There I was, in Whole Foods about six years ago, standing in the checkout line near a small handful of Putumayo and Norah Jones CDs on an impulse rack, when I heard the guy in front of me ask the checker, "Hey, do you know any record stores in town that sell CDs?"
"Uh, probably Best Buy," the checker replied, to my astonishment. The bag boy also suggested Best Buy—as did a nearby customer.
I guess I was naïve. I assumed the average Whole Foods employee, and customer, might be more in tune with the local community, and would have at the time been able to name several independent mom-and-pop record stores.
Which makes the local music program at Oliver's Market, spearheaded by vice president Tom Scott, all the more welcome.
"Tom Scott had a meeting," says Last Record Store owner Doug Jayne, "and said he was in a Whole Foods and saw people buying Lady Gaga and Elton John CDs. He said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we had local artists in our stores?'"
Thus, Oliver's, in a partnership with the Last Record Store, began selling local bands' CDs at their checkout lines. Additionally, Jayne, who'd released several local-music compilations on his Jackalope Records imprint, suggested that Oliver's do the same. The Real Music series, an incredible, wide-ranging document of the Sonoma County local music scene with proceeds going to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, was born.
Frank Hayhurst, who most local musicians know from Zone Music, administrates the local-music program at Oliver's, which is gearing up to release the third volume of Real Music with a record-release show on June 7 at the Sebastopol Community Center featuring a whopping 25 bands.
Twenty-five bands may sound big, and going big is all Hayhurst's doing; so far there have been 99 bands represented in the Real Music series, with double-CD packages and long run times. Yet even those who suggested that Hayhurst keep the CDs shorter now concede that the community inclusion has been successful.
Real Music Vol. 3 features 33 Sonoma County artists on new and old tracks. Included are local Americana staples—the piano of John Allair, the harmonica of Charlie Musselwhite, the guitar of Nick Gravenites—alongside newer groups like Girls in Suede, Little Lost Boys, the Brothers Comatose, the Steve Pile Band, Dan Imhoff & Cahoots and many others.
“Tom Scott and Steve Moss, I think the reason they’re doing so well is they really have a sense of being part of our community and contributing to it in a way where everyone starts wining,” says Hayhurst.
As for the local artists on consignment at Oliver's, sales have been brisk—last month, the stores sold over 50 CDs. Incredibly, Oliver's takes no cut whatsoever of the profits. Let's see Whole Foods try that one, shall we?
The record-release show for 'Real Music Vol. 3' features 25 bands on Friday, June 7, at the Sebastopol Community Center. 390 Morris St., Sebastopol. 6-11pm. Admission is $10 plus a can of food. 707.823.1511.