It’s a simple idea. One night a month, open the doors of Muse Arts Warehouse from 5–10 p.m., for anyone who wants to play a set of recorded music, or listen to sets spun with great aforethought (or occasionally none at all) by a dozen or so different DJ’s.
It’s called Vinyl Appreciation Night. Musical genre is wide open. Popular or obscure, danceable or dissonant, the decisions on what to play are made by the DJ of the moment.
The music that’s played has only one common trait–it’s recorded on a vinyl record and gets played on a turntable by a live person, changing records and playing one track at a time. No CD’s. No docking station.
Vinyl Appreciation Night manages to be intense and laid back at the same time. Intense in that the music is played in near darkness in the Muse Arts 100–seat theater space, the volume loud enough that at times the music feels as if it’s coming up through the floor. Black–and–white Buster Keaton movies and sci–fi B–films play on the theater’s movie screen, overlaid with computer–projected red and green dots that pulsed and spun to the beat.
The laid back aura comes from the sense that things at Vinyl Night appear to happen spontaneously, belying the attentive organizing efforts of Vinyl Night coordinators Patrick Rodgers and Keith Kozel. No one announces the name of the DJ or the music played. There are no breaks between DJ’s or tracks, no format. Attendees, typically 30 to 60 people a night, arrive and depart whenever they wish.
“It started as a conversation between people that DJ,” says Rodgers, Community Editor at Connect Savannah.
“We each had so many records people wanted to play” that don’t always neatly align with what the bar patrons at their various paid DJ gigs want to hear. At Muse Arts the monthly spin party feels “more open than someone’s home but less erratic than a bar,” says Rodgers.
Despite Vinyl Appreciation Night’s freeform un–format, some customs have emerged. Dancing sometimes happens, and is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Genre is wide open, but listeners hoping to hear show tunes or classical music will probably be disappointed. Ditto for current pop.
At August’s Vinyl Night I expected DJ Larry Dane–Kellogg’s set to be jazz, jazz and more jazz, since he’s a board member of the Coastal Jazz Association and hosts a jazz show on WHCJ radio station. But his set started out with new wave and “artistic rock”––Tom Tom Club, Brian Eno — and finished with Grand MasterFlash’s classic rap/hip–hop anthem “The Message.”
“Besides soul music, you could argue that Brian Eno is one of the biggest influences at these events,” says Kozel.
“We’ve had people come in and do all country, all hip–hop. This couple from Milwaukee brings ’60s garage rock.”
“Because it’s vinyl, there’s an element of historic preservation,” says Rodgers. “These are records that might otherwise not get played.”
Before Dane–Kellogg’s first appearance at Vinyl Night in July, he had “stuck my records in the bottom of my closet. I hadn’t played them in years.” Since then he’s bought a turntable and started playing records at home again.
Lawrence Everett Forbes has attended almost every Vinyl Appreciation night and is a pure listener. “It’s nice to have an alternative space,” says Forbes. “I’ve wanted to find more of an arts community, more people doing things that aren’t class projects.”
Rodgers’ set began with “Pyramids” by The Side Effects, a 1980’s Athens band. Next came a dance remix of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
DJs wishing to play a set are often signed up the month before, or by contacting Rodgers in advance, but he and Kozel typically leave a couple of spaces open on the roster for “walk–ins.”
“You get better results if you plan your sets in advance,” says Kozel. Despite that, for his first set he pulled somewhat spontaneously from “a stack of records I’ve been playing around with. I tend to improvise at the start and the finish.”
If there was an Eclectic Set Award, August’s prize would go to Ernie Hollingsworth, whose typed–on–a–spreadsheet setlist began with jazz piano by Hermann Szobel, followed by The Specials (featuring heavy electric organ of a particular brand, the “Connie,” that Rodgers and Kozel knew by name), then a Doc and Merle Watson tune, and a blues finale by Muddy Waters.
“Some people play their records and leave, but I want to hear what everyone has,” says Hollingsworth.
Does he play a musical instrument?
“I just listen to music, that’s all. I play the stereo.”
September’s Vinyl Appreciation Night is Sun., Sept. 26 at Muse Arts Warehouse, 703 D Louisville Road, $3 admission.