Out With the New, In With the Old | The American Word

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Out With the New, In With the Old

A Trip to D.C.’s Biannual Record Fair

Jaclyn Merica | 2/3/16 4:11pm
| Updated 2/4/16 12:37pm

Jaclyn Merica /
American Word Magazine

Punks, folk fanatics, hipsters, Dead Heads, metal lovers and everyone in between came out in trouves to D.C.’s biannual Record Fair at Penn Social on Sunday. The event, still going strong in its seventh year, encouraged vinyl lovers to rummage through thousands of records in their search for the obscure and infamous. Forty vendors, including D.C. shops like Red Onion Records, Som Records and Joint Custody, lined both floors of the bar, while hordes of people pushed past each other to scope out the pickings. A line out the door and down the block made some uneasy, but there was still plenty to choose from and the wait was worthwhile.

The energy of the venue was ecstatic yet competitive. People lined the walls shoulder to shoulder, glistening with sweat as they crowded around each other. Patrons eyed each other’s crates as they sifted through their own, ensuring they were not missing a true gem. There’s an unspoken rule about infringing on someone else’s box. Vinyl-lover Maxwell Hawla learned that firsthand when he accidentally flipped through a woman’s container. “To be fair, she was on her phone snapchatting, so I thought it was fair game,” said Hawla, who was just restless worrying that all the Nigerian funk would be taken from the one dollar bin before he could get to it.  

George Marschall, a student DJ at WVAU, reveled in the fact that he was in a room with such avid music lovers. The people, the music and the energy made his first visit to the fair more special than he anticipated. Marschall came to the event because he loves records and he wants as many as possible. He chose his records solely based on cover artwork, which is not a bad strategy to have when sifting through bins of records you know nothing about. “It’s great finding things you’ve never heard of. If an album catches your eye more than others in the bin, you have to take it,” said Marschall.

The event attracts more than just locals. Greg Caz, a DJ from New York, came down to D.C. to play the event.  Som Records owner Neil Enet, one of the event organizers, invited Caz to perform at the event three years ago, and he has been performing there every year since. In his arsenal of albums was mostly Brazilian music: “I’m most known for playing Brazilian music, even though I play everything. So my mixes today are a mix of that, along with some great stuff I’ve been picking up all day.” In fact, one vendor had an entire section dedicated to Brazilian and Argentinian jazz, insisting many people actively sought out the genre.

Collector Pat Manno, a first time attendee, got some Bob Marley and Lynyrd Skynyrd, while his daughter got some Taylor Swift. He noted how there was “a lot of diversity, a lot of different types of music. Anything I wanted to find, someone had it.” There truly was anything anyone could want, or not want. One patron found a first pressing of Love’s “Forever Changes,” while another found a record of “Sound Effects from Outer Space.”

Craig Williams, one of the vendors, has been coming to the event for three years, and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. He brought “a little bit of everything for the people.” In his boxes was some soul, jazz, folk, classic rock and psychedelic music, as well as a great collection of soundtracks. Williams said most people gravitate toward soul and soundtracks. “The soundtracks I have, a lot of people don’t have them. So I think they’re drawn to that when they see that, but the soul is nice because, I mean, it’s soul music, man.” Most of the records ranged from three to 40 dollars, but Williams said some are priced way above that. The more expensive records were gone before the large crowd arrived. Attendees had the option to pay the five dollar early bird fee to stake out their findings before the place got really packed.

In a city that is sometimes perceived as solely professional and political, it was refreshing to see so many people coming together over the love of music. Matt Cohen, an employee at Red Onion Records and native Washingtonian clutched an experimental punk album he bought that day and said, “I think D.C. has always had a history of some really cool subversive, underground stuff going on, but not a lot of people know about it. Once you kind of spend some time in that world, it becomes apparent that it’s there, it’s thriving, and it always has been.”

The D.C. Record Fair will be held again later this year.