Johnny Cash stays frozen in time, forever young, with mold just inches from his face.
“It’s just been manhandled its whole life,” Brandon Schulte said, looking at the damaged and aged vinyl. “If this was in reasonably good condition, this is a $100 record. As it stands right now, this is something I could maybe get two bucks for.”
He put the record with Cash’s face back in a box of other old albums in the back room of Sonic Rainbow, the Casper music store he manages on Center Street. A record can be a fortune if it’s well-maintained -- or it can be forgotten, another nostalgic memento destroyed by time.
“It just breaks my heart when I see stuff like that,” Schulte said.
The Cash record wasn’t for sale in the main room at Sonic, where the shelves are filled with music of every kind and the walls are lined with band posters and T-shirts that help form the store’s identity.
The independent music store celebrated 20 years of business from its downtown Casper location last year, where it’s survived booms, busts and downturns.
Sonic Rainbow owner Jude Carino said people buy music for their emotions and that they can see their lives through the songs and albums that bring them back to a time, a place and a memory.
“People - when they think of business, they only think of the money part, the dollars and cents and all of that,” Carino said. “To me it’s been the emotional part that has kept my enthusiasm and the passion to keep this place open.”
Sonic has made it through the advent of iPods and iTunes, benefited from a rebound in interest for vinyl and is now surviving in an era where digital music streaming services are a click away.
“I don’t care if you’re a soccer mom, I don’t care if you’re a black metal satanist,” Schulte said. “Music is the tie that binds all of us.”
Those that work at the store say it’s Sonic’s inclusive atmosphere -- a sense of community and a personalized touch -- that keeps the place going. Joe Eason is a longtime customer and now works part-time at the store. He said he works other gigs along with his hours there, but that talking music at the Center Street staple is his dream job.
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“I’ve always just loved coming down here and walking out with something I didn’t know about,” Eason said.
Sonic has posters, patches, buttons, stickers, new and used vinyl, CDs, cassettes and other items for sale. You can’t buy 8-track tapes from the store quite yet, though a few are still floating around in the back.
“My passion is music,” Eason said. “I want to go somewhere where I know the guy on the other side of the counter… it’s not just a job for him or her. It’s something special, and that’s the vibe I’ve always got here.”
Local underground rock, rap and punk records mix with pop music staples. The store still stocks albums from local bands that haven’t played in years, becoming a de facto archive for some groups.
Robbie Loveall, a guitarist for the local band EazySide, said he shops for music at Sonic almost exclusively and can find himself looking at death metal one minute and then flipping to R&B music the next. He said his band has played some killer shows at the store.
“It was dark, packed and sweaty,” he said. “It’s my perfect gig.”
Thursday night, the back of the store became a stage once again. Sonic hosts shows a handful of times a year and the store was reshuffled to accommodate the performance. There’s not much room in the shoebox-shaped store for a crowd, so the audience leans against Sonic’s shelves to take in the tunes.
Thursday’s show was a homecoming of sorts for Chase Gillins, a former local artist who’s now touring with the band Bobby Meader Music.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage,” Gillins said of younger bands having the chance to play at Sonic.
Sonic doesn't normally do Thursday night shows, and the late night meant a long day's work for the staff. But Sonic would soon be back to normal, the staff ready to talk music with anyone who passed through, no matter if they were looking for a Justin Bieber album or the latest from Insane Clown Posse.
“I like to do things just because,” Schulte said. “Not because it makes a bunch of money, just because it should be done. We keep the doors open here because we all truly believe Casper would be a much lamer place if we didn’t. “