Vinyl diving with the Holiday Auction winner

[image-1]My photographer husband and I arrived a few minutes later, and were relieved to find kindred souls in Christi and Jeff. They were amiable, easy-going, and most importantly, genuinely opened-minded music lovers who seemed delighted about the hours ahead. (“They’re us in 10 years,” Phil whispered to me midway through the excursion, and I had to agree.)

In addition to the turntable, the auction package included six records — two apiece from each of the Bay area’s three most beloved indie music stores. The idea was that he’d pick a record for himself, then I’d pick a record for him tailored to his musical taste, hopefully one he’d enjoy and that'd ideally make it beyond the first few spins.

After some careful perusing at Vinyl Fever, he snagged 2009’s Electric Dirt by Levon Helm, the solo roots rockin’ musician and former drummer/vocalist of The Band (one of Jeff’s alltime favorite bands). My selection was arguably the best album of 2009 [image-2]and one I figured he’d like — Akron/Family’s ‘70s-rock-and-folk-inspired Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. VF also threw some 7” singles by Jack Johnson, David Gray and a few others into the bag.

Our next stop was across town at Mojo Books & Music in North Tampa. We spent a long period digging through rows and rows of records, and I ended up helping Jeff pick out both his selections — Grizzly Bear’s 2006 masterpiece, Yellow House (in honor of his predilection for psychedelic folk pop and stunning vocal harmonies), and the wild card Steve Malkmus & the Jicks, Real Emotional Trash (2008), which Jeff actually picked after Shawn at Mojo dropped “The Band” in his description of Malmus’ influences.

[image-3]Finally, we made our way across the Bay and concluded our trip at Daddy Kool in downtown St. Petersburg. By then, it was getting harder to simply pick something out, but after much careful shuffling through pretty much all of the store’s new (and some of their used) vinyl, we came up with two gems: The Fleet Foxes’ 2008 self-titled debut (a friend of Jeff’s had compared them to CSNY and he was intrigued) as well as a new copy of Wilco’s first album, 1995’s A.M.

Overall, we had a fabulous time and made two new music loving friends in the process. I emailed Christi a few days ago to see how things were spinning. “That record player has really been getting a workout since Jeff has had it,” she wrote. “So far some great records — we will have to tell you the story sometime about the Grizzly Bear LP. A couple are taking us a few listens to get it, but so far so good ... Thanks so much again — it was a birthday he won’t soon forget!”

The CL Online Holiday Auction in December 2009 raised more than $12,000 for The Children's Home in Tampa.

The winner of CL's Indie Record Shopping Spree, Safety Harbor wife and mother Christi Atkins, purchased the package as a surprise birthday gift for her husband, Jeff Mahar. She wanted to keep it secret until the day we actually went shopping — Saturday, January 9, shortly after Jeff’s actual birth date — and so we communicated solely via e-mail so he wouldn’t catch wind of the plans. [All photos by Phil Bardi.]

In the weeks leading up to the excursion, I learned from our exchanges that Jeff was a man who already had a healthy collection of vinyl — more than 5,000 records according to Christi. (“Hopefully you will be able to find some stuff he doesn’t have — should be fun trying!!”) He was an audiophile who primarily listened to vinyl and owned at least one record player already. (I found out later it was two, excluding the ones that were broken.) I also surmised that he was a Gen X-er born in the mid-to-late ’60s and his preference for high-quality classic rock, pop, blues, roots and folk reflected it; Christi’s list of some of his faves included the Grateful Dead, Warren Zevon, Son Seals, Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, CSNY, Traffic and George Harrison. He was also a fan of more contemporary artists like Son Volt, Elvis Costello and Wilco.

I could already tell we’d get along just fine, but I was a tad concerned that Jeff’s expanded record collection might make it difficult to turn him onto something new or to find something he didn’t already own. Not that I wasn't up to the challenge...

We arranged to meet at Audio Visions South in the mid-afternoon, where Christi would reveal her surprise to Jeff, pick up the turntable, and from there, we’d embark on our three-store vinyl shopping spree. Audio Visions president/owner George Liu [pictured above, far right, with Christi and Jeff] had hooked up the vintage refurbished Thorens TD turntable they’d won to one of his fabulous stereo systems and was playing a record on it when they walked in. Very classy.

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