Of Music and Mirrors

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April 28, 2013 by billysparrow

Three days. Two concerts. A few hundred dollars of merch sales. Six record stores. Twenty-five records. Fourteen innings of baseball. Three pancakes. One Beef on Weck. And one of the greatest purchases of all time.

That was the final tally for my trip to Rochester and Buffalo to see Amy LaVere play and pry as many country and polka records from the inventories of local record stores as possible.

I’d say it was a success. And now some photos and stories.

Day One

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The first record store I hit in Rochester (after a brief mix-up at the hotel that involved being given keys to a room that looked like it had partied a bit too hard and, judging by the hotel bill left on the table, was three days overdue for a little sprucing up) was a four-star bust. When I entered the Lakeshore Record Exchange, I immediately knew I’d made a bad decision to put this first on the list, as two sections of used records were uncategorized and looked crappy. In a normal situation, I would bail immediately. And if I’m ever in a normal situation, which, at this point, seems unlikely, that is what I will do. But at the Lakeshore, I thought, “Well, what if all the record stores here are this bad? Let’s just make the best of it.” So I persevered and eventually found a Dr. Hook record I didn’t already have and hadn’t seen before (which, to you, would probably mean all of them, but you are not me, for which I hope you are thanking your deity of choice). I bought that and then stepped out into the rain to figure out where to catch the bus to my next stop, the Record Archive.

After overshooting the destination a bit, I headed back in the right direction and soon found a large warehouse-looking building called the Record Archive. Things were looking up. The front of the store was almost entirely CDs, but the back looked to be full of records. After picking up a Cracker CD that Shawn (Amy’s drummer) asked me to grab cheap, I made my way toward the back and found a glorious Country section, alphabetized and easy to flip through. This was the place. Time, however, was not on my side, and I had to resign myself to the fact that this was probably going to be the only place I had time for before meeting my friend Liz for dinner. Oh, sure, I could have blown off Liz for dinner and spent the next two hours flipping through record bins, but I’m not that kind of guy. I won’t call myself a hero, but if you want to, that’s your right.

Anyway, I pored through the entire Country section and pulled out some gems, went through the Polka section and didn’t find anything to my liking, scanned a few other sections (including the large $3 section), and eventually emerged with five records (John Hartford/Pat Burton/Benny Martin, Norma Jean, Jeannie C. Riley, Joe Maphis, and my favorite Tom T. Hall record, “In Search of a Song”) and just enough time to spare. As  I walked to the bus stop, I noticed I had just missed Liz’s call, but I got hold of her and seeing as I was on the way to where we were headed for dinner (The Gate House), she picked me up and everything was on schedule.

Dinner was good, the conversation was better, and when we were all done, I noticed that I still had time to make it to the last record store. Liz graciously agreed to take me to the Bop Shop. A few seconds after we entered, the guy behind the counter gave me a choice of records to listen to (I forget who the other option was, but I went with Richard Hell) and soon after that informed us the store was closing in 5 minutes. Normally, this would be tragic news in a new record store, but I needed the hard deadline at this point. So I quickly hit my usual guys and came out with two Jimmy Martin records (one of which is a Christmas record with a song on it titled “Daddy, Will Santa Claus Ever Have to Die”) and a Tom T. Hall, plus a Record Store Day Tift Merritt record a friend was looking for. Mission accomplished. A three-record-store day is a good day.

Liz drove me back to my hotel, we said our goodbyes (she’s deep in the throes of end-of-the-year schoolwork, so no time for rock and roll for her right now…good luck, Liz!), and after I dropped my records off and exchanged them for the baked goods I had brought from City Bakery and Tu-Lu’s in NYC for the band, it was off to the Abilene, where I arrived about five minutes before the opener started. It’s a precision operation I’m running.

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Amy has a new guitarist (Tim Regan) in the band now, and he also plays keyboard, so that’s a cool addition to the mix. And his backing vocals on their cover of “Moonage Daydream” are great, too. It was too dark for me to shoot anything from the merch position, but someone recorded this earlier in the tour, so dig it:

Amy also did some new songs from a record that will probably be out next year and added a few new covers to the set, so I got to hear a bunch of new stuff. And though the sound was a bit muffled at the Abilene (and the chatter at the bar was downright New York City-esque at spots…c’mon, Rochester, I know you’re better than that), I’m pretty sure they’re good (actually the next night’s show cleared this up: they are good). I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve said this and I know it’s not the last, but if Amy, and her crew come to your area of the world, you should go see them. And you should buy something from the merch table, even if I’m not behind it.

The good people of Rochester (and Ken, who traveled all the way from Albany for the show…a man after my own heart) came through and made it a pretty solid night at the merch table. More importantly, there were no hagglers, though I did spot a woman two bucks because she put all the money she had in front of me and said, “Give me whatever I can get for 13 bucks.” I could have sold her an EP, but she seemed to be greatly enjoying herself, so I figured she deserved a full-length. Again, I’m not tossing around the word “hero,” but I get it if you want to.

Anyway, that was Rochester. I walked back to the Radisson, weighed my breakfast options for the morning, and got a few hours sleep before my 7:50 a.m. bus to Buffalo.

Day 2

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I left so early because I wanted to catch a Buffalo Bisons game in the afternoon, and the 7:50 bus was my only option to get there on time for the 1:05 start. Then, that start was moved to 12:35 because the previous night’s game was postponed due to rain and was to be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader. Bonus!

Of course, that meant I would lose a half-hour of precious record-store time, and there was the added dilemma of what to do with my bags since I was several hours early for check-in. Luckily, the nice people at the Comfort Suites had empty rooms and let me check in early. I briefly thought about sleeping until game time, but I knew that records were calling my name. So I watched a little TV and headed out the door, on the way to the first of two Record Theatre locations in Buffalo.

And, like Rochester, the first stop was a bust. But I did not give as thorough a look at the paltry used selection as at the Lakeshore, because I was hungry (and also needed to buy sunglasses, because I wasn’t expecting to see the sun during my trip). I stopped at the Lake Effect Diner to have some banana pistachio pancakes (A for concept, B- for execution) before the game, after briefly pondering whether it made more sense to skip eating and go to another record store. In a rare victory, common sense prevailed.

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I got to Coca-Cola Field about 10 minutes before the first pitch was thrown to top Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. (whose name I can’t say without singing the theme to “Jackie Rogers Jr.’s $100,000 Jackpot Wad” in my head, or sometimes out loud) and spent the next four-plus hours watching Triple-A ball on a glorious spring afternoon (though the sun went away during the second game). It’s a nice life.

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The Bisons split the doubleheader with Pawtucket, losing the first game 8-3 after the starting pitcher imploded late in the game and winning the second 4-0. And in between games I had my first Beef on Weck (with a side of butter spuds). It was a most enjoyable eating experience.

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And I would be foolish if I didn’t mention the Chicken Wing Race in the first game, which was one handily by Blue Cheese. I’m a little scared by Blue Cheese and concerned about  those things on the Chicken Wing’s ass, but the Bison frightens me more than any of them.

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The second game ended with, I thought, just enough time to get to the second Record Theatre location if I hustled. So, hustle I did. And as soon as I walked in, I had a much better feeling about this location. And this feeling was sent into the stratosphere when I discovered a well-stocked Polka section. I grabbed the best of the bunch and, though slightly dismayed because there didn’t seem to be a used Country section, I headed to the cash register with still plenty of time before the night’s show at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. But just to double-check that I hadn’t missed the Country records, I asked the women at the cash register. One said they did, and she took me back to where the Polka section was. But there was no Country there. So the other woman said, “Oh, they’re probably in the back room. It’s right back there. You can go look.”

Oh boy.

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So I looked as fast as I could, got some country records, found some more polka records, and even grabbed a record of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl.” I paid for my dozen records and bolted out the door, aware that the 7 p.m. door time was nearing. Except, that as my call to the club revealed, it was a 7 p.m. start time. And it was 6:40. So that’s not good. I scurried for the train station, briefly distracted by a store that had the words “Book Outlet” above the door but also records in the window. I am slightly ashamed to say that, despite my lateness, I went to open the door. Alas, they were closed. So I weighed the possibility of checking it out before my train home left the next morning and moved on.

I took the train downtown (very efficient train in Buffalo, by the way) and went to the bus station to grab a cab, which might be my least favorite mode of transportation. But this driver was cool, and as we pulled up to the Sportsmen’s, I saw Shawn on his phone outside. Phew. The show hadn’t started. The precision operation continues.

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The sound was a lot better at the Sportsman’s, which was a really cool place. If it weren’t a nine-hour train ride to Buffalo, I’d go there quite often. And, overall, this was a better show than the previous night’s. Merch sales were again solid, with no hagglers. So two pretty successful nights on that front.

I was then informed by Amy that I would be going with them to see King of Ithaca Johnny Dowd at a place a block away from my hotel, as Amy and the band were spending the night at the same house as Johnny and his band were. So after loading out, we caught the end of Johnny’s set at The Vault before we parted ways, they to their place for the night and then Michigan the next day and I to my Comfort Suite and home the next day.

But not before one more record stop.

Day Three

Of course, I went to the Book Outlet, although it’s not called that. I’m not sure what it’s called. The Internet seems to say it’s called “We Buy Collectibles,” but that seems an odd name for a store. Whatever. They had records. And a little after 11 a.m., they had me, with my bags, ready to buy more things.

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Yes, I bought a few records all for $1 each (including the Sebastian Cabot reads Bob Dylan record, a classic at any price but a treasure at $1). But that is not why I would like to extol the virtues of We Buy Collectibles. No, I would like to praise We Buy Collectibles for the item I spotted seconds before I walked through the doorway. It was just to the right and almost instantaneously I knew that as long as it didn’t cost $100, it was coming home with me.

It was a mirror that surely once hung in a bowling-alley bar in Buffalo. It was a mirror advertising Kessler Whiskey. It was a mirror that predominantly featured bowling legend Earl Anthony. It was a beautiful sight. And for $30, it was mine.

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Make that three winners.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier to purchase something. When I told the guy at the register I wanted it, he was legitimately crushed. He had hopes of owning it himself, but he hadn’t pulled the trigger. I apologized, and he said he understood. He asked me if I was going to get any George Jones records to go with it, which didn’t make any sense to me, but I told him “Not today.” So after a brief conversation about living in the NYC area (he had lived in Astoria), me, my 25 records, and my mirror got back on the train downtown and headed for the Amtrak station floating on air.

Alas, I was brought back down when I checked Facebook on my phone and his comment made much more sense. George Jones had died at the age of 81. I was bummed right the hell out, even more so because I only had three Possum songs on my music player and was 10 hours away from my other Jones stuff. But, hooray for smartphones, as I spent a good portion of my train ride watching Jones clips on YouTube.

It was a rough way to end the trip, but it didn’t overshadow two-plus days of things going exactly right, the sun shining bright (well, most of the time), and hearing good music and spending time with good people. It was a trip that made everything seem OK, and for that I was grateful.

And, really, that mirror is incredible.

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