Editor's note: Ben Swank is a Third Man Records co-founder, as well as — along with co-worker Ben Blackwell — Jack White's second-in-command at TMR.
Numbering in the hundreds and gifted with an encyclopedic knowledge of the many releases and projects of Jack White and the nebulous Third Man Records family tree — a knowledge that could best even mine in an all-TMR trivia pub quiz — legions of Third Man Vault members will descend like yellow-and-black locusts upon Eighth Avenue on Memorial Day weekend for a two-day fan-curated Third Man appreciation event at Mercy Lounge. (The Vault, in case you didn't know, is our subscription service/record club/fan club, and its members get first dibs and special access to all TMR releases.) This is the second event of its kind. Last year's took place at The Basement, but we've had to expand as the Shining Path of the Third Man Cult has steadily grown. This weekend, established Third Man acts like The Dex Romweber Duo, Jacuzzi Boys and PUJOL will share the stage with TMR fans' bands and TMR-related bands such as The Ettes, D. Watusi and Henry and June, my own now-middle-aged band formed in my high school days. (CCR meets Hound Dog Taylor, in case you were wondering. You weren't? Oh, OK.)
Since this is an event created by and for the fans, last year we took a backseat to the whole proceedings, watching over it with a parental eye — kinda like a mom sipping a cosmo, watching her kid play with a butcher knife. However, the baby survived (quite successfully) and has come back this year with a killer lineup and an artistically based charitable cause (ARTDOCS). So I thought maybe we could dip our toes in a little bit and help out with promoting. I'm personally participating by playing in one of the featured bands. The inclusion of Henry and June, actually, shows something of the breadth of the Vaulters' knowledge and commitment to TMR, in that we were a band that Jack covered way back in the days of The White Stripes, though we'd broken up long before we ever would have been on most of these fans' radars. The point is, Third Man fans dig for the goods, and they back it up with loyalty both fierce and financial.
Third Man is blessed with something very rare these days: a rabid international fan base, and it's mostly composed of record collectors, rock 'n' rollers and Jack White fanatics. From day one, we set out to be a fan-based label. We listen to fans' concerns and suggestions, and we make ourselves available and open to them. That's one of the upsides to having our own record store right here at our offices. Plus, TMR's constant drive to keep doing new and interesting things with our products and distributing them in novel and ridiculous ways helps build excitement and makes collecting our records fun. I think so, anyway. That's my take on it. So, we thought we'd give a little back this year and help support this thing. We'll have our Rolling Record Store on hand at Mercy Lounge to sell some exclusive goods that a lot of these people — some of whom drive and fly thousands of miles — would normally never have a chance to obtain. And we'll be donating some rare items to their charity raffle for ARTDOCS, a nonprofit that provides health care to musicians and artists. Beyond that, we'll all be down there showing support (read: drinking) for some great bands and having a good time with the fans (read: drinking a lot).
Long story short, I love our fans. Even if they sometimes do drive me crazy with the "Your records cost too much on eBay" complaints and constant death threats because we haven't opened a shop in Peoria, their hearts are always in the right place. And I've made some good new friends out of this group of maniacs — people whose insanity fits right in with my own. But just to fuck with them, I've been thinking about making up a fake set of TMR trading cards in order to see who claims to actually own a set and who jumps off the Batman Building because they couldn't find one.