I never understood what it was, exactly, that drew me so strongly to concert posters.
Sure, as a newspaper designer, I had an appreciation for how they were created. And as I dove deeper into the history of the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic, I appreciated the older posters as tangible connections to that history.
But there really had to be more to it. For awhile, it was a sort of madness.
My last read of 2017 and first review of 2018 — Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 — doesn’t pose the question of why these posters speak so strongly to certain people. But it does provide some clues, nonetheless.
Joe Nick Patoski’s opening essay makes a strong case for the importance of concert posters as advertising medium in an era where your favorite band could play across town and you might not ever know about it because you’re 40 years away from following them on Twitter.
Opening with 1820s broadsides posted around New Orleans seeking colonists for Texas, Patoski narrows in on Austin’s printing history and ultimately the marriage of art and information in the mid-1960s that resulted in the music posters you see in books such as this.
The major Austin poster artists get their due, but Patoski starts with Jim Franklin — my favorite artist. (And I don’t just mean poster artist. I wouldn’t walk across the street to piss on Picasso if he were ablaze.)
There is also a mini-history of important venues, starting not with the usual suspect, but the Vulcan Gas Company, the importance of which can be overlooked as it rests in the shadow of the Armadillo.
(Thank goodness I read this book recently and not during the height of my poster-collecting craze. God knows what kind of debt I would’ve racked up if I were driven to touch a larger scope of history rather than just Willie’s Picnic. Say … that Vulcan Gas poster is kinda cool though …)
The second essay, by artist Nels Jacobson, takes a more personal look at the artists and a more technical look at their art, introducing phrases like “split-fountain ink printing” and “Multilith 1350 offset press.”
The meat of the book, however, is 122 posters, divided across five chapters. The pioneering Vulcan Gas Company gets its own chapter, featuring a dozen-and-a-half posters and handbills ranging from the sort of hippie-trippy images you’d expect from San Francisco to Jim Franklin oddities.
If you’re expecting the Armadillo World Headquarters to get its own chapter, well, so was I. But those works are split across the next three chapters: Blues Portraits (including Danny Garrett’s work for Antone’s), Reimagining Texas (opening with a herd of Jim Franklin armadillos) and Traveling Bands (no, the Savoy Brown poster you’re thinking isn’t here).
The last chapter explores the rise of Punk and New Wave posters and handbills that popped up in the early ‘80s as lush professional artistry gave way to a different aesthetic entirely. Many of these posters are interesting, but only a few can stand alongside their predecessors.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.
Author’s language skills: N/A
What I learned that will most likely stick with me: I’m not weird for loving old posters.
Will it make the bookshelf? Yes.