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Vinyl revival: Resurgence in records has city hotel's customers spinning LPs again

Garrick Hotel owner Gary Birshtein began hosting bring your own vinyl nights in September, and had the crowd rocking to Chuck Berry’s greatest hits.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Garrick Hotel owner Gary Birshtein began hosting bring your own vinyl nights in September, and had the crowd rocking to Chuck Berry’s greatest hits.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2014 (1674 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph reported sales of new, vinyl records in the United Kingdom are on pace to surpass one million units in 2014, making this the first year since 1996 vinyl sales in that country will have topped the seven-figure mark.

Numbers are even more impressive on this side of the pond. Annual sales figures of new vinyl in North America jumped 32 per cent last year to over six million records sold, and are expected to hit seven million by the end of 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Business owners are picking up on what's been labelled as the "vinyl revival"; a quick Google search turns up dozens of venues across Canada and the U.S. that run "bring your own vinyl" promotions. The premise of BYOV nights is pretty straightforward: Customers show up with a stack of their favourite records in tow and take turns playing DJ on equipment set up specifically for the occasion.

Pete McCarthy manages Gabe's in Iowa City, Iowa, and has been in charge of that bar's bring your own vinyl night since April.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2014 (1674 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph reported sales of new, vinyl records in the United Kingdom are on pace to surpass one million units in 2014, making this the first year since 1996 vinyl sales in that country will have topped the seven-figure mark.

Numbers are even more impressive on this side of the pond. Annual sales figures of new vinyl in North America jumped 32 per cent last year to over six million records sold, and are expected to hit seven million by the end of 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Business owners are picking up on what's been labelled as the "vinyl revival"; a quick Google search turns up dozens of venues across Canada and the U.S. that run "bring your own vinyl" promotions. The premise of BYOV nights is pretty straightforward: Customers show up with a stack of their favourite records in tow and take turns playing DJ on equipment set up specifically for the occasion.

Pete McCarthy manages Gabe's in Iowa City, Iowa, and has been in charge of that bar's bring your own vinyl night since April.

"Each person picks a few songs they'd like to hear (and) the selections are always all over the map," McCarthy explains. "We've paired up with a local record store called Record Collector and provide order slips to customers in case they hear something they like and want to get a copy for themselves."

"We have been doing BYOV for a few months," says the person answering the phone at the Spacebar, in Orlando, Fla. "We've done some theme nights but mostly it's an open format. We have a bullhorn we use on anyone playing crappy music but for the most part, it's just people playing music they think everybody else will enjoy."

Gary Birshtein, who owns the Garrick Hotel, began hosting bring your own vinyl nights in the barroom of his downtown inn in September. And while the Garrick isn't the first place in town to do so — the Cavern on Osborne Street used to stage an event billed as the Vinyl Drip — it is, without a doubt, the only watering hole where patrons have been treated to Maurice Ravel cranked to 11.

"Classical (music) sounds really awesome in here, so the first night we did this I kicked things off with Bolero," says Birshtein, 44, who usually breaks the ice with a few selections from his personal collection, which he stores next to a table laden with two turntables, an amp and a mixing board. "After Bolero, I played Muddy (Waters), some Thorogood and ended things with Nutbush City Limits, by Ike and Tina (Turner). When I was done there were a lot of people coming up to me saying, 'Hey, such and such song was really good — what was the name of it again?' Which is the whole point of the evening: to discover things you may never have heard before."

Birshtein purchased the 106-year-old hotel in 2008, a couple of years after it was featured in the Brad Pitt movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Following a slew of renovations, Birshtein started booking bands to play the homey, main floor barroom on a weekly basis.

About six months ago, Birshtein noticed a trend: a lot of the acts he was hiring were showing up with copies of their latest recordings on good, old-fashioned vinyl, which they would then sell to the crowd between sets. "And not just LPs but singles, too," Birshtein says. "It was something I hadn't seen in a long time.

"I bought one (record), then another, then another, and it kind of rekindled my whole interest in (vinyl). I was like, 'Omigawd, I love this, I miss this... I think I better go find the rest of my records.'"

One problem (well, two): it had been a while since Birshtein owned a turntable, so before he could listen to his latest purchases, he had to go shopping. What he discovered next, however, was that he and his wife had a difference of opinion over how loud was too loud. So Birshtein moved everything, hook, line and stylus, to his place of work.

"And that's where the idea for (BYOV) came from; I simply wanted a place I could blast my music, without bothering anybody," he says with a laugh.

The Garrick stages bring your own vinyl nights every Tuesday, starting at 8 p.m. Birshtein is still working on the particulars but for the most part, the rule of thumb has been buy a drink, get the opportunity to play two songs. Some people tell stories about the tune they select, detailing where they bought it and when, while others simply state, "This is Moonage Daydream by David Bowie. I hope you like it."

"There was one couple on the second night that was so excited by the whole idea," Birshtein says. "Apparently they'd been doing something like this in their basement with friends but when they saw the set-up here, with the lasers and the fog machine, they told me 'Oh, this is so much more fun.'"

Alex Reid is one of the organizers of Rockin' Richard's Record Show, a semi-annual, music lovers' extravaganza that celebrated its 14th anniversary at the Victoria Inn last weekend.

A while ago, Reid and Birshtein began discussing a partnership; Birshtein would like to stage a scaled-down version of Reid's record show at the Garrick once or twice a month, tied to bring your own vinyl night. He would devote a few tables to sales items and there might even be an opportunity, he figures, for customers to listen to a cut or two before deciding whether they want to purchase an album or not.

"Our (record) show started with 25 vendors and 200 people attending and now we're up to 85 vendors and over 1,000 people coming through the doors," says Reid. "This could probably grow like that, too."

Besides discovering new songs, what Reid enjoys most about gatherings like Birshtein's is they tend to attract people with a common interest, he says.

"Everybody (here) speaks the same language. They don't call our record show a show anymore — they call it a convention. Because it's as much talking about records as buying records. Plus, not everyone can go out and spend money on an expensive turntable so if you want to enjoy your music on a really, good stereo, this is perfect."

Birshtein admits vinyl lovers aren't the only tender-hearted types he hopes to attracted to his establishment.

"To me, there aren't enough romantic places in Winnipeg," he says. "I think a great date would be to take a girl out to dinner, then come here for a nightcap and dedicate a couple of songs to her, from records you hid in the backseat of your car."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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History

Updated on Monday, October 27, 2014 at 11:35 AM CDT: Corrects name.

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