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Spending $20 at the DC Record Fair: AU Students Take the Challenge

By Lindsay Maizland | 2/3/17 4:40pm | Updated 2/7/17 6:57pm
Jaclyn Merica / American Word Magazine

Every year, vinyl-loving AU students and DJs head to Penn Social in Chinatown for an afternoon of flipping through record bins. The biannual DC Record Fair welcomes record dealers from throughout the East Coast, listeners searching for newer pop music and vintage record collectors looking for lost gems. But the most important part is the thousands of records thrown into wooden and plastic crates begging to be listened to.

This year’s fair took place on January 29. While some students attended with friends, others joined WVAU, AU’s online student radio station, in their tradition of exploring the Fair together. We challenged a few students and DJs to stick to a budget of only $20 for the day. For reference, I saw a FKA Twigs record priced at $20 and a record by The Police for $2.

This is what happened:

Luke Palermo – WVAU’s Co-General Manager

Dollars spent: $12

Records purchased:

  1. Black Sabbath, “Greatest Hits”

A DC Record Fair veteran, Palermo spent nearly $70 last year on three shrinkwrapped contemporary records, but staying within the $20 budget this year wasn’t a challenge. “Since I had a budget this time, I was focusing on the… boxes and boxes of the older records, and they tend to be a lot cheaper,” said Palermo. After spending the afternoon searching for recognizable artists, Palermo decided on a Black Sabbath record. The album art, a painting called “Triumph of the Death” dating back to the 16th century, caught Palermo’s eye. “It’s Sabbath and the cover goes well. It’s super macabre.” Coincidentally, the album also features one of Palermo’s favorite songs, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” so it was a great find.

Nicolla Etzion – AU student building a record collection

Dollars spent: $20

Records purchased:

  1. Simon & Garfunkel, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”
  2. Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”
  3. An Israeli album
  4. Elvis
  5. Eric Clapton
  6. Buffalo Springfield, “Retrospective”
  7. Joni Mitchell
  8. Jefferson Starship, “Spitfire”
  9. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “The Beat of the Brass”

Even though it was her first time at the DC Record Fair, Etzion definitely took the prize by purchasing the most records out of all the participants, while sticking to the budget. Her strategy was similar to Palermo’s: sift through the one-to four-dollar bins while keeping an eye out for artists she knew or album covers she liked. “I didn’t grow up in a very musical household, so I don’t know a lot of bands or anything like that,” said Etzion. “I’m trying to just slowly immerse myself in music.” To make up for it, Etzion took advantage of the vinyl-loving community by asking vendors and friends if the records she picked up would suit her music tastes.

George Marschall – Co-DJ of WVAU’s show “H U M A N M U S I C”

Dollars spent: $33

Records purchased:

  1. Meco, “Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk”
  2. Kool and the Gang
  3. Four LCD Soundsystem remix albums

When I first checked in with Marschall, he was well under the budget after purchasing two older albums for $5. But by the end of the day, he was over budget after finding four LCD Soundsystem remix albums for $7 each. “I'm cool with buying a few records for cheap but I always want one big purchase,” said Marschall. “The LCD Soundsystem records were my big purchase.”

Maxwell Hawla – Music lover and American Word writer

Dollars spent: $20

Records purchased:

  1. Little Feat, “Dixie Chicken”
  2. Wes Montgomery
  3. Charlie McCoy
  4. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “The Beat of the Brass”

Hawla managed to stay within the budget while also finding a really diverse set of records. From a southern rock record (“Dixie Chicken”) to a record produced by an artist famous for working with Elvis and Bob Dylan (Charlie McCoy), Hawla’s accumulated collection had it all. During the first part of the morning, Hawla struggled with sticking to the budget. “My initial go-to was the hip hop collections. I found a Jay Z album, but it was $50, so that was kind of a bummer,” said Hawla. But, at the end of the day, he reiterated what everyone else mentioned: you can truly find some gems in the cheap bins.

The main takeaway: don’t judge a record by its price, but it’s okay to judge a record by its album cover.