History of Concert Posters: Early Works

by Cassaundra Thomas

102121D-300x157 History of Concert Posters: Early WorksThe 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.

Early Posters

Rock ‘n’ roll formed from blues, soul, and even country music. Rock ‘n’ roll saw its golden era from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. Concert posters during this time emerged from other posters that were designed for different forms of entertainment. Examples are circuses, Grand Ole’ Opry shows, and big band jazz performances.

These posters were created on cardboard and were not especially beautiful. Though they are considered rarities by today’s standards, they were merely designed to catch the eye of passersby. These early posters were far from the art form into which they would later evolve. 

Letterpress Printing

Hatch-Show-Print-300x148 History of Concert Posters: Early WorksIt is impossible to discuss the vast history of concert posters without looking at the influential work of Hatch Show Print, a firm located in Nashville, Tennessee, which focused on letterpress printing.

Letterpress printing is the process of pressing paper onto wood or metal letters that are covered in ink. This form of printing is Hatch’s legacy. Hatch’s first poster was not created for a concert. It advertised a lecture about freedom for African Americans given by Henry Ward Beecher. If you didn’t know, he was the father of famous author Harriet Beecher Stowe. This particular lecture took place at the Grand Opera House in Nashville. Later, this location would become known as the iconic Grand Ole Opry. Years later, Hatch went on to create posters advertising big band and country music shows, becoming essential in advertising for the Opry.

Globe Poster

 Globe Poster in Baltimore, Maryland, was also creating their own letterpress posters at this time. The company got its start by creating film posters. Later, it went on to produce posters for shows featuring the likes of Etta James and B.B. King. In the mid-1950s, Globe began incorporating Day-Glo ink into its posters. This enhanced their visibility in the dark and from a distance. It and was also cheaper and easier to use.Globe-web62-194x300 History of Concert Posters: Early Works

The use of Day-Glo ink created an iconic flair for Globe posters. It also set a new standard for posters in general. While Globe’s Day-Glo prints obtained an association with African American artists, Hatch’s prints used a more “American Gothic” style.  They then began to be associated with country music and white rock ‘n’ roll.

In fact, Hatch was responsible for early Elvis Presley posters. While Elvis posters were useful tools for concert advertisement in the early days of his career, these posters are few and far between, and nearly impossible to come by today. The same goes for The Beatles, another essential pillar of early rock ‘n’ roll. This is perhaps due to the fact that despite these artists’ vast influence, their careers spanned a relatively short portion of rock history.

Early Rock ‘n’ Roll

The-Moondog-Coronation-Ball-300x231 History of Concert Posters: Early WorksDisc-jockey Alan Freed’s contribution to rock ‘n’ roll and early posters cannot be understated. In fact, he is credited with having popularized the term rock ‘n’ roll. Freed began playing music over the airwaves in 1951, playing mostly R&B tunes, and other music created by black artists. He used the term “rock ‘n’ roll” to describe the music in order to circumvent the stigma that was associated with African American music at the time.

Freed produced the first major rock show in 1952, entitled “The Moondog Coronation Ball” at the Cleveland Arena. This show was eventually canceled when more than twice the amount of people showed up than capacity allowed. Freed then made the move to New York City, where he began to put on more rock events and tours that he would act as emcee for. Though these tours did not originally produce many posters, what posters did come from them were mainly used to advertise a tour as a whole, rather than a specific venue. 

The Lineup

These shows featured artists such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Other tours featuring large casts of all-star musicians were born out of Freed’s. Some independent companies began to produce shows in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. These featured both black and white rock ‘n’ roll artists. Many of the posters for these tours were created by Globe Poster, including The Biggest Show of Stars in the spring and fall of 1957. Posters advertising African American artists continued to be primarily produced on letterpress up until the 1970s. That’s when silk-screen printing became more common. It was only then that posters advertising these artists took on a more modern appearance.BiggestShow1957fall History of Concert Posters: Early Works

While the Fillmore Auditorium is most prominently associated with Bill Graham and psychedelic concert posters, it operated for decades prior primarily featuring African American entertainers. Even when Graham took over in 1966, dances regularly took place at the Fillmore as well as similar venues in the Bay Area, featuring Motown legends such as Marvin Gaye, and soul artists such as Otis Redding.

The Posters

These shows were typically promoted using the traditional “boxing style” letterpress poster, produced by Tilghman Press in Oakland. These posters were produced in very small quantities and, subsequently, are extremely rare today. Early rock ‘n’ roll and African American music continued to gain traction through the 1960s when it was reinvigorated by the likes of Wilson Pickett, Ike, and Tina Turner. These artists played a major role in the evolution of 60’s rock. Posters from this era were still created by Globe Poster and Hatch Show Print, as well as Colby Poster in Los Angeles. Many posters focused on the music craze “The Twist”, popularized by Chubby Checker.

Folk Music

Folk music as we know it today originated with individuals like Woody Guthrie in the 1940s and ’50s and was popularized in the 1960s by the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. It came from country and blues artists and was fueled by the civil rights movement. Groups such as the Freedom Singers established a form of folk music used as an act of protest. It was often performed at events such as sit-ins. Often, this type of folk music was performed in coffee shops and small clubs across the United States. The posters advertising these shows were quite simple. they generally featured words, photos, and simple graphics.

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Many posters came out of the popularization of folk festivals. The Berkeley Folk Festival, which began in 1958 and lasted ten years, featured artists such as Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, and Joan Baez, and went on to feature early psychedelic bands such as Jefferson Airplane. The Newport Folk Festival began in 1959 in Rhode Island. It was the first place that Bob Dylan went electric. An annual folk festival held at San Francisco State College featured a pre-Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin.

The 5th Year

The poster for the fifth year of this festival was created by Michael Ferguson of The Charlatans, a band at the forefront of the psychedelic music scene. This poster featured similar fonts and lettering to later psychedelic concert posters, a completely different style than the posters created for festivals such as Newport Folk, which sported simple fonts. Additionally, numerous posters were created to advertise Bob Dylan concerts, including a rare piece by Eric Von Schmidt created for a 1965 tour featuring Dylan and Joan Baez. Dylan didn’t care much for the poster, so very few were printed.

British Invasion – 1963-1966

beatles-blue-wall-214x300 History of Concert Posters: Early WorksThe British Invasion had the greatest influence on American rock since the days of Elvis Presley. The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan show in 1964, ushering in Beatlemania, but just the year before, an iconic piece of Beatles memorabilia was created in the form of a poster.

The poster advertised the Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium. It featured a photo of the Beatles standing and sitting by a blue brick wall with simple lettering underneath. It was printed in the United States and widely distributed. Two other Beatles posters are worth noting; the one advertising their 1965 Shea Stadium show, and the one advertising their final concert at Candlestick Park in 1966.

Shea Stadium Poster eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6ImIxYjMwNzJlLTc5ZjUtNGU4Ny1iMmU0LTlmZTM1OTkxZWRmOS5qcGVnIiwiZWRpdHMiOnsibm9ybWFsaXNlIjp0cnVlfX0-225x300 History of Concert Posters: Early Works

The Shea Stadium poster features the same “boxing style” artwork as the Hatch and Globe posters; it was not extremely visually appealing. However, the Candlestick Park poster featured a different style, as it was created by Wes Wilson, an artist who went on to create some of the first psychedelic concert posters. It is more colorful and features a more interesting art style.

Because the Beatles had such a short touring career, there are few posters from these shows, and the ones that still exist are extremely rare. The British Invasion and The Beatles were what eventually gave way to the psychedelic era.

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