- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2011

In a time when shiny, compact gadgets seem to be the focus of music listening, a steady number of local music dealers, collectors and fans are promoting vinyl records - a medium that isn’t necessarily superior but is certainly unique.

“If you have a really nice [digital] system, it’s going to sound really good. But some people like having the original medium the way it was released,” said Kevin Coombe, co-organizer of the D.C. Record Fair, held Sunday at the Artisphere cultural center in Arlington.

Mr. Coombe, founder of the DC Soul music company, talked as hundreds of people unplugged their ear buds, ignored their cellphones and combed through thousands of vinyl records, wrapped in vivid cardboard sleeves.

“For me, it’s having something to hold. It’s artistic, there’s some historical element,” the 32-year-old said. “And that’s just cool.”

The daylong fair is the creation of Mr. Coombe, Neal Becton of Som Records in Northwest, Jon Meyers of the Vinyl District blog, and Chris Knott, a trade associate by day and record fair catchall when the day calls for it.

The fair began several years ago with about 16 dealers, said Mr. Knott, 43.

There have been about 10 so far, including one in February 2010 at the Black Cat music venue in Northwest that attracted about 1,000 people.

“We’ve tried to find places a little bit bigger. We average between 500 and 600 people. We’re hopeful people from D.C. are coming, but I think when we lose people from D.C. we gain them from Virginia.”

One such attendee was Sean Connell, an employee with CD Cellar in Falls Church and Arlington. As he put the $95 worth of records he’d just purchased from Mr. Knott into a plastic crate, the 24-year-old said the store had hoped to get a table at the event but didn’t make the cutoff time. Instead, Mr. Connell spent his day off buying records.

“Some people ask for a record and I’ll remember it when I see it,” Mr. Connell said. “Usually I’m looking for jazz, R&B, stuff customers are looking for. I feel like vinyl is coming back.”

On Sunday, attendees browsed tables loaded with crates and boxes stuffed with records. There was a record for most any taste. Some buyers clutched albums with Eric Clapton and Elvis Presley on the cover and motioned to their friends to check out the psychedelic images from the 1960s.

Columbia, S.C., resident Gina Ercolini picked up a range of vinyl, including a Ramones album, Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and a recording of a speech by Malcolm X.

Though in town for a concert, she heard about the fair and came to help build her record collection for the second time after having to sell her original stock when she moved across the country.

“I jumped right back in,” the University of South Carolina professor said. “I got into music that only releases new material on vinyl. I don’t want to buy anything I already have on CD.”

As a 15-year veteran of record collection, Annapolis resident Jason McMillan said the appeal for him about vinyl is finding music he’s never seen or heard before.

“I can take the record out. [It can play] and I can stop it with my hand. Plus I can make music with them,” he said. “It’s like an addiction. I’m completely obsessed.”

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