For nearly 15 years, Edward Bailey has kept one Sunday ritual faithfully. Once a month, he leaves his home in Calvert County just before 8 a.m. so he can get to Arbutus in time for the doors to open for the record show at the fire hall.
There, in a long and musty room, he sorts through the multicolored crates, searching for vinyl to add to his collection of about 6,000 records. Along the way, he runs into dozens of people -- some old friends, others collectors he sees once in a while -- who are doing the same thing.
"People come to things like this because the fun is gone out of music and radio," Bailey says as he shows off a just-purchased early Led Zeppelin album at yesterday's show.
No one's sure how many people come -- the event is free, and no one takes attendance -- but judging by the crowd and the parking lot, it appears that several hundred collectors wander in and out between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month.
What started 15 years ago as a way to help retired middle-school teacher and occasional DJ Ray Quigley clean out his garage has become an attraction for vinyl-lovers from all over the region, and sometimes even the world. Yesterday, a collector from Tokyo had filled a suitcase with more than 100 records, most of them jazz and soul, which he planned to sell on the Internet.
Most of the crowd, though, is more like Quigley and Bailey -- middle-aged local guys who grew up listening to albums in their basements and rambling on for hours about music with people who loved it as much as they did.
"It's sort of a club, but not a club," Quigley says of the crowd that comes to his shows. "It's a wide and varied background that these people have here."
Quigley charges $25 to rent a table --much more than some of the records go for -- and said he breaks even on the costs of putting it on, including some advertising and the $700 hall rental fee.
There's no telling what's going to appeal to the customers. For everyone looking for a Willie Nelson or Rolling Stones album, there's someone who might want Fonzie, Fonzie, He's Our Man or Israel's Finest Hour, a recording of former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban addressing the United Nations.
Bailey's most prized purchase was an original pressing of a Howlin' Wolf album he bought six years ago. He'd been looking for it ever since he'd first heard it in college. When he found a copy in mint condition, he didn't hesitate. He walked over to the ATM, took out the $300 the dealer was asking for it, and brought it home. He doesn't regret it.
"I don't have a lot of discretionary income," says Bailey, who works as a disability advocate. "But now I've got something I treasure. I play it every month."
Many of the regulars go as much to talk about music as to buy and sell it. Ed Braytenbah of Annapolis easily passed the hours recounting some of the many concerts he's attended in his 56 years. Chuck Berry and Fairport Convention were among the best -- Bob Dylan can be hit or miss.
As Braytenbah, a retired pharmacist, chats with friend and customer Deb Malinowski about their favorite Dylan concert moments, a crowd congregates to browse through the crates of rock 'n' roll and folk.
"I don't know anyone in my normal life who likes to talk about music the way I do," says Malinowski, one of the few women who regularly come to the show.
Besides the record show, there aren't that many places where vinyl aficionados can gather to discuss their favorite albums. Many record stores have closed their doors in recent years and now sell exclusively online.
Skip Groff shuttered his Rockville shop, Yesterday and Today Records, because he was selling much of his merchandise on eBay. But the Olney resident, who says he has a million records at home, comes to the show most months because he misses the person-to-person contact.
"It still gives me an opportunity to talk to my old customers," he says. "We all grew up together, spent a couple of decades together listening to music."
Outside the hall, Sam Carson smoked a cigarette as he spun his just-purchased Marvelettes 45-rpm single on a toy Fisher Price record player. He'd bought 50 records, and he planned to return two because the sound wasn't clear. But Carson, who used to come to the show regularly but hadn't been since moving to Havre de Grace eight years ago, was planning to go back inside to buy more.
"There's a richness to vinyl that doesn't come across digitally," says Carson, who played records on Baltimore-area radio stations and now is a DJ for an Internet-based oldie show. "You can tell the difference."
As for cleaning out his garage, Quigley is confident it'll happen, even though he keeps buying more records. "I'll have it cleaned in about a year, I'll tell you that," he says. "I haven't had a car in there since I moved in."