Meet the Curator Who Travels U.S. Collecting Vinyl for Coachella's On-Site Record Store
Alex Rodriguez is the subject of a forthcoming documentary, "Record Safari," about his unusually cool job.
Alex Rodriguez walks into the quant Black and Gold Records in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The dimly lit store, which also serves coffee and pastries, is filled with not only vinyl but also antiques.
The small-framed, long-haired Rodriguez -- wearing flared Levi jeans, brown leather boots and a worn Bee Gees '97 shirt -- immediately begins flipping through crates.
For the past three weeks, Rodriguez has been driving through the country stopping at various record stores in different cities to collect as much vinyl as he can to fill the on-site record store at Coachella. Aside from curating the seasonal pop-up, he also manages (and shops for) the permanent Glass House Record Store in Pomona, Calif. Three weeks in, he has accumulated over 1,000 vinyl, which he stores in his 2014 Ford Fusion that has racked up over 187,000 miles from his frequent cross-country trips.
"It gets harder and harder to buy," he relates, pointing out that after three weeks of digging through crates, he starts finding items he already has. One year, though, he did buy 57 copies of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours: "They all went."
The 37-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., native has roadtripped through the country 11 times in the past four years, usually alone. This year, he has company in the form of a small documentary crew of three led by Vincent Vittorio.
Rodriguez and Vittorio met at a Super 8 motel in Johnstown, N.Y.: "I'm sitting there in the lobby and [Alex] walks in, and I'm just like, 'Man, this guy looks really cool,'" Vittorio recalls.
They soon bonded over their California roots and love of music, and later met again in Los Angeles. Vittorio, who says he flirted with DJing fresh after high school but stuck with filmmaking instead, found himself fascinated by Rodriguez and pitched him the idea of a documentary.
"[Alex's] story really just grabbed me because it's not only about him being on the road and collecting, but the process that he goes through to curate and pick things, since he doesn't have a list," Vittorio shared. "To me, that makes it so much more special."
While the upcoming documentary, titled Record Safari and slated for a March release, centers on Rodriguez, it also takes a big-picture look at vinyl and its place in the music landscape. "[The documentary] is really talking about that resurgence of vinyl and the respect for it," Vittorio says. "It's a road trip movie in that we're following Alex, but with all the people you meet [on the road], it's on the backdrop of this love story to vinyl."
Rodriguez, who doesn't travel with a list or on a schedule, started buying vinyl at age 14 (often judging what to buy based on its artwork) from thrift stores for 10 cents. He would then set up crates outside of punk shows and sell them at a slightly higher cost. Even though he's surely become more knowledgeable on who and what is worth buying, he still finds himself drawn to the covers -- he picks up a copy of Johnny Mars and the Oakland Boogie to purchase, since he's never seen it before and says it looks cool.
Rodriguez' keen sense for just that, a balance of what sounds good and what is visually appealing, earned him the gig as the official record store curator not only for Coachella, but all of Goldenvoice's festivals -- FYF, Arroyo Secco, Firefly and others. He started off as the manager of The Glass House Record Store and The Glass House music venue -- a colleage recently took over the venue due to his time on the road -- both of which are owned by Coachella founder Paul Tollett.
As for how Rodriguez ended up as Goldenvoice's trusted curator, he says it was a case of good timing. He explains that while Coachella used to bring in vendors to set up an on-site record store, one year that fell through. "[I was] thrown into it," Rodriguez remembers. "They pretty much told me, 'You have two months to make a store.'" He (successfully) pulled it off with almost no notice. Three years later, he still enjoys the rush of the hunt.
During his stop in Bismarck, N.D., Rodriguez bought a Dr. Seuss record -- "I didn't think when I hit the road to make sure I find a Dr. Seuss record. You know?" At Black Gold in Brooklyn, he picks up an obscure Israeli record. He also finds Sisqo's "Thong Song," to which he exclaims, "Man, I love that song. I would buy it … if I didn't have already."
By now, Rodriguez estimates his own vinyl collection boasts over 22,000. "I definitely try not to find very many [vinyl] for myself. A lot of times, I find a cool record I'd like to have, but I just keep it for Coachella because I have a job to do."
He pauses, looking over the the crates like a horizon: "I can't keep everything."