Vinyl diving with the Holiday Auction winner

CL's music editor goes on a record-shopping spree with holiday auction winners Christi Atkins and Jeff Mahar.

click to enlarge TURN, TURN, TURN: The winner, his wife and George Liu of Audio Visons South with the prize turntable. - Phil Bardi
Phil Bardi
TURN, TURN, TURN: The winner, his wife and George Liu of Audio Visons South with the prize turntable.

Christi Atkins — winner of Holiday Auction Item #16, the Indie Record Shopping Spree — purchased the package as a surprise birthday gift for her husband, Jeff Mahar. The Safety Harbor wife and mother wanted to keep the gift secret until the day we actually went shopping — Saturday, January 9, shortly after Jeff's actual birth date — so we communicated solely via e-mail to make sure he wouldn't catch wind of our plans.

In the weeks leading up to the excursion, I learned from our exchanges that Jeff already owned 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!!") An audiophile, he also had a record player (two, actually, excluding the ones that were broken). I surmised he was a Gen X-er born in the mid-to-late '60s, and his music preferences reflected it; Christi's partial list of his faves included the Grateful Dead, Warren Zevon, Son Seals, Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, CSNY, Traffic and George Harrison, as well as more contemporary artists like Son Volt, Elvis Costello and Wilco.

I could tell we'd get along just fine, but I was a tad concerned that Jeff's expansive 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 and pick up the vintage refurbished Thorens TD turntable being offered as part of the auction package. From there, we'd embark on our three-store spree. Audio Visions president/owner George Liu had hooked up the Thorens to one of his fabulous stereo systems and was playing a record on it when they walked in. Very classy.

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.)

In addition to the turntable, the package included six records — two apiece from each of the Bay area's three most beloved indie music stores. The idea was that Jeff would 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 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-inch 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 of 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 picked after Shawn at Mojo dropped "The Band" in his description of Malmus' influences.

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 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!"

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