city, can sustain three of them doesn’t surprise Drinkard. “[Record collecting] is kind of a universal thing,” Drinkard said. “Birmingham’s a small town, but a lot of people love music here.”
“There’s nothing like working in a record store,” Bourgeois said. “It’s been a dream. [Record stores] just worked for Birmingham. It’s kind of like, two is better than one. Three is better than one!”
Record Store Day is Saturday, April 18. Charlemagne Record Exchange will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Renaissance Records will open at 9 a.m., and Seasick Records will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information on Record Store Day exclusive releases, visit RecordStoreDay.com.