Sometimes you see them flitting by in the wind on a city street like a brightly colored bird. Sometimes you see them posted on telephone poles. You see others on walls inside clubs.
I’m talking about music posters. While they are silent in sound, their designs portend grand audio and visual experiences to come, as bands perform at a certain time and place.
For poster collectors, the memories these powerful scraps of paper evoke can be potent. Colored lights, sounds, lyrics, emotions, jockeying for the best position to see the stage, that special night at a club that doesn’t exist anymore…except in your mind.
Preserving Austin Music Posters of the Past
Most posters were ripped off walls after the show or destroyed by weather and time. Luckily, many Austin music posters have been collected as souvenirs from a concert, or as art in their own right.
How Austin’s music scene gave rise to iconic art through posters is the subject of Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982, a book by Alan Schaefer. Flipping through pages filled with poster art and old photographs brings back the colors of funkadelic, the laidback 70’s of Willie, the grinding scream of punk.
Alan Schaefer edited and compiled Homegrown, but he is also co-curator of an exhibit by the same name at Texas State University in the Wittliff Collection. Most of the music posters in the Wittliff Collection were donated by Tom Wilmore, who lived in Austin until recently. (The Wittliff Collection was originally started by William Wittliff, a well known film producer, founder of Encino Press and screenwriter of Raggedy Man and Lonesome Dove.)
A 38 year old lecturer at Texas State, Schaefer became interested in the music poster phenomenon in 2013. His very first interview for the book was with the legendary Gilbert Shelton in Paris.
Four Eras of Austin Poster Art
There are four eras of art represented in Homegrown: Psychedelic art from Vulcan Gas Company, Armadillo World Headquarters, Blues and Punk.
The Vulcan Gas Company was responsible for giving artists opportunities to innovate during the psychedelic era. When it closed in the spring of 1970, the seeds for wild, wonderful creativity had been planted for a new generation of artists.
The psychedelic era evolved into something uniquely Austin. In 1970, the opening of Armadillo World Headquarters symbolized the collision between hippie and honkytonk culture that had its ground zero in Austin.
The Punk era signaled a return to cleaner, sharper, more primitive art. The work of Mike Nott, also known as Noxx, falls during this period.
Music Poster Artists
Besides Noxx, More than two dozen artists are represented in Homegrown including Gilbert Shelton, Kerry Awn, Jim Franklin and Ken Featherston. Several poster artists were great comic or sardonic personalities who became legends, mythic in their own right. There are also a few posters and flyers in the book with unknown artists.
“The artist could have been a member of the band,” Schaefer told me. “Especially during the punk rock era. Or it might have been a fan of the band. That was pretty common.”
Several of the artists featured in Homegrown are still working. “One of Kerry Awn’s most recent pieces is a 60 foot mural at the south location of Central Market,” reported Schaefer. “It’s an Austin themed music and culture piece.” Even Shelton is also still active, working the last several decades in Paris, France.
See for Yourself
You can see the posters that helped form Austin’s present day culture in the Wittliff Collection at 601 University Drive in San Marcos, TX. There’s a smartphone app available for download, with audio excerpts of interviews you can listen to during your visit to see these icons of Austin cultural history.
The official release of Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 by UT Press is February 15, 2015. The book will be available in hardcover and softcover. You can pre-order the book here. It will also be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Do you collect music posters? If so, do you have any that represent Austin’s past?