Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

On April 20, 2024, I rolled into the parking lot behind the brand-spanking-new Village Green Records in Montgomery, AL, armed with something that should never be part of any journalist’s toolkit: an agenda.

I was pretty sure I knew exactly how all of this would play out. I’d read the horror stories about Record Store Day on Reddit. I remembered Rupert Morrison’s brutal and heartfelt editorial for The Guardian titled “Record Store Day is harming, not helping, independent music shops like mine.” I kinda lamented the fact that I wasn’t into vinyl back when Record Store Day first started, back when it seemed a little more pure and a little less blatantly consumerist. At least to me. But then again, we haven’t had a record shop in Montgomery for years upon years, and the next nearest one, my go-to record shop—Classic Audio & Records up the road in Prattville—doesn’t participate in RSD. Owner Stephen Rich told me, “We honestly just can’t afford to yet, but maybe one day.”


I went into this thinking I was gathering facts on the ground for a rant about something wonderfully radical being subsumed by capitalists, robbed of anything authentic, defanged, and turned into a Hallmark holiday, the way everything dissident eventually is. But at the same time, I just wanted to get to know the sort of people who are drawn to Record Store Day.

As I’ve mentioned a few times recently, I’m getting a turntable soon, just so I can test the phono stages of integrated amps I review. And I’ve already found myself getting lost in record stores, browsing the racks when I’d simply intended to stop by for some hardware-buying advice. But I couldn’t quite grok the mindset of someone who would line up at the ass-crack of yesterday with the slim hope of getting their hands on an artificially limited pressing of a record one could just as easily stream from Qobuz in better quality.

And then they went and announced a Record Store Day–exclusive release of G. Love & Special Sauce 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition on LP. I mean, come on. If I’m going to get into vinyl and participate in hedonistic consumerism, I might as well do it right, right? Who could resist that? Nobody could.

Seventh in line

Take all of the above and bin it. My preconceptions evaporated nearly as soon as I arrived and got in line, hours before the store actually opened. I was, shockingly, seventh in line. But within 15 minutes of my arrival, the mass of humanity started to really grow. And by the time Village Green Records finally opened its doors at 9:00 a.m., the line had wrapped around the building and out of sight.

And it wasn’t long before these people started talking, engaging in conversations that spilled out of friend groups and into the larger queue. People were buzzing with excitement, wanting to know what other people were there for. Everyone was passing around videos of the mammoth lines at more-established record shops in Birmingham and Opelika posted on social media. The vibe was palpable.

That escalated quickly

But as the hours passed, the energy started to get a little more anxious. People started to fret about how this was going to work, how the store was laid out, where the RSD display would be, how many people would get to enter the store at a time.

And that anxious energy was just about to infect me when Village Green Records owner Travis Harvey and his partner, Bear Ponto Rivera, stepped out the front door with a box of donuts to welcome the crowd. He explained that this was his first Record Store Day in this city—the store used to be located in Muncie, IN—and he wasn’t sure what to expect or how many people would show up. He painted a word-picture of how the layout of the store had changed for the event, where exclusives would be shelved, and he seemed to decide on the fly that letting the first 15 people in the door at opening time would work just fine, so long as everyone else in line agreed not to go in until somebody came out.

His vibe was so chill that the people in line who could see and hear him—by this point there was just no way of knowing how far the queue wrapped around the building, and I wasn’t going to go look—sort of exhaled and untensed a bit. And immediately people—some of them complete strangers—started making strategies for how to help each other get what they wanted most, since the RSD exclusives would be split across opposite sides of the store.

RSD prep

Once 9:00 a.m. finally arrived and the first 15 of us walked through the door like this was our 50th fire drill, the chill vibe continued. People were calmly passing records over other people’s heads to those who couldn’t quite get to the rack, often accompanied by a refrain of, “Hey, what was your name again?”

I managed to grab one of the two copies of G. Love & Special Sauce, and someone next to me said, “Hey, I didn’t know that was available! Oh man, I love that album! But I’m betting somebody in that long line outside woke up and dragged themselves here just for that record, so I’ll reluctantly pass.”

People chatting

And that was the rule, not the exception. I kept hearing the final lines of Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” echo through my mind:

Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand
Everybody’s playing in the Heart of Gold Band

Didn’t these people know that this is supposed to be Black Friday for LPs? Where was the shoving? Where was the hoarding? Where were the blatant flippers buying anything and everything that might be valuable tomorrow so they could make a quick buck from it on eBay or Discogs? What’s hilarious is that I went into this thing looking for consumerism gone wild and found a bunch of people so freaking thrilled to have a record store in town again that they couldn’t help being celebratory.

It all just felt deliciously transgressive, not only interacting with strangers face-to-face, free from engagement algorithms, but also seeing everyone behaving so cooperatively at an event that, by its nature, should foster competition. And buying music that I actually own—with no EULA, no usage rights that can be revoked—always feels subversive, but doubly so on a day like this.

In the end, I didn’t end up getting everything I would have liked to buy that day. I didn’t get the Dwight Yoakam box set, The Beginning and Then Some: The Albums of the ’80s. But oddly, I’m not bitter about it. Really. I’m legitimately happy for whoever did end up snagging it, and I hope they love it every bit as much as I would have. And honestly, for this sort of event, three out of four ain’t bad.

RSD haul

I also snagged a couple of non-RSD King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard LPs to add to my growing collection. (I have, for whatever reason, decided they’re going to be the band whose vinyl records I collect first and foremost.) So I left feeling as if things had gone as well as I could have reasonably hoped.

For me, that is. I couldn’t help wondering if they’d gone as well for Travis and Bear. I’d stopped by the shop the week before to interview Travis for a future story I’m still working on. I’d asked him what his expectations were. He honestly didn’t have any, but he did say that back in Muncie, he’d wave to people he’d never seen before as they left the shop on Record Store Day and say, “See ya in 364 days!”

So I went back the next day to ask him how things had gone for him, and whether or not he thinks the event had its intended effect.

“Yesterday was a lot of people’s introductions to our store existing at all,” he told me. “Every day of the week, we have people telling us, ‘This is my new favorite haunt!’ So ask me next year. It’s really hard to tell whether we’re building our new clientele because of Record Store Day or just because people in Montgomery were so hungry for a record store closer to home.”

I asked him if he got any sense of the overall vibe of the crowd, and he told me, “I did see new faces, and a few people shared that they usually come out just on Record Store Day for the exclusives because they feel like they already own everything else they could ever want. And that’s my kryptonite, man, because I’m one of those firm believers that you should be constantly broadening your musical horizons, and there are so many amazing artists and records that I know most people have never heard of before. Somewhere in that pile of unheard records is your new favorite—you just don’t know it yet.”


I also couldn’t resist asking about the financial burden of Record Store Day that I’d read so much about online. “Yesterday cost me a lot of money,” he said. “I went into debt to bring these exclusives in. So it had to do well. Luckily it did, but I honestly broke even.

“That’s just what it’s like for all of us, though. I’m not unique in that respect. Frankly, some record stores go $10,000 into debt. I’ve had Record Store Days where I did spend a lot more. But again, I didn’t know my market that well. I was literally looking at a piece of paper and just sort of guessing: ‘OK, maybe three copies of this? I think I heard someone mentioning they liked this artist, but it seems cool, so maybe two copies of that?’ It’s like reading tea leaves, but it costs a lot more than tea.”

I asked him how he ultimately decided which exclusives to order and which to pass on, and he told me, “There’s a lot of me looking and thinking, Do I want to pay $38 for that title in the hopes that someone will be willing to buy it for $45? But that’s what this game is every single day. Every week, 120 albums come out. Which ones should I carry? Of course, I don’t want to just carry what Target is carrying. I want to cater to the weirdos and the people who like IDM or Cuban son music or Brazilian funk compilations from the ’70s. I want to build a place for those people to call home. But each degree away from the mainstream is a degree in the direction of the complete unknown. And hence, in the direction of the more risky.”

All is calm

Before I left, I asked Travis if he thought Record Store Day had lost some of its original spirit, as I’d feared. He paused for a minute, thinking deeply about his response, which I always respect. “Our society is such a big-box society with a big-box mentality. People like to be able to go somewhere that has everything and they kinda know exactly where everything is located. Every Target looks the same. Every Walmart looks the same. And people like that. They like the familiarity and security. But that doesn’t help the little-box people. The mom-and-pop shops.

“And so, for us to be able to have a day like Record Store Day, I’m super grateful for it. If you think about it, RSD is here to support and promote the independent mom-and-pop record shop where you can meet and connect with the freaks and the geeks and the weirdos and outcasts who are as passionate about music as you are.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong: We have to pay the bills. We have to play the capitalists’ game. But luckily for us, the passion and the love that we share with our clientele—I’m glad you saw that aspect of it and could see past the monetary transactions.”

In the weeks since Record Store Day, I’ve been back by the shop a few times, mostly just to hang out and chat and talk about music with actual human beings in actual meatspace. So mission accomplished, I guess. I also much prefer the quieter vibe of regular business days. But I have to admit, I’m already looking forward to—and I cannot believe I’m typing these words—the upcoming RSD Black Friday. I’ve actively rebelled against Black Friday proper for decades now. I find it repugnant. I refuse to buy anyone’s Christmas presents until after Cyber Monday, just on principle. But something about the idea of RSD Black Friday pulls me in.

What’s really hilarious about all of this is that, as mentioned above, I still don’t have a turntable. So I can’t listen to any of these new records I’ve procured. But that will be rectified soon. Stay tuned for next month’s story about the six months of analysis paralysis that led to a final decision about which record player I’m adding to my reference system. Soon. Promise.

. . . Dennis Burger