It’s the last Tuesday night of March at HD Beans & Brews Café on the Silverton/Kennedy Heights border, and a small crowd is attending Vinyl Night Cincinnati’s (VNC) monthly gathering. (Full disclosure: This author is a co-founder of VNC.)
Vinyl Night Cincinnati has been meeting here for almost four years. All vinyl nights — select evenings at bars and other venues where people come to spin and listen to vinyl records — have their own distinct personality and all are responses to the ongoing revival of interest (and sales) in vinyl records.
At VNC’s March gathering at HD Beans, the first person to play a set is Gary Janssen, who drives down from Oxford for the gatherings. He steps to a microphone at the front of the café’s back room to explain his choices.
“A friend of mine was lamenting there is no more protest music,” he says, mentioning the unnerving warlike situation in Crimea and how it could lead to actual war. “So I brought two protest songs.”
First up is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” from a 1983 vinyl album by Scottish-born Australian folk singer Eric Bogle. Janssen explains how the song chronicles the hardships of Australian troops (fighting with the British) during the Battle of Gallipoli, where the Allies fared disastrously against the Turks in a World War I battle.
Neil Sharrow, a VNC co-founder, uses his laptop and a wall-mounted flat screen TV to call up a video of Bogle as the LP plays.
Janssen next plays “War Widow” from Country Joe McDonald’s 1971 album War War War. The entire album, a relic of the anti-Vietnam War protest era, consists of McDonald adapting the poems of the late Robert Service to music.
The March edition of Vinyl Night Cincinnati was off and running. And before it was finished — some three and a half hours later — the selections played by the assembled group included music by Duke Ellington with Louie Bellson, The Beach Boys’ lesser-known gem “Cool Cool Water,” Syd Barrett, Jim Pepper’s Pepper’s Pow Wow’s cathartic, revelatory 1971 Jazz take on the old Indian peyote chant “Witchi Tai To” and much more.
For older participants (you can find people in their sixties at these events) who knew to keep their LPs and 45s, vinyl-playing groups are a chance to show off their prescient connoisseurship.
For younger folks, it’s a chance to share the latest new releases in vinyl, as well as the latest finds at the growing number of used vinyl stores. And besides being able to play from their collections, vinyl devotees want to attend public events to hear what others like as well. Some are party-oriented sessions with a DJ, but many are like book-discussion groups — only louder and with beer.
“It’s really amazing the number of vinyl enthusiasts in this town,” says Margaret Darling, a musician (formerly with The Seedy Seeds) who currently helps run one area vinyl-playing session with another in the works.
Her Tuesday night at Covington, Ky.’s Pike Street Lounge runs from 7-11 p.m. because many of her vinyl-toting participants are not barroom regulars and like to get home early.
“We have one regular who brings in terrific Punk and another individual likes easy-listening music from the 1970s — John Denver and Karen Carpenter,” she says.
Starting the second Saturday in May, Darling and Daniel Kinney, under the moniker Hook & Ladder, will DJ a vinyl dance party at Northside club Chameleon specializing in Detroit House music.
At the Southgate House Revival, which has Tuesday vinyl sessions, Derek Toebbe has hooked up with the crew at Newport, Ky.’s new Torn Light Records store to share sets and offer more variety for listeners. (Others can bring records to play, too.)
At Listing Loon, the Northside craft beer and wine shop that recently became a bar, Billy Alletzhauser, a member of the band The Hiders and a former Ass Pony, plays from his record collection on the first Tuesday of the month. For a recent session, he brought LPs as varied as Butthole Surfers’ Rembrandt Pussyhorse, Lonnie Mack’s Hills of Indiana, Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, an EP by The Handsome Family and a box of 45s. Alletzhauser’s set, he would admit, is curatorial.
“With vinyl, what you bring is limited because you can’t carry loads of stuff,” Alletzhauser says. “So you’re catering to your own tastes. Of course, you can’t help but perform a little. So if a guy with a Mohawk comes in, I’d want to play something hardcore. Or if a Rasta (comes in), some Reggae.”
On other Tuesday nights, Listing Loon has invited guest vinyl DJs. And it will accept newcomers.
“People who come in and see Bill and then say, ‘I want to do it,’ we’ll give them a chance,” says Listing Loon co-owner Dave Mikkelsen. “If you know enough to be interested, you’ve probably got a good vinyl collection.”
A sampling of vinyl nights around Greater Cincinnati:
Chameleon: Curated Dance records; second Saturday of the month. 4114 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-2073, thechameleonclub.com.
The Comet: Curated Reggae records; second Saturday of the month. 4579 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-8900, cometbar.com.
HD Beans & Brews Café: Open turntable; last Tuesday of the month. 6721 Montgomery Road, Kennedy Heights, 513-793-6036, hdbeans.com.
The Listing Loon: Curated sets; Tuesday nights. 4124 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-542-5666.
Mayday: Open turntable; second Thursdays of the month. 4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-0999, maydaynorthside.com.
Pike Street Lounge: Open turntable; Tuesday nights. 266 W. Pike St., Covington, Ky., 859-916-5430, pikestreetlounge.com.
Southgate House Revival: Open turntable plus curated sets; Tuesdays nights. 111 E. Sixth St., Newport, Ky., 859-431-2201, southgatehouse.com.
Three Kings Bar: Open turntable; Monday nights. 8 Pike St., Covington, Ky., 859-815-8252. Reverbnation page.