After a yacht rock brunch in the basement of Smoke & Barrel left “Baby Come Back” firmly stuck in my head, I set out for the 6th Annual DC Record Fair with the lofty expectation it might help dislodge it. Lofty because there’s no surefire solution to the blight of smooth, pledging white dude falsetto of late-70s soft rock greatest hits after its sunk into your gourd. Like a bad case of the hiccups, right when it seems to be gone—there it is popping up again. It was so that by the time I arrived at the record fair Dr. Hook’s “When Your in Love with a Beautiful Woman” was playing in my head.
Arriving at the scene, there was a small news crew had set-up outside Penn Social, holding brief interviews with people as they exited the fair. Asking questions of the typical what’s-in-your-bag variety, but with a formality that made me wonder if they could have been conducting a kind of high school sociology project. Inside the venue swarms of people stood over cardboard boxes and plastic crates bent-necked filing through piles of vinyl, building-up a layer of dust on their fingertips as they worked through the fair’s 40+ vendors, consisting both of local record businesses and private sellers, spread out across Penn Social’s two floors.
The club was full with crate diggers of all the major types: the gray-hairs that grew-up on vinyl and have been collecting it since 1968, who at one point in time owed every Pink Floyd album and single ever released, even the more obscure Syd Barrett solo material; the guys that regrettably sold their entire collection for pennies—giving them away—to make space and now, similar to the dude who’s basement flooded ruining everything, attempts to re-establish his once-loved, now-gone collection and so has began re-buying them all, album by album.
There were the Generation X-ers, too, people born in the age of the CD boom when crate digging was the sole realm of DJs and vinyl had been seemed to have been replaced, yet the greater glory of wax was nonetheless still being demonstrated by the turntablists—DJ Shadow, Q-bert, Mix Master Mike, etc.—scratching, beat juggling, doing things with breaks that proved how formidable a turntable could be as an instrument. I was also there, a Millennial, a byproduct of the iPod revolution and whose exposure to vinyl began out of the curious pleasure of one day uncovering the few of my father’s remaining LPs in an unlabeled storage box.
The strong turnout is a testament to the DC Record Fair’s solid organization and past success as well the recent resurgence of vinyl in general. Why vinyl has return with a vengeance has become an oft-asked question, and while a preferred sound quality is frequently cited alongside other boarder romantic—in some cases nostalgic—reasons for this second awaking of wax, rarely is the act of crate digging given consideration as a contributing factor. The return of vinyl collectors is not a fad nor is it some offhand political statement about modern consumerism as if it were somehow the kickback to the impersonality of online shopping. It is a music buying experience plain and simple, centered on the act of patiently combing through stacks of old cardboard and wax. The hypnotic, meditative effect of which was on clear display this Sunday by the crate diggers and collectors spending hours of their weekend on this endless task.
And for those searching the DC Record Fair offered plenty of rewards, regardless if you were someone looking to grab a copy of your favorite Clash album, or just stumbled across a Dutch import of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was worth the price for the holographic cover art alone. The DC Record Fair was confirmation, once again, that the art of crate digging is alive and well in the district.