Published April 19. 2014 4:59PM Updated April 20. 2014 12:46PM
When Daphne Lee Martin arrived at her Telegraph Record Store in New London around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, there were already close to 50 people — and their ears — waiting in line.
Such is the excitement generated by the annual National Record Store Day — a relatively recent holiday on the calendar but one celebrated with fervor by what might accurately be called Serious Music Heads. Among the most anticipated releases were albums, singles and boxed sets by LCD Soundsystem, R.E.M., Nirvana, David Bowie, Devo, Jerry Garcia, the Flaming Lips, Mazzy Star, the Doors, the Velvet Underground, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and dozens more.
The fact that Record Store Day took place the day before Easter was not lost on Niantic's Sommer Brooks, who was stalking the various Telegraph display bins of vinyl albums and merchandise, all of which were special artist or label releases available only for the event.
"This is bigger than Jesus coming tomorrow," Brooks said happily, clutching a shopping bag with records by Built to Spill, the Pogues with Joe Strummer, and Gram Parsons. "This is an essential shopping day, plus it's important to help support local businesses that do good stuff in the community."
"A decent chunk of our Record Day stuff was gone within the first hour," said Rich Martin, who co-owns the Telegraph with wife Daphne. "We set up two large tables with just merchandise specifically for today. It's like a feeding trough. It can be a little frustrating because you don't know, until you get your shipments, how much of what you ordered will actually arrive. Sometimes you're anticipating a lot of the Gram Parsons — and maybe you only get one or two. Still, this is a great day and a lot of fun."
Indeed, throughout the afternoon and into the evening, the aisles of the Telegraph were clustered with folks eagerly flipping through not just the special material but the regular stock of rock, jazz, country, blues and other styles. The festive spirit was bolstered by ongoing live performances by acts such as CBYD, Daphne Lee Martin, Ketch Tha Cataclysm, Sam Peduta of Elison Jackson and Pocket Vinyl.
Daniel Boroughs of New London, who brought his toddler son, Harvey, along with him to the Telegraph, was actively seeking out and hoping to revisit music that had been "coming of age" soundtracks from his youth. At the same time, he said, "It's a good idea for Harvey to have early exposure not just to music but to this sort of atmosphere. This is a family-friendly place, and you can't always say that about record stores."
In Niantic, at Tumbleweeds, there was a sign out front announcing Record Store Day and a display rack just inside the door with a varied selection of products.
"We have a nice cross section of regular customers," said clerk Christa Weil, "and our staff tries to pick the Record Store releases that will appeal. We offer a lot of classic rock, blues and jazz."
Dave Brush of Salem walked in and headed straight to the Record Store Day merchandise. "I come in here regularly; I'm a classic rock guy and they have a lot of stuff I like." He picked up 7-inch single releases by Link Wray and Devo. "These are the sort of things I wouldn't buy online. But you come into a great store like this and there's an art to the browse. It's fun to come across this stuff because you're not sure what you're going to find. That's one reason Record Store Day is something to look forward to."
Tumbleweeds owner Tara Wyatt, wearing a "Buy Vinyl" T-shirt, said she loves the idea of Record Store Day, and the store does well with it, but she's had to change her strategies in recent years. "We have to be careful in what we order," she said. "I can't afford to dump ten grand on Record Store Day releases and just hope we sell it all. You can never predict what's going to happen with music. For example, people thought cassettes were dead. But they're coming back. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are releasing cassettes. If you have a small store, you have to be careful and smart."
Over at Mystic Disc — the area's iconic and seminal vinyl record store now in its 25th year — owner Dan Curland was talking with a shop full of longtime regulars. The mood was, frankly, ambivalent. On the one hand, customers were definitely picking up Record Store Day gems. At the same time, there was considerable grumbling about what Curland described as inequities in the distribution system for Record Store Day.
"Originally, Record Store Day was a good idea — a sort of us-against-them statement by indie stores against corporate chains like Target. But that's changed. I can no longer service my customers," Curland said.
He said that small chains of independent stores — like Newbury Comics, Bull Moose and the Sound Garden — get preferential treatment. "For example," Curland said, "R.E.M. released 1,000 copies of 'Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions,' and there are 250 participating stores in Record Store Day. Theoretically, each store should be able to get four copies of the REM release if they want four."
Curland said he asked for four — and got one.
"If you go to eBay, there are already copies of the R.E.M. going for $300 — well over what we would charge," Curland said. "Someone's going to the chains, who have multiple copies, buying them and flipping them. They're not fans. Meanwhile, I have longtime regulars who are huge R.E.M. fans — and I can't get them a copy."
Still, the mood in Mystic Disc was familial, even if they all agreed Record Store Day could be better run.
"We're still happy to be here because we're all fans and some great music was made available today," Curland said. "But I want Mystic Disc to be able to provide that music and survive — just like I want the Telegraph to survive and I want Tumbleweeds to survive. We're running businesses, but we all love the music."