Two Saint John record collectors turn their passion into a community

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Since launching last fall, Strange Grooves’ podcast and website have quickly developed an international audience.

Matt Carter
Strange Grooves’ Cherise Letson and Cait Milberry. Submitted photo.

For some music lovers, discussing the merits of vinyl can quickly transcend beyond the age-old virtues of “warmth” and “the listening experience” to uncover a deeper appreciation for music’s role in shaping our lives. These conversations can act as a gateway leading to broader discussions about friends and families and in some small way, reveal the paths that led us each to where we are today. That’s what I’ve been told anyway. And on some level, I’d have to agree. On those rare occasions where I find myself digging through my own vinyl collection to revisit 7” singles that I once considered prize-possessions, or to listen to a 12” I bought from a touring band years ago, it’s almost impossible to avoid the wave of nostalgia that hits even before the needle begins spiraling through side A.

As vinyl’s popularity continues to grow, generations of music lovers now find common ground in their shared love for the format. These days it’s not uncommon to find a stack of records and a turntable at your local coffee shop or pub. A love for vinyl is no longer a sign of age. To many, it signifies a greater appreciation for all that music can offer.  It signifies community.

A few years ago, Cherise Letson and Cait Milberry bonded over their shared love for the format and began exploring their mutual love for vinyl records during evening hangouts and weekend get-togethers at their Saint John apartments.

“Cait and I have been friends for over two years,” said Letson. “Often, the times we hung out involved chilling at her place listening to records and talking about music we loved and the experiences we’ve had with it. It was really one of the big things that connected us as friends from the beginning.”

As their conversations began uncovering stories and memories associated with their mutual hobby, both Letson and Milberry began writing about music and the records they love as a way of moving their shared obsession beyond their apartment walls.

“I started a vinyl blog on my personal website as a special project, mostly for myself,” said Leston. “Cait also has blogged about music on her website as well. When I told her about what I was doing she was like, ‘hey, why don’t we team up and make something really cool out of this?’ Cait’s really great at seeing beyond what’s just there and imagining something bigger.”

Strange Grooves’ Cait Milberry spinning records at Five and Dime.

In the fall of 2017, the pair decided to collaborate on a project and ended up creating Strange Grooves, a blog and podcast for vinyl lovers. Now with more than 15 episodes under their belts, the project has become a forum for record collectors and vinyl lovers to share stories, chat about their favourite records and explore their own fascination with the format and the culture that surrounds it.

“We wanted a way to elevate some of the music community and bring us all closer, to share our experiences, our love of music and to discover new friends,” said Milberry.

“Music has a way of allowing people to let go and leave their guards down,” she said. “We know that we are passionate about music and so are our guests, so putting the shows together has been a mix of research, content creation and extreme fun for all of our audiences as they range. We uncover really neat stories, and discover things about each other and folks in our community with every show, and the people that engage with us online teach us something every week as well. It has been extremely rewarding and fun to create the schedule and guest lists for this show thus far.”

Guests on the program have ranged from local musicians like Little You, Little Me’s Corey Bonnevie and songwriter/musician Drew Sweet to local business owners Pamela Wheaton (Heartbreak Boutique) and Brian Irving (Five and Dime). They’ve even welcomed Saint-Rothesay MLA Wayne Long on the program to share a few stories and talk about his favourite records.

“I’m a journalist by trade, so for me personally, it’s the stories and the connections I make each episode that keeps me going,” said Letson. “What we’re realizing is that the more we do this, the more people want to get involved in some way. They want to share the records they cherish and their collections, but also hear from others too and see what others are spinning. The idea when we started this was to create some sort of community. Though it’s still so early and this project has so much room to change and evolve, I think that’s what is forming.”

And their community definitely stretches far beyond the Saint John city limits. Through their website and social media channels, Letson and Milberry are developing an international online audience which they hope to strengthen by expanding their conversations and guests in the months to come.

“The plan is to definitely get out of Saint John,” said Letson. “The audience is only so big here and staying Saint John-centric would limit our growth. The plan is to start interviewing collectors from New Brunswick, Canada and beyond by having them as guests on the podcast and featuring them on our website as contributors.

“Expanding the Strange Grooves community on our website is a big goal for this year,” she said. “We want to feature collectors and their collections, as well has have collectors contribute blogs and other content.”

If you’ve got a story about your own relationship to vinyl records, Letson and Milberry want to hear from you. Strange Grooves is open for business and hopes to feature articles and stories from listeners everywhere.

The only criteria to participate is a genuine love of music,” said Milberry. “We have a big contributor’s portion happening on our site and that is a big focus for us. We want people to be comfortable in the way they share. For example, maybe a person loves music but is shy and doesn’t like the idea of being on a show. They have the ability to write a blog, submit their own reviews to the site. We essentially want to be able to connect with music lovers and allow each and every one of them a way to contribute to Strange Grooves.”

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