“Patrons would always come in with their kids, we would always have a stepstool out on the store floor for the little ones to use to reach the records and look at them, to feel them.”
In Bobby Barnard’s handcrafted love letter to music culture, Sundance Records & Tapes, there was no shortage of memorabilia to marvel at, either.
To the community that Bobby and his wife Nancy had attracted, Sundance Records was emblematic of a period lost in history where the music being sold in stores was only complimentary to the experiences and friendships made within those walls.
Barnard found his beginnings by managing a small record store in Colorado owned by his brother, Gary. Eventually realizing that his heart lay in Texas, he moved to the Hill Country with his newlywed wife. He bought a record shop owned by a record wholesaler that he and his brother had a lasting business relationship with.
“There was no outlet mall, there were no big budget shopping strips. You had a handful of restaurants to choose from,” Nancy Barnard says. “San Marcos was nothing like it is now, but the reception was incredible from day one. We were one of the first places in Texas to start a Texas music section, trying to connect with local artists. That was one of Bobby’s favorite things to do, to turn people on to some of these unheard artists that couldn’t make it on the radio.”
In Sundance’s prime years, even if a small artist had managed to sign to an independent label, it would not mean much in terms of exposure unless the radio gave the artist airtime as well. For many, these record stores took the place of labels and radio as the primary vanguards of independent music promotion. And it is a good thing too because most could not hold a candle to Barnard’s encyclopedic knowledge of music or his knack for decor.
Sundance Records was iconically enveloped from floor to ceiling in a musical mosaic of newspaper clippings, tour posters, local art, and endless odds and ends from the deep cuts of popular music lore. The records were only half of the equation for the Barnards, as the store functioned as their own living and dynamic work of art, a room-sized journal cataloging Bobby and Nancy’s life over the years.
“We saw tons of music as we got to know the different venues around the area,” Barnard explained. “In 1985, we moved right up the street on the same block of LBJ closer to the university, a much larger place. So large that we didn’t even use the back half. We had a ping pong table in the back where customers would challenge Bobby to tournaments during slow hours. We started selling concert tickets then. Big venues in San Antonio would give us the same section every time for the big shows like Rush. The people in San Marcos that would buy the tickets would always sit together, and over the years those concertgoers formed a very tight family. “
Now, nearly a decade removed from the store’s closure, loyal patrons and curious new onlookers alike have the chance to own a piece of local history. Nancy Barnard decided to host a pop-up gallery at Zelick’s Icehouse on March 9th, 11th, and 13th to commemorate her late husband’s 68th birthday, and to give San Martians a chance to relive the memories they made within the store’s walls. The pop-up featured memorable pieces from Sundance’s past, including San Marcos relics, tour posters, and records.
Nancy will be holding onto some of her favorite keepsakes, pointing out a guitar from Antone’s 15th anniversary night signed by every performer, as well as various collectible posters including Bruce Springsteen at Liberty Hall, Willie’s 1st and 3rd Picnic Posters, and Bo Diddley at the Ritz in Austin.
Opening up a permanent successor to the store was never originally in the cards for Barnard. In January, an eager fan made a Facebook post mistakenly announcing the return of a brick and mortar successor to Sundance, igniting the local community in anticipation. Nancy said that the reception was much greater than she ever could have anticipated.
“The young man who made that Facebook post had meant to announce the online store, but in his excitement, he didn’t make that clear,” said Barnard. “Since then, the whole thing has snowballed so quickly that I have been astounded by the support, and people coming out of the woodwork to share their fond memories and experiences with us. It has been an incredible trip down memory lane.”
That excitement has paid off it seems. Tomas Escalante, a longtime friend and coworker of the Barnards, will be spearheading the revival of Sundance Records & Tapes on LBJ Drive, now known as Sundance Record Lagoon. He currently runs Sig’s Lagoon, a record store in Houston.
When the decision was made to close Sundance, Bobby moved his collection of artwork and memorabilia over to Escalante’s shop where he continued to work on his ever-expanding mosaic.
Music and memorabilia drove the revenue that kept the store alive for longer than nearly all of its contemporaries, even big-city stalwarts like Waterloo Records. But more than that, Sundance Records is emblematic of a moment in time special to those who experienced it because it will likely never be experienced again. A moment in time where nearly anyone with a passion for the arts could find a career by sharing that passion with others, making lifelong connections, and having more fun than anyone else doing it.
The fact that Sundance’s revival was spurred on simply by an outpouring of online support is proof that while Mr. Barnard and Sundance may no longer be with us, the community they created will last for generations to come.
Sundance Record Lagoon opens in San Marcos in June 2021. Special thanks to Nancy Barnard for speaking with KTSW 89.9.
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