Most people probably don’t come to Coachella with plans to go crate digging for vinyl, but inevitably there’s a point when things at the festival’s annual pop-up record store get slammed. Thousands of sunburned Coachellians pop in and buy records throughout the daym storing them in the air-conditioned backroom to prevent warping from the sun. By nightfall, traffic in the store surges as people coming to pick up their purchases on their way out. Suddenly the chill store transforms into one of the most popular places to be on the Polo Field.
For store curator Alex Rodriguez and his crew, moments like these are what make the store’s stockpile of 30,000 records the unwritten headliner of the festival every year. Since Rodriguez took over the record store’s curation duties in 2013, his year-round mission to buy records from shops all over the U.S. comes to a head when he sees his curated records sail out of the store one by one under the arms of their new owners.
“As long as we’re selling a lot of records it’s a good weekend,” says the 39-year-old LA resident. Just after noon afternoon before the rush of early bird festival goers, he stands in a corner by the register sorting through and pricing albums, popping each one with a retail gun that shoots bright orange pricing stickers. His long curly locks fall over a vintage rock-n-roll t-shirt as he hustles to get more stock on the shelves before things get busy.
Rodriguez’ understanding of passing on the tradition and obsession of vinyl is rooted in the love of relating to season collectors and curious newbies. “It’s not really so much about selling them as it is about people taking them home and enjoying them,” he says. “I’m stoked that people are taking these records home and enjoying them, so the more records that go home with people, the more successful it is to me.”
Living up to his DJ moniker, Record Safari (he’s been a DJ since 1999), Rodriguez spends a big chunk of his life traveling in search of new and rare records to bring to the festival as the in-house curator for Goldenvoice and his main gig at the Glass House Record Store in Pomona. In addition to Coachella, he’s also curated the store for the insanely busy crowd at Desert Trip, Arroyo Seco and FYF. Part of his mission is to find quality records that he can also sell at a reasonable price. Though there are some collectors that drop thousands in a single weekend, those who prefer surfing through the bargain bin of 45s and singles are also not disappointed.
“Records are cheaper than water here,” Rodriguez says, noting that a $2 bottle of water is still more expensive than his cheapest items. “We have the cheapest things at the festival, $1 bags and $1 records.”
Considering the mark he’s making on Coachella culture and on the vinyl collecting scene in SoCal, it was only a matter of time before someone out there noticed his hustle. Several years ago during one of the many cross-country trips that led him to a small town in upstate New York, Rodriguez crossed paths with LA-based director Vincent Vittorio who was staying in the same hotel. The two met and bonded over the passion for records and eventually the idea to shoot a documentary about Rodriguez and his vinyl collecting and curating came about. This summer will finally see the release of Vittorio‘s film Record Safari which sheds some light on the dedication it takes to stay committed to vinyl in the fast food era of digital streaming.
“The doc is half about me traveling around the U.S. buying records for Coachella and the other half is about record collecting in general. There’s other people talking about their love for vinyl,” Rodriguez says.
When Rodriguez started curating for Coachella in 2012 it was in a small, nondescript white bungalow near the Gobi Tent. The only thing to draw people in was the red “Records!” sign out front. Today’s it’s in a much bigger more prominent space sharing a wall with the merch tent and adjacent to the Sahara Tent where people walk by all day, (they’ve also become well known at Coachella for having the best air-conditioned spot this side of the Antarctic Dome).
The record store team is used to seeing all kinds of people populating the isles and they have to be prepared to help everyone get their fix when it comes to vinyl.
“You get two kinds of people in here, you get the average Coachella person who only cares about new stuff and then you get the one who wants something super old,” says Jaymes Martinez, a veteran worker at the Coachella record store who lives in Huntington Beach. “Yesterday a girl came in and she was looking for an old Fleetwood Mac Record.”
The fact that one of the Coachella weekends always seems to fall on Record Store Day (this year was April 13) usually results in a sales boost as people come in looking for special pressings from artists at the festival like Aphex Twin who pressed some surprise specialty releases in celebration for his festival stint in Indio.
“It’s really different as far as the crowd we get a few collectors because it’s curated really well and people go really hard, but as the weekends roll on it’s fun to watch the young people really dig like collectors do,” says store manager Jenn Salvadori who is also General Manager at the Glass House. “We’ve had two really busy weekends this year. We were kinda thinking with the lineup it might not be super intense but it has been really surprising.”
Record store worker Remy Casillas, a local show promoter for Pizza Beat Entertainment who’ve put on events like Camp Psycho at Knott’s Berry Farm with his fiancee Tawney Estrella, says watching people swarm through the doors when they open on Record Store Day is like seeing people come into Disneyland.
“People were worried about missing Record Store Day going to Coachella last weekend and then they see that there’s a record store and they ask if we have stuff for Record Store Day and they get really excited,” Casillas says.
As the son of a record store owner who specializes in Latin music, watching people come in this year and searching out older music for their parents from artists like Los Tucanes De Tijuana gives Casillas hope for the future of vinyl.
“We’ve had some kids come in who don’t even have a record player or anything and they show up and ask ‘Why do I need to buy a record?’ And I go ‘consider this, you’ll go on iTunes and buy an album and go through the songs and it’ll be just part of your collection,” Casillas says. “’But if you get a vinyl record, you’re able to say this is mine, nobody else can have this particular one because it’s my song. It’s materialism but more positive.’”
For many of the people who work the record store it’s also a chance to actually go to Coachella to see artists they’re not as familiar with outside of their normal expertise when it comes to music and get the same rush from discovering new acts out at the festival as they do when they’re searching for their next great turntable treasure.
“I’m 37 and I was talking about Billie Eilish with this 17-year-old girl because we both wanted to catch her set,” Estrella says. “That’s pretty cool, like we may not have anything to talk about otherwise but we can connect on music. Everyone who comes in is usually enthusiastic about music and when you get to work with something you’re so passionate about it’s rewarding.”