For those of us who do not live in Texas, and even for many who do, Austin is an outpost of progressive weirdness in a state better known for its regressive rectitude. Music has been the key to Austin’s enlightened reputation, and after a brief flirtation with psychedelia in the late 1960s, the posters that were created to promote the state capital’s music scene became as iconoclastic as the city itself, as a new book called Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 ably demonstrates.
With essays by noted Texas author Joe Nick Patoski and poster artist and historian Nels Jacobson, Homegrown is mostly organized into thematic sections, including Blues Portraits (Muddy Waters, Mance Lipscomb, Big Joe Williams, Johnny Winter), Traveling Bands (Frank Zappa, Gram Parsons, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead), and Punk (The Ramones, Iggy Pop, David Johanson). The first section, though, is devoted to the city’s first full-fledged rock hall, Vulcan Gas Company, which produced shows by local bands like Conqueroo, Shiva’s Head Band, and 13th Floor Elevators at 316 Congress Avenue, from the fall of 1967 until the spring of 1970. Gilbert Shelton, who is better known now for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, was the venue’s first poster artist, hewing to the psychedelic sensibility being practiced by Wes Wilson and others in San Francisco.
After Shelton and three other Austinites moved to San Francisco to found Rip Off Press in 1969, Jim Franklin took over art-director duties at the Vulcan, bringing a more realistic style to the club’s rock-posters. It was also Franklin who made the lowly armadillo a symbol of the Austin music scene, a stature that was codified when the Vulcan closed and a new venue called Armadillo World Headquarters opened in 1970. Franklin designed the first poster for that storied hall, along with 58 others, although Micael Priest and Guy Juke produced more (99 and 61, respectively). Other artists whose careers are recounted by Patoski include Ken Featherston, Danny Garrett, and Sam Yeates, while Jacobson offers readers a window on techniques employed by artists and printers alike. We learn, for example, that Shelton used white acrylic paint to cover up mistakes made in India ink, and that it was a printer named Johnny Mercer who introduced Austin poster artists to the wonders of split-fountain printing, which allowed them to riff—if briefly—on one of the San Francisco poster community’s signature psychedelic looks.