Despite persistent rumors of its demise, vinyl never really went anywhere. It may have landed on the endangered species list for a while in the 1980s and ’90s, but it was always there, waiting for everyone to get over an infatuation with compact discs.
Digital formats still rule the marketplace, with the sale of downloads soaring each year. But sales of vinyl — and more important, an appreciation of all that vinyl offers — has been on the rise for years. Sales last year were up 18 percent over 2011.
To that end, David Hodge, Melinda Angstrom and Lee Staton will debut VinylFest this weekend in Louisville. Tonight through Sunday, VinylFest will offer exhibits, panels, films and, most important, a room filled with dealers ready to satisfy your long-play addiction.
The organizers have a long history with niche festivals, WonderFest being their best known. When WonderFest’s home hotel, the Crowne Plaza Louisville Airport Hotel, asked them if they had any other ideas, Angstrom quickly floated the idea of vinyl.
Record collectors, after all, are just as dedicated to their passion as the film, monster and model fans that have flocked to WonderFest for nearly 25 years.
“I didn’t think there was anything like it, not this particular niche,” Angstrom said. “Of course, there are music festivals but not something this niche. We also felt that if we followed the same plan as we do with WonderFest that it would be really successful.”
Rather than simply being a record show, where dealers gather in a hotel conference room, VinylFest is designed as a celebration of the format.
Album cover artists Ken Kelly, William Stout and Joe Busam will be there. Kelly, a renowned fantasy artist, is perhaps most famous for covers for KISS’ “Destroyer” and a series for metal band Manowar. Stout, an acclaimed comic and dinosaur artist, has specialized in bootleg LP covers, and his “Legends of the Blues” is a monumental collection of portraits of famous blues musicians.
Mark Dunn, who specializes in music licensing issues for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, will speak, offering advice about how to get music licensed. Sojourn Records’ Mark Ambrosino will talk about being an independent artist. A panel on what it takes to turn a puck of melted vinyl into your favorite album will feature Jay Millar of Nashville’s United Record Pressing.
On Saturday, Sojourn recording artist Blessing Offor will perform a full concert. Music films will be shown all weekend, highlighted by the rarely seen documentary “MC5: A True Testimonial” on Saturday night. Also showing are “Spinal Tap,” “It Might Get Loud,” “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story” and “Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway in 1967.”
There will also be exhibitions of album covers, which gets to the heart of the festival. Vinyl lovers have a list of reasons why the format is preferred, including sound quality and the availability of cheap used records, but it gets deeper. Many are in love with its fetishistic qualities: the size, texture, collectability and the potential for beauty. Google Bill Evans + “Undertow” and see if your breath doesn’t catch in your throat.
“For almost the entire history of recorded media, up until the mid-1980s, every single artist, musician, engineer, producer — anyone involved in the creation of a musical recording — held in their mind that the finished product of their work and creativity would be on a record,” said Louisville’s Jaxon Swain, a discriminating collector. “I have a respect for that. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
The all-important dealers room will largely be sellers fresh to the Louisville market. Hodge said that dealers affiliated with the Alpha Records Music Collectors Convention, a record show held in Louisville several times a year, have been skittish about renting space because the fees are higher. It’s a perception problem, he said.
“People are really flummoxed by the fact that we’re doing a convention,” Hodge said. “We’re actually creating an experience, and that’s the way I like to put it. You go to a record show just to buy stuff, and we’re providing other reasons to go. You don’t actually have to buy anything if you love music.”
While organizers are satisfied with the number of dealers this year — they had around 20 at midweek, with room for more — Angstrom said that a new event has to prove itself. WonderFest now has more than 100 dealers.
“It will grow, and that’s what happened with WonderFest, although this convention is starting out with a much bigger bang,” she said. “It has potential to be something really amazing, and I actually already have the headline guest lined up for next year.”
For a full schedule of events, go to www.vinylfest.net.
Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at (502) 582-4160.
When: Today, 7 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Saturday, 10-1 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Crowne Plaza Louisville
Airport Hotel, 830 Phillips Lane
Admission: Tonight’s pre-show event is free. Weekend admission for adults is
$15 per day or $20 for two-day pass;
ages 4 to 12, $4 per day, $7 for
two-day pass; ages 3 and under, free.
WATCH A VIDEO
Get a look at Jeffrey Lee’s record collection, none of which is for sale, so don’t bother asking, at www.courier-journal.com/music.