Car City Records employee Chad Gilchrist, right, sorts through discs for sale by Johnnie Hilson, left. Record stores around Metro Detroit and the United States will celebrate Record Store Day on Saturday. (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)
There are places where the incense still burns, where you can hum a song and the clerk will help you name that tune, and where you can walk through the doors with a stack of music and walk out with a few bucks (or a credit slip to put toward even more music) in your pocket.
Those places are called record stores, and now they have their own holiday.
Saturday marks the second annual Record Store Day, a day set up to celebrate independent music retailers and the old-school record store experience -- you know, actually going into a store to buy music (what a concept!), as opposed to downloading it in your bedroom.
Artists from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Jack White are among the dozens of performers offering exclusive products to participating stores for Record Store Day. That's a huge increase from last year, when fewer than 10 artists participated by offering Record Store Day-only exclusives.
"It's just exploded," says L.A.-based Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day. "This is all about the connection between the community and the artist."
Not to mention the connection between the community and their local mom-and-pop record shop. Businesses that are thriving do not necessarily warrant their own designated tributes, and it's no secret that record stores have seen their better days.
Over the last six years, approximately one-third of all independent record shops in the U.S. have closed their doors, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a California-based marketing firm. Album sales, meanwhile, have eroded 45 percent since 2000, as downloading has chipped away at the music industry's bottom line.
But record stores are still alive and kicking. Even in an age of digital downloads, there's a purity about record stores that can't be captured by going online, no matter how many albums are available at your fingertips. At the 20-plus-year-old Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, home to some 50,000 used and new records, clerk Dion Fischer flips through the $1 used record bin and comes across albums by Bruce Springsteen, Jethro Tull and the Beatles. "No download can beat a scratchy Beatles record," he says, holding up a copy of "Let it Be."
Record stores allow customers to interact with music in a way that's impossible in the digital age, says Jesse Hughes, former record store clerk and current frontman for trash-rockers Eagles of Death Metal. He says the demise of record stores is due in large part to record store customers themselves. "The people who cry the hardest about its death are the ones sitting on their butts and downloading," says Hughes, which leads him into a quote from Edmund Burke: "Evil will prevail when good men do nothing."
Billy O'Keefe is one of the good men trying to do something. His Utica record store, Rock-A-Billy's, is hosting eight in-store performances on Saturday, including sets by formerly obscure '70s singer Rodriguez and indie pop-rockers the Silent Years.
O'Keefe is a big believer in Record Store Day, not only for its value in the community but at the cash registers as well. He says last year's Record Store Day rivaled his Christmas sales, and he expects this year to be even bigger.
Rock-A-Billy's has been open for 15 years, and O'Keefe says times right now in the record business are "as tough as they've ever been.
"But hopefully this is as tough as it's going to be," he says. "Down the road, it's going to be looking good -- I believe that, and I've gotta believe that. If I didn't believe that, I could not stay in business."
One of the bright spots on the calendar, he says, is Record Store Day. But there are still 364 other days on the calendar, a fact which isn't lost on record store owners or their loyal customers.
Says Car City's Fischer, "For us, every day is Record Store Day."
Record Store Day is a day to celebrate independent record stores. Here's a list of several in Metro Detroit that are worth visiting Saturday:
27360 Gratiot Ave., Roseville
Specialty: Techno and electronic music
8411 Hall Road, Utica
Specialty: Indie rock, punk
Street Corner Music
17620 W. 13 Mile, Beverly Hills (moving to Oak Park in June)
Specialty: New and used jazz, R&B and hip-hop
Car City Records
21918 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores
Specialty: Used R&B, jazz and rock
3161 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Specialty: Used 45s -- the store carries more than 80,000 of them
Damon's Record Center
20124 Plymouth Road, Detroit
Specialty: Urban music -- gospel, rap, jazz and blues