- By Brandon Chiat
- Published on January 20, 2012
It’s a mob scene. It’s an absolute frenzy of people in every direction – pushing and shoving, all jostling for that prime position.
But this isn’t the line to get into the venue – it’s not even the mad rush to get a coveted spot on the rail. No, this medieval madness is for the merchandise stand.
So what is causing these fans to risk their bodies and perhaps miss the start of the show? Well it’s not a T-shirt or a sticker or hand crafted-pin or some other ill-conceived money grab. Only three words elicit this type of rabid commitment: limited-edition poster.
“There is something about concert posters that are just so appealing,” avid collector Scott Sidel said. “They’re the perfect combination of art as memento.”
|By AJ Masthay|
“There’s definitely a degree of pride and accomplishment when purchasing a new poster from a show you raged,” Sidel admitted. “It’s like saying, ‘yeah, that’s right, I was there.”
Poster art, like flat brim hats, hooping and wraps, has become a scene within the scene. These tangible items are cultural indicators that jam bands and electronica acts have realized their wholesale marketability and capitalized on their commercialization.
“I think a lot of bands commission posters for the money,” said Tripp Shealy, a Colorado based poster artist who runs his own design company, Tripp’s Prints. “I don’t think the art is really their driving factor.”
Shealy often works with Phish, producing some of the most desirable prints around.
[BUY Tripp Shealy's prints on his website.]
But Jenny Mueller, administrative director of Conscious Alliance, took a more positive approach.
“I believe concert art is absolutely a formal discipline worthy of serious attention,” she said. “These are artists whose work is exhibited in galleries around the country and around the world. Their art is often extremely impressive and inventive – it’s like having world-class artwork in your own possession.”
It is because of the “world-class” label that some bands demand up to 50 or 60 dollars – at times more than the price of admission – for a limited-edition poster and their fans don’t think twice about coughing up the dough.
Many jam band fans value sustainability and the personal touch that goes along with an individually numbered and signed first edition. Hand-made art truly resonates with fans.
|Jeff Wood’s Rothbury 2008 Poster That Won The Independent Music Award For Best Concert Poster of the Year|
Of course the business model cannot be denied.
“Demand is directly affected by the supply,” Shealy explained. “A limited-edition run of posters that sells out quickly creates a fear of loss [for] future editions.”
This encourages collectors, both casual and committed, to arrive at the venue earlier and spend more just to get their trophy prize.
[FIND more information about Conscious Alliance on their official website.]
“As a collector, I look at it as an investment,” Sidel said. “While I collect posters for my own personal appreciation, there is a market for reselling these pieces to other fans.”
Not surprisingly, the high prices and limited supply often spur enterprising fans to stockpile posters at the merch table, only to resell the prints online at marked up prices. It isn’t uncommon to see some out-of-place guy stuffing his pack with five or six poster tubes, like some heady-Sherpa about to climb Mount Rage.
AJ Masthay of Masthay Studios knows this phenomenon all too well.
“I remember being at some Phish shows and seeing hoards of people buying as many Pollock’s as they could,” he said. “I mean, people that were obviously not Phish fans or even there for the concert. Then, seeing the prints on eBay before the show even started.”
[BUY AJ Masthay's prints on his website.]
|By AJ Masthay|
Interestingly, as the scene matured so did its capacity for notoriety and celebrity. No longer does the adulation and praise belong solely to the musicians, now fringe characters like poster artists have a share of the limelight.
While concert art has only recently emerged as a viable source of revenue for touring musicians, its legacy and tradition extends much further.
“There’s no question that the 1960s were the genesis for true concert art,” Masthay said. “Artists like Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin are huge influences, particularly in their use of text and fonts – some of those old posters have fonts so ‘out there’ you can barely read them. Promoters probably hated it, but as an artistic statement, they’re fantastic.”
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That counterculture era was the big bang for the jam band scene. An explosion of creativity propelled a generation of free-thinkers to challenge artistic limitations. It was in this renaissance of American culture that jam bands, as performance art, became inextricably linked to their visual counterpart.
Some of Mouse’s posters sell for thousands of dollars in auctions. Famed San Francisco music critic Joe Selvin said Mouse, “drew the face on rock music.”
“Concert art plays an integral role in the jam band scene and tradition,” Shealy said. “It’s freedom expressed musically and visually.”
|By Tripp Shealy|
“A poster can completely capture the soul of the event [and] since the beginning, Conscious Alliance has used art to inspire people to donate to our ‘Art that Feeds’ cause,” Mueller explained.
[FIND complete lineups, ticketing information and analysis in our 2012 Festival Guide.]
This inextricable link between the aural and visual aspects of the scene completes the concert experience. A live show is ultimately a fleeting, momentary engagement, whereas the poster has a timeless quality.
“Every time I look at my Bonnaroo poster from 2006, I’m instantly transported back to my first festival – the weekend that changed my life,” Sidel said.
As an artist, Masthay echoed the sentiment.
“Posters put an image with an experience,” he said. “It’s a visual reminder of that particular show and the memories associated with it. There’s something very tangible about that connection for people, no doubt strengthening their connection to the band and the scene.”
Purchasing a poster isn’t just commemorating a moment, it’s participating in an on-going tradition of expression that, at its core, defines the jam band music scene.