Meet Tracy Blair Choo
Native: Jacksonville, FL Occupation: Manager, Fresh Produce Records
For a music lover, there’s no experience quite as sublime as walking into an independent record store and being surrounded by the history, the potential, the treasures, and just the singular atmosphere there. Modern music technology is amazing, sure, but nothing about it could ever replace the feeling you get from spending hours flipping through record bins, marveling at cool album art and liner notes, and finding that one elusive record you’ve been looking for forever. Ask almost any musician about their formative experiences and you’ll get at least one story involving an indie record store; these are places full of possibility and inspiration, places that serve as the backbone of the local music scene in their city, places where weirdo kids learn how to be confident and unashamed in becoming who they want to be, and places where musical tastes are nurtured, challenged, and refined. Record store clerks have a surprising amount of responsibility and influence – they’re gatekeepers and tastemakers, curators and even sometimes therapists, and when you walk into Macon’s Fresh Produce Records on Second Street, you’ll usually be lucky enough to find Tracy Blair Choo, a veteran employee of some of Georgia’s most iconically cool record stores, there behind the counter.
Tracy was born in Jacksonville, Florida; her family moved to Decatur when she was two years old, and she’s been a Georgia girl ever since. She spent her youth in Decatur and College Park, and got a job at a Turtle’s Records & Tapes as soon as she graduated high school, working her way up to store manager almost immediately. “It was the best job ever in my mind, because music was my heart, my love, and my hope during many different phases of my life growing up,” Tracy says. “Plus, back in those days, record companies sent us free music, posters, and concert tickets. It really was the good ole days.”
Some years later, after Turtle’s became obsolete, Tracy moved on into “the mom & pop experience of the record store world,” as she puts it – she landed a job at Wax ‘n’ Facts, Little Five Points’ seminal record store that, as of now, has been going strong for over forty years. “They were the bomb, the coolest, the most alternative place around,” Tracy says. “They had so many records I’d never even dreamed of, stuff you just wouldn’t find in a corporate record store – cool local bands, retro golden oldies, classics, and alternative – all together in the same hip spot.” Her time at that coveted job helped shape and strengthen her sensibilities, and also helped her learn what exactly it felt like to be fulfilled by a job, a lesson that stuck with her and, thankfully, caused her to strive to attain that feeling again later in life.
Next came some momentous and sometimes difficult years for Tracy – she fell in love, got married, started a family (her daughter, Trinity, a smart, charming eighteen-year-old, is set to graduate from Howard High School in the spring and start at UGA in the fall), got divorced, returned to college, and worked a string of unsatisfying part-time retail jobs – not necessarily in that order. Somewhere in there, she managed to uproot herself from Atlanta and land in Macon. She sensed herself not being as happy as she wanted to be – “I knew I needed to reconnect with music,” she says. “Retail’s really not the same if you don’t love your job, so I set out to find any work to do with music.” She got a gig working the door at the Cox Capitol Theater, which then led to a job doing catering with the Moonhanger Group – and then she met Willie D.
William Dantzler, a lifelong Maconite and musician, opened Fresh Produce Records in 2013 as a combination record store, performance venue, and purveyor of fresh fruits and veggies; three years later, he decided to split the business into two separate locations. The original location on MLK became Fresh Produce Music Hall and is now dedicated to hosting intimate, diverse shows and performances, and the record store moved to a storefront on Second Street next to the Cox Capitol Theater where there was more foot traffic. Willie hired Tracy to work at Fresh Produce in the summer of 2016; when the record store reopened on Second Street in November of that year, he entrusted her with the day-to-day operation, a decision that has worked out beautifully for everyone. “I’m the driving force behind a lot of the activity that goes on with Fresh Produce,” says Willie, “and Tracy’s the feet on the ground, opening up the store every day and running it like it’s her own. She’s really made it her own thing.”
“Macon is blessed to have her,” Willie goes on to say. “She’s coming from that old school 80s-90s ATL Little Five Points record store mentality, and that’s the model from which these things we’re doing today spring. She’s the genuine article – that was my big impression when I first met her.” The appreciation that the two have for one another is mutual – Tracy says “Working with Willie is so rewarding – I’m constantly learning about new labels and new bands. I’m so thankful for Willie D – he’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and he’s so kind to everyone.”
The gig at Fresh Produce has gotten Tracy into some new music – “Shehehe rocks, and I love Frank Hurricaine, too,” she says. “Fresh Produce is the best place in Macon to discover new, alternative, experimental music.” Some of Tracy’s old-school favorites include Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams, and Fugazi, but she’s always open to checking out whatever’s new and whoever’s coming through Macon to play a set. Outside of work, Tracy finds it comforting to wander around downtown and absorb the beauty of the landscapes and buildings – “I love going to see the churches downtown,” she says. “I used to take Trinity when she was little to look at the beautiful buildings, the art – it’s all so peaceful. Same with the cemeteries.”
That hard-won peace isn’t something Tracy takes for granted – “There was a point in my life when I thought I might lose hope,” she says, “and I’m so grateful to God, and to Willie and Hubble [Beasley, of Cox Capitol Theater] and the Moonhanger Group and the Creek for all these opportunities. I love what’s going on in Macon.” It’s a lovely, lucky thing that Tracy ended up here, doing this work that both nurtures her soul and helps create a necessary musical haven for the people who wander into Fresh Produce Records’ front door. “She really gets it,” says Willie D. “A record store at its best is a real family-community kinda vibe; she understands that, and that’s exactly what she was looking for in her life. It’s a totally serendipitous thing that we met.”