The yellow Blue Bird school bus creakily climbed the ascent of the Williamsburg Bridge, the vinyl seat was hot against my legs, the air from the half-open window crisp and sprung. The kids in the back of the bus stomped the floor, and sang together: “Nothing good happens past 2 am.”
It’s not a childhood memory, this was last weekend. The “kids” in the back were loud-mouths in sports jerseys, and the music was played by the band Bear Hands, squeezed into bus seats with their guitars, the drummer rattling a tambourine and laying in the falsetto counter-refrain of the band’s latest, “2am.”
And the seats were the least-important vinyl of the day—this is Record Store Day, and the first ever Record Store Crawl.
The bus went from Williamsburg to the West Village to hit Bleecker Street Records and Generation Records, then back to Brooklyn for Rough Trade, with live entertainment from Bear Hands in both directions. The $60 ticket also got you a Record Store Day tote bag that contained a Rough Trade slipmat, a random Record Store Day vinyl LP (one guy was no-joke “stoked” to get an A-Ha record; another girl traded for a Dio album despite not knowing the band), and a “limited edition Led Zeppelin gift pack” that contained a couple of posters and a vinyl LP (a couple of people got good records, but there was an overabundance of Coda, which means there are now more copies of that record that everyone got rid of after college).
But perhaps the best part of the package was the morning: $1 tacos and free drinks at Baby’s All Right, starting at 11am, and there didn’t seem to be a caveat on “free drinks” except for “no Bloody Marys.” Extra points to the guys shooting Woodford Reserve; red card to the guy asking the only bartender to make him a Manhattan—that’s just rude, as well as gauche. AND he paid for his $1 taco with a credit card. The scene was full-on SXSW: a DJ, schwag bags, and neck tags; overconsumption before noon; freebies like Kind snacks and Zico chocolate coconut water going faster than flapjacks. And then our host—chaperone?—Dick Joseph from Warner got on the megaphone and did a serious raffle for some truly decent prizes like headphones and, of course, limited vinyl.
2015 was the tenth consecutive year that vinyl sales grew “considerably,” according to Forbes. Some may dismiss vinyl as hipster fetish objects, but sales don’t rely on Williamsbearders buying 180-gram re-releases of Slint’s Spiderland. According to Forbes, “Adele’s 25 was the best-selling vinyl of the year, with 116,000 copies sold in 2015,” and right behind her was Taylor Swift’s “1989.”
Even if you don’t agree that vinyl’s legendary “warm” sound is “better,” maybe there’s something to be said for actually owning a physical record in a world where instant streaming and ripped downloads seem interchangeably ephemeral, and no one seems to own a CD player anymore. Eff the cloud, the “object” is back: these days, bands non-ironically sell their albums on cassette tape.Flush with free wax, the 44 people on the bus were also flush with free booze. Val Loper, bass player for Bear Hands, had told me before the ride that he was concerned people wouldn’t be able to hear the band over all the ambient noise, but as we pulled out the crowd quieted down like good children and enjoyed the surreal show, many of them knowing the refrain of the brand-new single. The band followed that with a weed song, because, “Usually when we drive across the Williamsburg Bridge we smoke weed,” and then delicious harmonies of “Vile Iowa,” the city splayed out and sparkling through the bus windows. With “time for one more” the band played their hit “Giants,” a crowd-pleaser, and then—the whole party descended into reality.
Yep, Saturday Manhattan traffic. AND a Bernie rally. AAAAND the bus driver inexplicably turned north on Bowery, putting us right into Union Square. A fun ride went predictably bus-ish: a hot, nauseous start-stop for a solid hour, as people reverted to their elementary bus selves. Most made the best of it, and bless the musicians, noodling on their instruments: Warner is also behind the Metallica (2016 RSD ambassadors) backlist re-releases, so it was especially fitting when Val started banging out the intro to “One.”
I followed the band—Dylan Rau, Val Loper, TJ Orscher, and Ted Fedman—to a bar to find out that they seemed to think the set went over. “It was awkward at first, but I think it turned out ok,” Ted said. TJ said he’d never played on a bus before, and Val added, “never played on a moving vehicle.”
In TJ’s telling, some of the crowd didn’t know who they were, and requested some Dylan. “‘Oh, you play covers and stuff?’ ‘No, we’re gonna play songs from our own band.’ ‘Oh, you have a band?’” This got laughs from the band. “Seems like an odd pairing,” TJ said, “drunk adults on a school bus.” “Seems right,” Ted replied. When I asked why they would go along with such a wonderfully bad idea, Ted said, “We’re really adaptable,” and TJ added, “It’s not like we were doing anything else— except being hungover from the record release yesterday, but we just weened that off with the open bar.”
We talked about the other record stores the crawl could have gone to, the fact that most records now come with digital downloads, and I suggested that next time, the crawl could be on the subway—an idea the band was into. Ted added that it was “weird to play live on Record Store Day, shouldn’t we be playing records?” Yes, Bear Hands’ new record is available on 180-gram blue vinyl, and yes, they put serious thought into where to end one side and begin the other, especially after having an issue with their previous release.
I caught up with the Record Store Crawl at Generation records, where they were passing out free donuts outside and giving Crawl attendees 15% off non-RSD purchases inside, provided you were able to dig while being jostled by the biggest record-shopping crowd of the year. Most people lined up in front of the counter to peruse the list of what Generation actually received (not every store gets every RSD release), while the band Seaside Caves tuned up on the tiny stage at the back of the basement, ready to launch into another non-recorded set. Dick had his RSD sign out like a good chaperone, and said that he was already planning a summer crawl.
I slipped out and headed for the subway, convinced I could beat the bus to Rough Trade.