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Event Tue Apr 16 2013
Walking into the bright-lit auditorium of The Chicago Journeymen Plumber's Union, its stage playing host to a series of DJs spinning rare vinyl, its walls adorned with all manner of music ephemera long past their sell-by date, and its floors teeming with record collectors eager to share their collections with any and all passersby, was admittedly a bit overwhelming. The scent of dust that hung in the air was unavoidable, the result of the hundreds of cardboard boxes lining each vendor's table and, of course, the hundreds of pieces of vinyl that lay within each box. The effect was dizzying. When a friend asked me how many individual pieces of vinyl might be housed in this one room at any given point, I said that there had to be hundreds of thousands, if not more, on the right side of the room alone. This fact, combined with the constant, colorful barrage of organizers, small labels, "Flip Your Wig" Beatles board games, Dead-head vendors and greenhorn collectors, had me quickly ditching my punch list of desired titles, and what awaited me instead last Saturday afternoon at the Eleventh Annual CHIRP Record Fair was a lot more than the search for a few stray John Cale records.
The morning began at 10am (and even earlier for the dedicated, pre-admitted few) and lasted until just after 7pm, with hundreds of people filing in and out of the auditorium to get their vinyl fix. Local roasters Dark Matter and brewers Goose Island were on hand to keep people buzzed in one way or another, with food from local restaurants Irazu and Handlebar keeping people fueled if fatigue ever set in. The assembled dozens of vinyl vendors ranged from the casual two-man label to major collections from shuttered record-store owners, and even a handful of scrappy independent enthusiasts (one of whom found me an old copy of Europe '72, and another I spotted hawking beer as a vendor at the Cubs game the next day). Everyone was eager to help find whatever was being sought by whoever was seeking it out an all seemed to know their massive collections like the back of their hand.
As the day wore on, CHIRP organizers began sprinkling in programming in between the DJ sets, and I caught a particularly intriguing interpretive dance performance that combined real-time painting, ambient guitar loops, and a lot of curious looks from the crowd. By 2pm, the conversations became friendlier as the more ardent crate-divers started recognizing each other from the racks and began complimenting each other on their finds. (Some guy found an original Dead Kennedys 45 on Alternative Tentacles and, yeah, I was a little jealous.) More than once, though, I was helped by random rack-browsers in searching out a few titles, with one even leading me to my find of the day: an original 45 of Television's "Little Johnny Jewel" on ORK Records.
Now, a confession: I did not grow up in the era of records and record stores. Being born firmly in the CD era, I went to Tower and Coconuts and picked up whatever discs were on circulation on MTV at the time, while my dad bought Traffic re-issues and the latest trumpeted alt-country release. The allure of vinyl and its attendant culture was more or less foreign to me until its resurgence around the time I was entering in high school, incidentally about the same time when digital brought the record industry to its knees. In my mind, the record store of old was a mythical place shut-off from the present day where people gathered to discuss rare and obscure releases and, more than anything, assembled together to size each other up and talk intensely about the music they love. Clerks and patrons took an interest in what you bought, and you sought their direction and approval, and their secret knowledge of forgotten EPs by The Kinks.
I didn't grow up with any of this sort of deep vetting, for better or worse, but I can tell you that a semblance of the record-buying communities of old are popping up more and more (with help from an uptick of in-stores and events like this weekend's Record Store Day) and I can tell you I saw it in spades on Saturday. And while record collectors may retain an unfortunate reputation as pretentious, holier-than-thou music nerds who balk at anything "beneath" their taste (which, let's be honest, isn't changing anytime soon), each carries a deep love for all the history, scope, and music each record carries, and, perhaps above all else, they want to share them with you. If anything was to be learned on Saturday, it's that all that old enthusiasm and positive, inclusive aspects of record collecting and vinyl culture have been there all along, even when I was too young and too busy staring at my shelf of jewel cases to notice.