Founded in 1981, and held twice a year in the Spring and Fall, The Austin Record Convention brings together dealers, collectors and aficionados from points near and far for a weekend of music appreciation and activity in beautiful Austin, Texas, the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’.
Popular with both locals and global travelers alike, the ARC offers a unique, immersive opportunity to experience the roots of Austin's vibrant, musical culture.
Attendees can spend all day browsing the convention, searching for that one-of-kind record to complete their collection, and in the evening venture out to sample the city’s world famous, live music scene at numerous clubs across town.
The first show was held in 1981 at the Zilker Clubhouse, when Doug Hanners, a local record store manager and vinyl fanatic, reached out to some fellow collectors with the simple idea of staging a gathering of like-minded, music lovers.
Meant to be a record swap between friends, the event’s attendance far exceeded expectations. In fact, it was an immediate hit. And as the decidedly small space quickly began to fill with shoppers and collectors, Hanners was already putting plans into motion to find and secure a larger venue. Enter...Palmer.
In the 1980’s the ‘Palmer Auditorium’ resembled a giant tortoise shell resting on the sprawling green banks of Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake) located directly in the heart of the city.
Complete with it’s seafoam, brown and beige signature, patchwork roof, it was perfectly situated across the river from the downtown central business district, and across the street from the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters.
Having hosted numerous acts itself throughout the years from Bob Dylan to Black Sabbath, and with a large amount of floor space and a generous parking lot, the Palmer would prove to be a natural fit for the ARC for the next 15 years.
This period also saw the rise of Compact Discs at the convention, which displaced 8-tracks and cassettes. For a time it seemed as though the CD might eventually render vinyl extinct, which might have proved challenging for the show (e.g. the name would make less sense), but some years later, when digital music entered the market, the relentless wave of innovation that had introduced the CD would in turn supplant it as the preferred medium of choice for the everyday listener.
As CDs were becoming a thing of the past, the city of Austin simultaneously was experiencing incredible growth on the back of the dot com boom.
The same technological advancements that were impacting the music industry were also transforming the once eccentric, sleepy, music town into one with a robust, visionary tech sector that would bring new jobs, new people, and new opportunities.
Growing the city to meet these new demands meant building new communities, new services, and new experiences. To address these needs, the city made the decision to renovate the old Palmer Auditorium, transforming it into a modern arts center known as the Long Center. There would be a new civic events center built nearby, which kept the old Palmer name, but while it was under construction, the Austin Record Convention would have to find a new home.
In the years that followed, as the show explored various, alternative venues, attendees and collectors were not deterred by a longer journey or a change of scenery, and as a result the show persevered.
And by the early 2000's something unexpected was beginning to become clear…vinyl was coming back into vogue.
Amazingly, just when it seemed as if the artifacts of recorded music would permanently dissolve into a stream of data, vinyl record sales began rebounding.
It might seem obvious now, when you purchase and collect records, that you’re aware of the tactile connection to the artist and their work as a part of the experience that makes listening to that work more enjoyable. But at the time, to see it validated on a larger scale by a new generation of music fans, who truly appreciated the format was a magical moment.
Coincidentally, around the time vinyl was enjoying it’s resurgence, we found ourselves back home at the updated Palmer Events Center.
The newly renovated space was still perfectly suited to the show, perhaps more so than the original, and since we've been back, the number of people who flock to central Austin to visit us has increased with each passing event.
But maybe most satisfying of all is that we've seen the show introduce all manner of newcomers to the excitement and passion associated with the vinyl and music memorabilia experience.
As the city has progressed, so also improvements have been made to the show including a broader selection of merchandise, a stronger social media presence, a text-to-search system for quicker location of items via text messaging, and new vendors adding variety to an already diverse array of dealers.
In a sense, not only is this a story of Austin’s growth and transformation, as well as one of vinyl’s ‘Renaissance’ as a medium, but when it comes to the rich history of the Austin Record Convention and it’s longevity and relationship to this city, it’s a labor of love story that involves more than a little bit of both.
Thanks for your support and enjoy the show!