The history of concert posters is vast. With every new music movement came new art and new printing techniques. From the bare-bones style of the early boxing posters to the eye-bending imagery of psychedelic, concert posters are works of art. They’re also becoming an increasingly valued commodity in the collecting community.
Psychedelic Concerts Posters and San Francisco – The Family Dog
The first concert poster of the psychedelic era was created in the summer of 1965 to advertise The Charlatan’s shows at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. The band famously auditioned for the gig while on LSD, and the run of shows ushered in the psychedelic era.
The poster was given the name “The Seed” and was created by band members George Hunter and Michael Ferguson. The shows at The Red Dog became an inspiration to bring psychedelic music to San Francisco, where a group of people known as The Family Dog began to take an interest.
The Family Dog
The Family Dog included artist Alton Kelley, who began to design posters for rock dances that the group would put on. TFD printed handbills advertising the event, which are rare to come by today, as only a couple hundred were printed and even fewer preserved. After a few of these dances and handbills, Chet Helms appeared on the scene.
Helms managed the band Big Brother and the Holding Company and soon began to manage The Family Dog. He approached Bill Graham about producing shows at the Fillmore, and for a few months, The Family Dog shared the space with Graham. Artist Wes Wilson created the posters for these shows along with Helms. Soon, the psychedelic concert posters began to be seen as true art. Thus began the numbered series of The Family Dog posters. The series of 147 posters was created over a two-year period.
Watch for Those Handbills
Posters 1-41 in the series were printed both as posters and handbills, the handbills being extremely rare finds today. After 41, the handbills were replaced with postcards. Wes Wilson created eleven of the first twelve posters in the series while the Family Dog was putting on shows at The Fillmore, and as they moved to put on shows at the Avalon Ballroom, Stanley Mouse took over. Mouse and Alton Kelley collaborated on creating some twenty-six posters for the Family Dog’s Avalon Ballroom shows, including iconic pieces such as “Zig-Zag Man” and The Grateful Dead’s “Skull & Roses”. These posters became central to the movement.
Artist Rick Griffin then came along and joined The Family Dog. He’d been inspired by Mouse and Kelley’s posters. He began creating posters in the numbered series. Griffin had some experience creating psychedelic posters. He’d produced a poster for the Jook Savages art show in 1967. Also, the poster for the Human-Be-In. This was an event in Golden Gate Park that began the “Summer of Love” the same year. Though these first few pieces were in black and white, Griffin’s art shifted to experiment heavily with color. This separated them a bit from Mouse and Kelley’s pieces.
Another artist who contributed heavily to TFD posters was Victor Moscoso. As an art student from New York, Moscoso was fascinated by The Family Dog’s early work and decided to start creating concert posters. He had to forget much of his art school training in order to create psychedelic posters featuring vibrant coloring and large, psychedelic lettering designed to be difficult for the viewer to read.
In 1967, Jack Jackson took over art direction for TFD. Seeing the surplus of posters they had, he began to contact distributors about selling them. He also created a mailing list for individuals interested in obtaining posters for themselves.
As interest from music companies grew, TFD began to reprint some of their posters. While the original posters always hold the highest value, many of these reprints are rare and valuable today as well.
Psychedelic Concert Posters – Bill Graham
Concert promoter Bill Graham began his career as an icon of the psychedelic era in 1965 when he joined the management team for San Francisco’s theatrical group. He began holding benefit shows for the San Francisco Mime Troupe as a response to the arrest of its founder Ronnie Davis. Davis had been charged for performing without a permit in public parks. For his third benefit in early January 1966, Graham featured The Warlocks, who had just changed their name to The Grateful Dead.
The poster for this show is the only one in existence to feature the band’s old name. Later that same month, Graham assisted in producing the Trips Festival. This festival brought San Francisco’s underground art scene together and featured music along with experimental art. Performances by Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Grateful Dead at the festival went down in history, and it was essentially the launch of the Grateful Dead’s success.
Though there was a poster for the festival, it was a long way off from what psychedelic posters would become. Two weeks later, Bill Graham took over the Fillmore Auditorium. Bill Graham’s poster series lasted a few years longer than The Family Dog’s and consists of nearly 300 posters. It also represents a bit of a wider range of events and features more artists. While many of The Family Dog artists also worked on Bill Graham’s series, including Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, and Stanley Mouse.
Nearly all of the posters in Bill Graham’s series were also printed as handbills. Many of them are identical to their respective posters. There are a few rare color and design variations that are quite scarce today. The first 24 handbills in the series were printed in black and white and on thin paper. After that, they were printed in color on the same material. Eventually, they were being printed in a format similar to postcards.
Handbills Take Over
Once this became the standard, the older handbills were reprinted in this format as well. In the summer of 1967, the tickets to Graham’s shows began to feature the posters with color variations that corresponded with each night of the same run of shows, which helped solve issues related to counterfeit tickets.
In 1968, Graham opened the Fillmore East in New York City, a venue designed as a companion to the Fillmore in San Francisco. Though the posters for shows at this venue were not as fleshed out as San Francisco posters, there were still several iconic pieces that came out of it. These included posters featuring Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, and Frank Zappa. Graham had a few other ventures outside of San Francisco, including a New Year’s Eve show in Los Angeles in 1969.
The poster accompanying this show featured Graham’s real name: Wolfgang Grajonca. Perhaps the rarest Bill Graham numbered poster of all is the BG 74, which advertises a run of shows in Toronto, Canada in 1967 featuring the Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. In 1971, Graham closed both Fillmore West and East and the poster series associated with the venues ended.
The Family Dog and Bill Graham’s series of posters are among the most collected and iconic of the psychedelic era. Still, many other posters for shows outside of The Avalon and The Fillmore were created during this time in San Francisco. From 1965 until 1972, shows at The Matrix were promoted via handbills and featured bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Other venues associated with early psychedelic concert posters in the bay area included The Greek Theater, the Berkeley Community Theater, The Oakland Auditorium, The Ark, and the Continental Ballroom. Psychedelic concert posters were also being created for concerts outside of San Francisco all over the state of California, as well as in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, Texas, Chicago, and Detroit. Several important pieces were also created in Canada and Europe, though San Francisco remained at the heart of the psychedelic poster scene.