What’s your favorite musical genre? No matter if you’re a die-hard classic rock fan, a punk rock enthusiast, or if you favor pop stars, there are posters out there for you to collect. Many classic poster styles reflect the genre of music they are created for, while other modern poster art is more subjective due to the style of various artists. Find out how your favorite genre appears in collectible concert posters!
Early Rock ‘n’ Roll – 1950’s Movies
Some of the earliest rock posters were created for rock movies in the 1950s, a format that greatly boosted the popularity of the musical genre. While these pieces were created as posters, they were often shrunken down to “lobby cards” and placed in windows of theaters facing the street. Importantly, these posters featured both black and white performers. They embodied the films they promoted by featuring still photographs of musicians, as well as catchy titles such as “Don’t Knock The Rock”, and “Shake, Rattle, and Rock”. They featured musicians including Bill Haley and the Comets, Joe Turner, and Elvis Presley. These pieces were very simple in design and created a snapshot of rock ‘n’ roll in their style.
Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Motown, and Soul
Many of the earliest true concert posters came about thanks to DJ Alan Freed and his touring cavalcades across the United States, which featured large numbers of performers. Other independent companies such as Super Attractions also began to produce similar tours, such as the Biggest Show of Stars, combining popular rhythm and blues bands with early rock and roll artists. These posters usually feature headshots of various artists, the name of each artist, and venue information. While the posters made use of color, their primary attention-grabbing quality came from the large, legible layout of artist names. Early rock and rhythm and blues was reflected in this old time-y style.
While many early black artists in the 1950’s gained a solid white following, there are certain distinctions that can be made between the styles of poster art that black and white artists utilized. Up until the 1970s, black music specifically employed the boxing style letterpress format. The artists from this era spanned genres including urban blues, gospel, r&b, Motown, and soul. Jazz and country music posters also often took on this style, and continue to do so today. Posters for these genres also tend to feature the artist promoted holding or playing their instrument. After 1970, posters promoting this genre moved away from letterpress printing and more towards silk-screen printing and evolved to a more modern look. They began to feature more vivid, eye-catching colors, and less rigid designs. It became less common for posters to just be comprised of photos and words, and more common for them to contain original artwork.
The early 1960s gave birth to a new era of folk music, largely spearheaded by artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Additionally, during this time, the civil rights movement inspired folk music that acted as a form of protest. This music was often performed in spaces such as coffee shops instead of traditional music venues across the United States. Posters for folk music events during this era continued to be rather simple in style, featuring pictures of the artists and legible lettering, as well as some muted colors. A large number of these posters featured images of guitars, as the instrument is central to the folk music tradition. As the 1960s progressed, folk posters began to take on a more psychedelic style, featuring the classic psychedelic lettering, deeper colors, and more artistic imagery. The 1960s also embraced the folk music festival tradition, such as the Newport Folk Festival, which produced many posters as well. These were often also simple in design, mostly just consisting of artist names and dates on a colored background.
From 1963 until 1966, the British Invasion was perhaps the most important and popular music in America. The most sought after posters from this era are those that were created for The Beatles. These pieces are not necessarily beautiful works of art, as they were still created using the traditional boxing style method, and predominantly featured photographs rather than artistic representations of the music. However, these posters are incredibly rare to come by and extremely valuable. As time progressed, the posters created for British bands evolved, taking on the psychedelic poster style. The Rolling Stones, for example, are the subject of many posters from the psychedelic era.
Rock of the 1960’s – Psychedelic Posters
The psychedelic era of concert posters is arguably the most important to the evolution of rock art. This was the time in which posters morphed from simply being a means to advertise a show, to being truly eye-catching works of art. While these posters were still designed to be posted on the street or outside of a music venue, the colors and imagery were so bright and surreal that passersby couldn’t help but notice them. This was also the era in which poster collecting began to gain popularity. Psychedelic posters came primarily from two San Francisco based sources – an artist collective entitled The Family Dog, and from artists working with concert promoter Bill Graham. Psychedelic posters experimented heavily with color and design. The lettering style varied drastically from earlier posters in that it was often difficult to read. Anyone viewing the poster would have to look at it for a bit in order to decipher what it was advertising, as the writing was in very free form, flowing bubble letters, popularized largely by artist Wes Wilson. Artists during this time moved away from just featuring headshots, band photos, and even drawings of musicians on posters and began to come up with their own designs that artistically represented the music the posters advertised. The free form letters, vibrant colors, and psychedelic imagery represented a style of music that had few limitations and was a new phenomenon that pushed the boundaries of what had been done before. Psychedelic posters included images of naked women, animals, bugs, mythical creatures, eyeballs… almost anything imaginable. There were no rules. Some artists such as Alton Kelley utilized collage techniques, while others worked to create more free form art. Many poster artists were inspired by LSD which accounted for much of their color usage and strange imagery. Though most of the artists and the concerts they created posters for were based in San Francisco and took place at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore, there was also a prominent psychedelic poster presence across the country in places such as Los Angeles, New York, The Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Chicago.
It is impossible to discuss psychedelic poster art without mentioning the impact of The Grateful Dead. Concert posters could not have evolved the way they have without the band, who are featured on more posters than any other artist. The art style developed during this time and the music the Grateful Dead created are closely intertwined. The band was one of the first rock bands to employ a free form style known as “jamming”. They’d play for hours, and their songs would go on and on, never played the same way twice. You can see the Grateful Dead’s influence in psychedelic posters in the way that they too flow and change to create something completely unique. Other prominent bands and musicians in psychedelic poster art include Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, among numerous others.
The late 1970s gave way to the rise of punk music, which primarily came out of London and New York, but also had a prominent presence in the other parts of the United States. Art created to promote punk music basically rejected everything from the psychedelic era. Punks favored smaller flyers instead of larger posters and typically did not make use of the work of trained artists. Instead, like the music it was promoting, punk flyers were created using DIY methods, such as Xerox machines. Most of the art is black and white, in contrast with the colorful psychedelic ’60s, and cheaply produced. Many punk musicians didn’t even know how to play their instruments at first, and heavily embraced a do-it-yourself attitude, which is certainly reflected in these flyers. Punks were known for their rejection of the status quo, and their music was often challenging to those who heard it. Similarly, punk street art was challenging to viewers, as it was often brash and occasionally offensive. It was designed to inundate your senses, to almost annoy you to the point that you’d pay attention. The music and the art that punks put into the world went precisely hand-in-hand, and the message was not lost. In some neighborhoods where punk flyers were posted, they were taken down due to their offensive, intense nature. Thankfully, for the same reasons, these flyers were often saved by people who saw them as well, which is how many still exist and are collected today. Unlike the psychedelic art of the ’60s, there were few true artists that created punk flyers. They were mostly done by band members and club promoters who wanted to get the word out about their shows.
Though New York and CBGB are often credited as the home of punk music in the United States, San Francisco and the Bay Area still boasted a large number of collectible flyers from the era. This was due in part to venues such as Mabuhay Gardens, Sound of Music, Tool & Die, and Temple 1839. Other cities also had large numbers of flyers consistently present on the streets, including Seattle, Portland, Houston, and Austin. In the Texas cities, city crews would tear down large numbers of flyers once a week. In Seattle, punk art eventually took on a wild, illegible look, a tactic used to keep “mainstream” folks away and attract punk fans. In 1994, the city banned flyers from being posted on the streets, fining anyone who did so.
Though Punk and New Wave are often lumped together, they do differ in both musical style and the style of concert art that came along with it. Punk music favored guitars and shouted lyrics, whereas New Wave experimented with synthesizers and melodic vocals. The music and art of New Wave could be described as more controlled than punk. Most New Wave musicians were trained in their art, and the posters that advertised their concerts, while still cruder than that of the psychedelic era, were more coherent and artful. New Wave flyers were also more tolerable to viewers and less offensive, which was the same as the music they advertised. New Wave was as innovative and progressive as punk but relied on less perverse, in-your-face tactics. As with punk, the Bay Area was a prominent location for New Wave flyer art, though many flyers and posters from New York and CBGB remain highly sought after collectibles as well.
As the music industry has expanded greatly, so has concert art. Though posters are less commonly used today as a means to advertise a show, they are still created as collectibles and show memorabilia. Poster art has progressed from being something created mostly by a handful of artists in the Bay Area, to an art form practiced by artists around the country and the world. Much of the art created for modern rock in the last 20 years draws on what was done in the 1960s. Pieces are often colorful and contain unique, sometimes illegible fonts. Imagery tends to vary based both on the musical artist, and the artist creating the poster. Posters that use techniques from the psychedelic era are often referred to as “old school” style. The Grateful Dead inspired a whole genre of music, reliant on jamming, and appeared on more concert posters than almost any other band. Jam bands use the psychedelic style frequently, having taken inspiration from the Dead. However, the style appears in posters for many genres of music in the 21st century. This includes modern rock, Americana, country music, indie music, folk, and more.
While earlier concert art was often shaped by the type of music it was created to promote, the modern concert poster is shaped more by the artist creating it. For instance, one band might have several posters done by several different artists that create entirely different looks and feels. However, there are certain tropes and images that are implemented frequently for certain genres of music. For heavy metal and hard rock bands, dark imagery focused on devils, skulls, and demons are something that is quite prevalent. For Latin bands and bands with Latin influences, Latin imagery is typically implemented in poster art. Pop music artists are regularly the center of attention on their posters, which usually include a full body photo that is sometimes artistically enhanced. Rap and hip hop posters, especially in the early 2000s, often include a “fight the power” message. Flyers and posters advertising raves, or electronic dance parties, heavily represent the music they are advertising by utilizing extremely bright colors and “trippy” 3-D images, which goes along with the culture based around the music. Often rave flyers will depict cute cartoon animals or aliens, which are beloved figures to the rave community. There are countless art forms that poster artists today experiment with and countless ways to represent various bands and genres. Take a look at the art representing your favorite bands, musicians, and genres, and see if you can find any common themes!