The Rock Poster - An Overview
A brief history of rock posters from the 1950's through the present
The Birth of the Rock Poster
The earliest rock posters were no different
than the big band and country music posters that came before them. They were
"boxing" style posters, incorporating simple block lettering with unadorned
photographs of the performers.Although a few early R&B posters added brightly
colored backgrounds and some occasional background art, the rock poster would
remain largely unchanged from its inception until late 1965.
San Francisco Rock Posters
Between 1966 and 1971, over 450 posters were
printed to advertise rock concerts promoted in San Francisco by Bill Graham
and by The Family Dog alone. (In The Family Dog series there were 160 numbered
posters (including 16 concerts produced in Denver, Colorado) and in the Bill
Graham Series there were 289 numbered posters.) These dance-concerts initially
were local events showcasing local talent but as their popularity increased,
they featured performances by many of the most famous rock acts of the time.
These events were more than conventional concerts. They were social gatherings
which took place in a total environment of music, dance and light. They were
the precursors of the "happenings" of the 1960's art scene and they were the
epitome of hippie culture.
As these posters began to flourish in the San Francisco Area, the new art form
which they had created quickly spread to the major metropolitan areas of the
United States and England. The art form thrived and influenced artists the world
As for the posters themselves, they were of extreme artistic importance. They
were daring and highly experimental in their use of color and in their use of
lettering which was considered illegible to all but the initiated. They were
the first commercial art form to totally subjugate the advertising content of
the poster to the overall focus of the artist's statement. This had an irrepressible
effect on the future of advertising in general and the poster in particular.
Their role was to change forever the concept of what a poster could and couldn't
Punk and New Wave Flyers
After the closing of the Fillmore West in 1971, Bill Graham
and others continued to sporadically issue posters but they had become an afterthought
created mostly as commemorative pieces to satisfy the appetite of marketing
managers and the burgeoning rock merchandising machine. As Disco and Stadium
Rock took over the mainstream, a new counterculture began to emerge. Rejecting
the smooth, finished look and style of their contemporaries, Punk artists embraced
the grittiness and immediacy of the xerox machine and pumped out 8 1/2 by 11
inch black and white flyers. New Wave posters added color and a different graphic
look and feel but largely stayed with the flyer-sized format.
By now rock posters had become an accepted collectible with thousands of serious
collectors and part-time afficcianados pursuing these objects of their affection.
With a false sense of complacency, they believed that completion of their collections
was within arm's reach. The late 80's would prove that to be a dangerous assumption.
The Silkscreen Movement
Fueled by a curious mix of psychedelia, pop culture and
punk-rock ethos, the roots of the silkscreen movement were laid down in Texas.
A thriving local flier and poster scene had borrowed from all that had come
before it and was beginning to create something new and vibrant. Throw into
the mix fortuitous access to a local screenprinter and a new era for the rock
poster was officially born. The realization that a screen, a squegee and a few
cans of ink allowed an enterprising artist to create top quality posters in
small runs, instantly leveled the playing field and created an entire generation
The New Fillmore and BGP Series
About this same time in San Francisco, Bill Graham realized
that changes in the rock music industry had brought things full circle and that
the time was ripe for a return to small intimate venues. With this return to
his roots, Graham decided to re-establish his time honored tradition of advertising
rock concerts with posters. That this tradition still continues over 1,000 posters
later and despite Graham's untimely passing, is a lasting tribute to his impact
on the world of rock poster collecting.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Today, we stand at yet another crossroads. The digital revolution
has added a new set of tools to the poster makers arsenal. Never before has
it been so easy for so many to create posters...yet few have become masters
of the new tools. Fewer still have been able to find true creative outlet through
them. Those who have, inspire us and, as in any era, grace us with the beauty
of their creations, illuminating the way to a brave new world of poster collecting.
© 1999-2008 Dennis King / RockPosterCollector.com
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