Oldies but goodies time at Columbia museum

jmonk@thestate.comApril 27, 2014 

— They weigh a few ounces, are made of vinyl and look like pancaked black Frisbees.

But oh – what sounds they make, what memories they hold.

“I’m just looking, seeing if I can find a gem,” said Erin Odom, 35, of Columbia, who was at the Columbia Museum of Art’s seventh annual Greater Columbia Record Fair, flipping through old albums.

“My husband and I are music lovers, and we recently got an old turntable restored, and we’re looking to add to our collection,” said Odom, a fifth-grade teacher. She was especially interested in “early country – Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, that era.”

She was among the hundreds who flocked to the museum’s spacious lobby Sunday afternoon to look through thousands of old-time LP records and 45 rpm singles, mostly from the 1960s and early 1970s. Those years were one of pop music’s most exciting eras, with folk and rock and soul and country exploding into new genres – and vinyl records were the YouTube and microchip of the times.

Vendor Jesse Baumgarner, 29, of the Clemson area, was presiding over a stock of more than 1,000 records and chatting with customers.

“Everybody has their own taste. That’s what’s awesome about records — this gives them an opportunity to find it,” said Baumgarner, a caterer by trade. He helps sell records at shows because he likes talking to people about music and learning from customers.

“I love Bob Dylan, but I had never heard of his “Desire” album. A customer turned me on to it. Now it’s my favorite album of his. You might have a favorite artist, but you might not know all his albums until someone says, ‘You need to listen to this.’ I love it when someone says, ‘You never heard that before?’ ”

Record sales events like Sunday’s – a human eBay in a real place where cash is king and buyer and seller can actually see each other – are common these days across the country. Increasingly, vendors said, they attract an eclectic crowd – young, old, male and female.

Some 25 vendors from across the Carolinas and Virginia displayed tens of thousands of records.

Old LPs and 45s went for a dollar each to more than $100, depending on the condition and how a rare the records were. Average price was about $8, vendors said.

“Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Dolly Parton – I sold a bunch of Dolly Patron today,” said Chris Wenner, 37, of West Columbia, an audio equipment installer. He proudly showed Bob Dylan’s first album, from 1962.

The era had its tragic side. Some notable – Jim Morrison of The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – were reported to have died of drug overdoses. Reggae great Bob Marley died at 36.

“Some candles burn really bright but they burn out quicker,” Wenner said. “We definitely lost a lot of greats from the ’60s and ’70s.”

Evan Harrelson, 24, a senior English major at the University of South Carolina, bought a Phil Ochs live concert album. Ochs, now mostly forgotten, was celebrated by millions of young people for his folk protest songs in the 1960s.

“I really like live albums, and I really like Phil Ochs,” said Harrelson, who bought the album for $5. He goes to record-selling shows because he likes the sense of community.

In our 21st century era of Wi-Fi, YouTube and digital audio, LP records seem quite outdated. But when they were introduced in 1948, they represented a giant leap in audio technology, allowing someone to listen to one side of a record for 20 minutes or more.

Some people prefer the old vinyl to today’s CD and microchip technology.

“Vinyl is like the ultimate format. You put the needle down, start to finish, no interruption, sound quality is analog, you get the warmth of the instrument. Digital is like it’s sterilized,” said Harrelson.

Vendors said the downtown Columbia museum, with its light-filled lobby, high ceiling and a plaza outside where people can drink a beer and eat hot dogs was a fine place to showcase the old-time records.

“The old model for these shows is a hotel ballroom, usually out on a highway,” said vendor Tim Harris, 53, from Lynchburg, Va., who was selling. “This is really a big social event. “

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344

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