For jazz fans, a poster of Chet Baker almost seems to come with its own soundtrack. Posters of blues artists conjure the smoky, booze-soaked dives where John Lee Hooker and other practitioners of that great American musical genre held court. Vintage country-western posters advertising Buck Owens suggest the sweetly intermingled scents of cold beer and fresh hay. And for fans of 1960s rock music, well, a concert poster from Cream’s first U.S. tour may be the only way for them to remember they were there.
Some vintage music and concert posters are easier to find than others. Trying to build a collection of original, mid-20th-century jazz posters of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Miles Davis would probably be a frustrating, and expensive, pursuit. An artist named Dennis Loren makes beautiful "restoration lithographs" of jazz posters from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, but if a high-quality reprint is unacceptable to you, consider a vintage movie poster with the artist’s name in the credits—Count Basie gets prominent billing on the movie poster for Top Man; Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are both listed on the poster for Cabin in the Sky.
In the world of country music, Hatch Show Print of Nashville is the oldest print shop in the United States (it has been around since 1879). Hatch made, and continues to make, posters for all the Grand Ole Opry stars, from Bill Monroe to Roy Acuff to Patsy Cline.
Symphony buffs need not feel left out of the world of vintage music posters. Since 1972, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has been publishing handsome, high-quality posters designed around paintings by Georgia O’Keefe, Dan Namingha, and other southwest artists.
But without a doubt, the most accessible and collected type of vintage concert poster is the 1960s rock poster. In London, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, working as Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, produced psychedelic updates of Art Nouveau posters for Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Traffic, and The Who.
In Boston, the owners of a club called Boston Tea Party tended to take a clean, graphic approach to publicize concerts by everyone from local heroes J. Geils Band to New York’s Velvet Underground. Tea Party posters were frequently composed of little more than a block or two of solid color juxtaposed with formal-looking type.
Detroit had the Grande Ballroom, whose resident poster artist was Gary Grimshaw. His posters for locals like MC5 and visitors such as The Fugs tilted more toward the psychedelic ...
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Dahlgren made posters for a club called the Kaleidoscope, whose posters were always circular. Across town, John Van Hamersveld produced beautiful, trippy images for Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and other bands playing L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium.
But the city that’s best known for vintage rock posters is San Francisco. A combination of multiple music venues and lots of talented artists was the catalyst for the vibrant scene. Over at the Avalon Ballroom, Chet Helms hired Wes Wilson, followed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, to make posters for shows featuring The Blues Project, Captain Beefheart, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead.
That first year, 1966, Kelley and Mouse created an image for the Grateful Dead that would visually define the band. Known among collectors as FD026, it was based on an illustration the artists found in a 19th-century copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Sometimes called Skeleton & Roses, a version of this poster would be used as an album cover for the band in 1971. Today it is one of the most enduring and collectible images in psychedelic rock.
Over at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, artist Wes Wilson created posters that helped define the psychedelic lettering style of the day. In 1966, several of Wilson’s posters also featured photographs by Herb Greene. One of the best of these, BG025, revolved around a terrific portrait of a pre-Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick, a smile teasing the corners of her lips as she looks tantalizingly to her right and out of the camera’s range.
With a resume that bridged the Avalon and the Fillmore, Wilson was a respected figure on the local rock-poster scene. Indeed, when the Beatles came to town in August of 1966 to play what would be their last live performance, Wilson was hired to make the poster for that show.
Another influential San Francisco artist was Rick Griffin, whose February 1968 "Flying Eyeball" poster (BG105) for Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Albert King is an icon of the art form.
Victor Moscoso rounds out the so-called Big Five (Wilson, Kelley, Mouse, and Griffin being the other four). Moscoso produced numerous posters for the Avalon and a smaller club called the Matrix. For Moscoso fans, the Holy Grail is to collect all 27 posters in the artist’s hyper-vivid Neon Rose series.
Other San Francisco poster artists of note include Lee Conklin, whose black-and-white drawing of a lion for a show at the Fillmore West became a celebrated album cover for Carlos Santana. Another important Fillmore alum is David Singer, who created 67 Fillmore posters, including the venue’s final one to mark its historic closing week.
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Recent News: Music and Concert Posters
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New exhibit remembers poster artist Gary GrimshawThe Macomb Daily, October 29th
Detroit artist Gary Grimshaw designed many classic concert posters before his passing in January, 2014. His work is being honored in an exhibition opening Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Detroit Historical Museum, “Gary Grimshaw: Detroit's Counterculture...Read more
Sponsors sought for annual Christmas ConcertMarshfield News-Herald, October 29th
Sponsor names will be on the concert poster, signs at the concert and acknowledged at the concert, and they will be in the advertising information for the concert. If interested, please respond by Nov. 15. Make checks payable to St Vincent de Paul Concert...Read more
The Capitol Theatre to Host Phil-O-Ween Photo Booth and Costume Contestjambands.com, October 28th
The winner will receive a Phil Lesh-signed Halloween concert poster and a pair of tickets to a future Phil Lesh and Friends show. As previously reported, Phil Lesh will be joined by Joe Russo, Dan Lebowitz, Rob Barraco, John Kadlecik when he kicks off...Read more
Nonesuch Releases Live Recording from "Another Day, Another Time ...Nonesuch Records, October 27th
(The concert poster included with the first 200 Nonesuch Store pre-orders are no longer available.) Get a taste of the concert film in the trailer below. As Burnett explains, “Inside Llewyn Davis was filled with live performances of some of the folk...Read more
Gay Men's Chorus Poster Vandalized In Capitol Hill Office BuildingTowleroad, October 23rd
A Gay Men's Chorus of Washington poster was vandalized this week in the Longworth House Office Building Cafeteria on Capitol Hill - the first incident of its kind in recent memory according to Executive Director Chase Maggiano. The poster, which...Read more
Avid Collector Seeks Vintage Jimi Hendrix 1969 Sportpalast Berlin Germany ...Virtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), October 21st
Avid 1960's poster collector Andrew Hawley, from Vintage Rock Posters, is seeking vintage Jimi Hendrix 1969 Sportpalast Berlin Germany Concert Posters. The Hendrix German tour posters were designed by the well known German concert poster artist ...Read more
Moonalice plays Applegate LodgeMail Tribune, October 20th
We have music, poster art and humor we find on the Web. That is the way to build an audience. The other thing is to spend a few dollars a month on sponsored stories." Since 2007, Moonalice's fans have grown from none to nearly 350,000. More importantly ...Read more
When Art Rocked: San Francisco Music Posters, 1966-1971Boing Boing, October 14th
Bonnie MacLean for a concert featuring the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and The Sparrow (which became Steppenwolf in 1968), Tea Lautrec printed every Bill Graham concert poster between 1967 and 1971, more than 200 in all...Read more