“Singles were the gateway drug to a lifetime addiction to music,” confesses Judy Negley.
As co-owner of Colorado-based Independent Records, Negley has turned that addiction into a local empire and a nearly spiritual vocation. On Saturday, April 17, the businesswoman’s seven area stores — along with 20 others in Colorado and hundreds around the world — will join Record Store Day, a celebration of music, localism and, above all, independence.
Now in its third official year, Record Store Day is a time to honor the critical role that locally-owned music retailers play in a growing local music scene like Denver’s.
Record Store Day might, at first, look like the last, desperate gasps of an obsolete enterprise, given headlines that continually predict the death of the brick-and-mortar retailer. It might even look like a revolutionary act, with the underdogs plotting the violent overthrow of the titans. The actual event, however, simply strives to celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of indie stores with a sense of humor and fun.
This year, the clever folks at Record Store Day’s headquarters roped in notoriously witty rocker Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures, as spokesperson and ambassador. Homme’s promotional video perfectly encapsulates what Negley calls the “snarky enthusiasm” of the event.
As Homme cleverly suggests, the notion of the record store as a community center and gathering place flies in the face of everything that the bigger — and admittedly, less expensive — big box stores represent. They can use their buying power to procure and sell CDs for far less than Negley and her compatriots at Twist and Shout, Wax Trax, Angelo’s and elsewhere can manage. But a visit to Target or Best Buy is unlikely to result in new friendships or new musical discoveries.
“You see behaviors in our stores that you won’t see in a normal retail environment,” Negley asserts with pride. “People are relaxed. They hang out. It’s a dating service. It’s a kill-time service. And it has been for decades.”
“We all have our ear to the ground and care about what happens in our communities,” says Paul Epstein, owner of Twist and Shout.
Walk into Epstein’s store at Colfax and Columbine and you’re immediately struck by the newly expanded and prominently displayed array of releases by local artists. “It’s something that’s been exceedingly important to us over the years,” the 22-year veteran business owner continues. “The connection between local music and independent business has always been strong. The wide reach of the internet has caused people to focus on what’s special in their own communities,” he surmises. “The average local band can’t just waltz into Wal-Mart or Best Buy and put their records on the shelf, and they can here.”
Negley echoes Epstein’s sentiments. “From the beginning, we focused on local acts,” she says. “While everybody was big on the national thing, we made a concerted effort to stay away from that and support local people.” It is this local focus that gives independently owned record stores their unique value, something you just can’t get from shopping on iTunes or searching Limewire.
“It’s been our philosophy since August of 1978,” Negley continues. “We need to be reflective of the cultures and communities that we’re in. We wanted to have an atmosphere where people felt more like it was their living room than a retail store, and we definitely achieved it,” she laughs.
Proving its commitment to local music, Independent’s April 17 festivities will feature performances by local musicians (including Speakeasy Tiger and DB and the Catastrophe here in Denver), as well as other entertainers and food.
Over on Capitol Hill, Wax Trax will be getting in the game as well, hosting performances from local rockers between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Featured bands include Ideal Fathers, Speedwolf, Accordion Crimes and metal mavens Tauntaun, who will release a two-song seven-inch exclusively for Record Store Day. You can catch a sneak preview via the band’s Bandcamp site.
All three stores, as well as the others participating in Record Store Day, will be selling the exclusive Record Store Day releases (many on vinyl) for which the day has become known.
By hosting these events on the same day and under the banner of Record Store Day, these separate businesses manage to present a united cultural front. While small stores like Independent Records, Wax Trax and Twist and Shout often compete for a share of the same dwindling market — the world of physical records and CDs — neither Negley nor Epstein views the other as a competitor. “We’ve been doing this for 22 years,” says Epstein, “and my view has always been that the other independent stores are my brothers and sisters, not my competition.”
Once again, Negley agrees. “Paul and I have a very strong history,” she explains. “Between the two of us, I think we serve people very well. There’s plenty of room out there for everybody. I’ve always considered it a collaboration.”
It is this spirit of collaboration, camaraderie and local pride that Record Store Day strives to cultivate. “It’s all about having a ball,” says Negley. “As long as everyone leaves with a smile that day, that’s success.”
For Epstein, the goal and purpose of Record Store Day goes beyond just music and into the vitality of our community. “It’s a nice opportunity for us — and everyone in the community — to recognize the importance of independent record stores and independent businesses, in general,” he states. “It speaks to the yearning for something real and local. It’s about restaurants, bookstores, map stores, who fixes your bike and where you buy your food, too.”
While they struggle to make ends meet and find their place in the digital world, independently owned record stores are as important to Colorado’s cultural landscape as the local bands we’re so lucky to have and so eager to support. In that way, Record Store Day celebrates all that is special about our music, our art and our businesses. It also pulls us away from our computers and into our communities.
“My partner said it best years ago,” Negley concludes. “Sooner or later, people wanna get out of their fucking living rooms.”
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.