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. Welcome to Concert Poster History: New Wave, Punk, and Modern Edition.

The 1970's - Beginning of Commerical Rock

When Bill Graham closed the Fillmore in 1971, artist David Singer was charged with creating its final poster. The piece was toned down as opposed to being something extravagant.  This didn’t thrill Graham at first. However, the piece is now considered to be a classic, and it brought forth a new style of poster.

Singer’s art style focused on collage work and thin lettering. At this time, a new era of both music and concert posters began. Rock music became more monetized. Shows began to be advertised more through mass media than posters. Though the number of posters created as advertisements dwindled, the art form persisted.

A Friendlier Look

Posters became more polished and less easy-going. This corresponded with the music happening at the time. Poster artists began to create artwork for t-shirts and albums. An example is Stanley Mouse’s artwork. It was used for The Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 album, entitled “Ice Cream Kid” and “Rainbow Foot”. Also, it adhered to the psychedelic art style of the 1960s.

Other important Mouse and Kelley art from this era include Blue Rose. This was created for the Grateful Dead’s performance at the closing of Winterland Arena. Additionally, for Kelley’s poster for the Grateful Dead’s show in Egypt. Only a thousand were ever produced, making it quite the collector's item. Aside from classics such as these, most concert artwork appeared as advertisements in papers.

Randy Tuten and David Singer designed most of these advertisements for Bill Graham’s events. These were now taking place at larger venues. Tuten also designed posters for large shows such as these featuring bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd. One notable production was The Last Waltz event in 1974. This was the final show of the Band. The poster for this event, designed by artist Croci, is a significant departure from the psychedelic art style. This is indicative of the changing times. Another important piece of rock art from this era was the laminated backstage pass. 

New Wave and Punk Posters

Poster art’s importance was revived with the rise of new wave and punk music in the mid-1970s. As was the case with early concert posters, posters advertising punk shows were often posted on streets throughout various neighborhoods. The art style for these pieces reflected the music they were advertising. The music was far different from the mainstream, and so was the artwork.

They embraced the “boxing style”  from the 1950s and early 1960s, simple yet loud. They weren’t the same works of true art as the posters from the psychedelic era. This is because the music was heavily inspired by a do-it-yourself attitude. These were meant to inundate passers-by who would encounter them on the street rather than be collected and put on your wall. Most new wave posters were black and white, and often produced inexpensively.

Sanfran for the Win

Though punk and new wave famously came out of London and New York, San Francisco remained the epicenter for poster art. Bands from the area had resident artists frequently creating posters and flyers for their shows. Artist John Seabury, who did the art for the band Psychotic Pineapple, a band out of Berkeley. John created some of the more artistic pieces of the era. He developed a character called “Pineapple Man.” This creature appeared in the band’s artwork.

Another San Francisco band that was considered to have excellent poster art at the time was Crime. Most of their work was created by James Stark. Another important West Coast artist of the time was Su Suttle. Suttle designed poster art for bands such as Talking Heads and The Ramones. Suttle was one of the few artists from this scene to be celebrated the same way as the psychedelic artists from the 1960s. The art mainly featured headshots and lettering pieced together in a collage-like way. She called this style “neo-psychedelic”.

Punk Art

Punk music artwork was even more challenging to the viewer. The style came out of the English mod and skinhead movements. It then made its way to New York, Los Angeles, and of course, San Francisco. Punk art was street art at its core. Many punk flyers were taken down from the streets. People saved them due to their visually intense nature.

Nearly all of these pieces are handbill-sized. Most were printed in local instant print shops, or by Xerox machines. Among the most recognizable punk posters from San Francisco are Jo Jo Planteen’s Alter Boys pieces. Other punk clubs in the Bay Area that are associated with notable poster art include Sound of Music, Tool & Die, and Temple 1839. Bands such as the Dead Kennedy’s regularly played. 

Outside of San Francisco, punk poster art grew.  Los Angeles boasted bands such as Black Flag and X. New York was home to CBGB, which hosted acts like The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Television. CBGB didn’t primarily rely on posters to advertise its shows. Still, there were a number of posters and handbills created for their events. In Seattle, most punk posters were created by band members and used heavily as street art and advertisements. 

Modern Poster Art

Concert posters continue to be created, sold, and collected today. And, on an even wider scale. However, they have morphed from advertisements into concert merch. Most modern gig posters that are posted in music venues are created on computers. Thus, they lack the "true" artwork of early poster advertisements. Flyers advertising concerts are often still posted around big cities. However, a majority of posters collected by music fans are sold at concerts as merchandise. Most of these are still printed in limited numbers. They are sold and traded among concert-goers. This makes them collector’s items. 

In the 1980s, silkscreen prints produced by artists such as Frank Kozik gained popularity. This led to screen printing becoming the most prominent form of poster. Kozik is often credited with reviving concert posters as an art form. He began in Austin, Texas. He'd create black and white posters for the city’s underground scene. He later went on to design pieces for bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In the 1990s, artists such as Chuck Sperry, Emek, and Jeff Wood began to dominate the poster scene. 

Retro Meets Modern

These artists use the psychedelic style of the ’60s. While adding their own modern flair, of course. They created poster art for a wide variety of bands and musicians. Jam bands in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, modern rock groups, and pop music artists alike enjoy the style. Throughout the history of concert posters, perhaps the thread that remains the most consistent is the Grateful Dead. From the 1960s to today, they’ve been responsible for posters in every decade. Their fans are among the most avid collectors.

Here Comes the Modern Era

The idea of modern concert posters as collector's items has led to a whole new market for collectibles. Now, there are several online marketplaces geared specifically toward buying and selling concert posters from history.

Since authenticity is essential to collectors, companies such as CGC consistently rates posters. Posters evolve over the decades. They only continue to evolve as items of great value to collectors and music lovers alike. 

Thanks for tuning in to our latest blog on Concert Poster History! Be sure to leave any questions below.

*Any perceived investment advice contained within this blog is that of the freelance author and does not reflect recommendations from GoCollect