A place to hang out: The monthly Vinyl Pick-Nic event embraces the power of music through records and community

Music holds deep importance within the lives of humans. While the energy of songs and compositions do a lot for our individual mental health and energy, music also brings people together. For many, myself included, one of the first questions asked when meeting a new person is: “What kind of music do you listen to?” 

Local DJ Will Houk is well aware of the moving influence of music. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. and Thursday at 2 p.m. on KNVC 95.1 FM in Carson City, Houk hosts the radio show Roots, Rednecks and Radicals, where he explores folk and Americana music. He also is a musician himself, and has been viewing the social power of songs firsthand through his monthly Vinyl Pick-Nic events. Every fourth Sunday of the month, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Brewery Arts Center, Houk brings vinyl to spin—while also inviting the public to bring their own records to share. The event is free, and the next one will take place on Sunday, June 23. 

“I just had an idea,” Houk said during a recent phone interview. “I’ve been doing some reading about ‘third spaces’ online. The idea behind the third space is that in our modern context, we’ve lost a lot of spaces where people can go and hang out for free, and just kind of be around other people. … It used to be maybe people would go to church on Sunday; that’d be a place where people would meet up, and it would just be a community-building kind of thing, but we lack a lot of that now. I was thinking about different things that interest me that might interest other people as well, and doing something like that. The idea kind of popped in my head of doing something around music. The idea came from wanting to come up with a space where people can have some community, hanging out with each other, but they don’t have to spend a lot of money.” 

Houk has always enjoyed the vinyl format, whether he’s using it on his radio show or enjoying live DJs in public. 

“I mostly do digital files, but we have record players at the radio station, and it’s fun to bring in vinyl sometimes,” Houk said. “It feels kind of old school, and it’s different, and it mixes things up. So I enjoy it from that perspective—and music in general is really important to me. I’ve been going to shows since my teenage years and played a number of different instruments and have played in different bands over the years and stuff. … What really kind of gave me the idea was being in San Francisco with my wife on a little vacation. We were down on Haight Street, and there was a farmers’ market type of thing set up, and it was just very casual, businesses having their stuff out on the road. Every so often, there was a different DJ spinning different types of music, and a lot of them … had actual turntables. There’s one person playing reggae-type music, and there’s another one doing more indie rock, and another one doing hip hop, and it just felt so cool and casual and fun having someone there spinning records.” 

One of the most enticing aspects of the Vinyl Pick-Nic is the ability to experience new music. New gems on your playlists can be discovered from Houk’s wide selection, or from a record somebody brings in.  

“I like the idea of inviting people to bring their own music so that we can put it on for them,” said Houk. “They’ll just tell us, ‘Hey, I want to listen to track three on this record,’ and I’ll put it on. That seemed like a fun thing to do.” 

Carson City music fan Lora Templeton, who started buying vinyl records as a teen in the early 1980s, shows off the filing system that came with her portable record box. She used it to bring a selection of 45s to the May edition of Vinyl Pick-Nic. Host Will Houk spins a track in the background. Photo/Kris Vagner

According to Statista.com, vinyl made up more than 40% of non-streaming album sales last year. 

“I was pleasantly surprised to see people bring their own collection,” Houk said. “I’ve heard from so many people, when I tell them about this event, they’re like, ‘Oh, man, I got rid of my records years ago; I wish I never would have.’ But there are a number of people who have held on to them. It’s kind of a hassle to have a turntable set up in your house; especially nowadays, you have to dedicate a space to it, and so a lot of people haven’t listened to their records in years. They’re like, ‘I just got these out of the closet and dusted them off and brought him down here.’” 

While Houk is pretty knowledgeable about music, he said he’s always learning more. 

“Music is like an onion that just never ends,” he said. “You peel back a layer, and there’s another, and you just keep going. My friend Jim Bowers, who also does a show for KNVC, he is an aficionado when it comes to vinyl. He’s the type of guy where you ask him anything about any band, and he’s got an encyclopedia of knowledge ready for you. He’s brought a bunch of stuff and put it on, everything from early ’80s synth rock to folk/Americana type stuff. He’s all over the map on his interests, and his record collection is absolutely amazing.” 

Vinyl Pick-Nic, while exposing many people to new artists and songs, has also caused many smiles and unlocked memories hidden deep within the groove. 

“I’ve overheard a number of conversations with people talking about artists that they’ve forgotten about or something,” Houk said. “Somebody brought a record, and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and then they start sharing the story of some time they saw that person live back in the day, and things like that. It’s been cool to hear people chat and share stories.” 

As long as there are songs to be shared, Houk intends to keep the Vinyl Pick-Nic vibes going. 

“I don’t really have any long-term goals other than just—as long as people are enjoying it—to keep it going,” he said. “I guess the long-term goal is to bring people together, and bring them together around music, and just give an opportunity for people to connect with one another.” 

Houk said there’s no danger that he’ll get sick of experiencing new music any time soon. 

“My wife would vouch for this: I just never get bored with it,” Houk said. “I’m always, always listening to the music, and she actually encourages me to do this kind of stuff, because she’s like, ‘That’s a good outlet for you so I don’t have to hear about it all the time.’ I go through phases for a few days where I don’t want to listen to anything new, but it’s just some sort of addiction for me—just always wanting to hear new stuff and new old stuff. It’s always fascinating to me.” 

Vinyl Pick-Nic will take place from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 23, at the Brewery Arts Center Exhibition Hall, 449 W. King St., in Carson City. The event is free. For more information, visit breweryarts.org.