FORGET December 25. For many Newcastle musicians, May 4 is the date that rings with more excitement than even Santa could manage to deliver.
"This is a musician's Christmas," explained Nathan Field, as he stood on the footpath outside Musos' Corner, in Newcastle West, on the eve of his favourite day of the year.
Every year for the past decade, Musos' Corner has staged a "May the Fourth Be With You" sale, where the store discounts hundreds of items by up to 90 percent.
In the music community, the prospect of a good deal has turned "May the Fourth Be With You" into a local retail equivalent of Woodstock - it is no longer just a sale, but a "happening", a rock cultural event that is creating its own community.
In the past, customers have turned up days in advance, some camping in their cars. A queue would form outside the music store and grow, snaking its way along National Park Street, the participants talking, singing and playing instruments.
"It's become such an event," said Musos' Corner owner Sandra Lindsay, who explained the sale was conceived by her son Andrew, a huge fan of Star Wars and that famous line from the movie, "May the force be with you".
"We've never had to enforce any form of queues or lines, or who comes in first," said manager Greg Sher. "The entire community and crew have always looked after themselves.
"We're hearing them having singalongs, having community jams out there, everyone's getting along."
Just as he has done every year but one since 2014, when he bought a $3000 guitar for $1 ("That was a 99.97 percent discount"), Nathan Field turned up early on Monday to not only be ready to grab a bargain, but to catch up with friends he has made in the queue.
"I see the same people once a year, and that's at this sale," he said.
In past years, Mr Field has slept in his car and showered at a gym up to eight days before the sale. But not this year, because of COVID restrictions. There is no camping on the front step, and the store managers have said no queues can be formed until 6am Tuesday, four hours before the doors open to fog machines and a fanfare of the Imperial March from Star Wars.
But at least the sale is being held in the store. Last year, COVID forced it online, and the temptation of a bargain in the midst of a pandemic proved too much, causing a system meltdown.
"We had two million hits in the first hour," Greg Sher explained.
So for this year, there are the new rules, with a maximum of 15 in the shop at any one time. There's also a new hope. The staff are delighted that real-life, bargain-hunting musos are back.
"We really didn't really see or feel the same sort of love with online," Mr Sher said.
Still, Sandra Lindsay saw some upsides with no sleeping out before this year's sale: "The steps will be cleaner, the bodies will smell better."
"It's a bit different this year, but we understand the circumstances," said Nathan Field. "We're just happy to see it back in store."
Along with Mr Field, another keen musician, Brano, turned up about 9am Monday to be at the front of Tuesday's queue, with his eye on a mixing desk. Brano has recently moved from Sydney.
"I'm a first-timer," he said.
Both said they wouldn't be camping on the store's front step but would ensure they were heading the queue at 6am.
With a Jedi costume and a lightsaber at the ready, Nathan Field seemed like he was dressed to take on any competitors for the $3999 guitar he hopes to snare - for $399.
But that wasn't how deals were done in the queue; participants talked and negotiated.
"We try to come up with a diplomatic solution, so everyone walks out happy," he said. "No one wants to leave empty handed."
To make it fairer, or perhaps to throw an Easter egg hunt atmosphere into the mix, the Musos' Corner staff also hide the sale items throughout the store.
"I like the fact they [customers] have to search for it," said Sandra Lindsay.
So, like elves the night before Christmas, the Musos' Corner staff were applying the finishing touches, attaching tags and hiding much-coveted instruments.
While outside the early arrivals were becoming increasingly excited.
But Brano said they weren't just here for a bargain. The force that drove them was a passion for music.
"That's why we're here," Brano said. "We all breathe that same passion."
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