Many bands are instantly recognizable for their sound, but when it comes to the Grateful Dead or The Allman Brothers Band, the imagery that adorns their albums and merchandise may be just as iconic.
That's where artists like Michael DuBois come in. The 50-year-old Woodstock, N.Y., resident worked his way up from drawing posters for local bands in his home state to commissioned tour merchandise for Santana, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, The Wailer, Hot Tuna, and more.
He personally worked with The Band's Levon Helm on the Grammy Award-winning “Electric Dirt” in 2009, Helm's final studio album before his passing.
“I am inspired by the music. I usually try to work for bands whose music I like, and that gives me inspiration to do that work as well as getting paid for it, which gives you more inspiration. But sometimes they have a concept and sometimes they don't, which is nice because sometimes they give you the freedom to present something, and if they like it, then they go with it, or maybe there's a little change made. Most of the time these days, they give me the freedom to present things,” DuBois said.
He will be one of 10 different artists showing their work on The Grateful Gallery Tour, which makes its first stop at the Old Farmers Ball at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Saturday, May 11. The traveling art gallery, featuring concert posters and other work from artists in the music scene, is organized by John Warner, a fellow artist who met DuBois at the Gathering of the Vibes festival in Connecticut, which, along with a satellite gallery, inspired the creation of The Grateful Gallery.
Currently living in Allentown, the 40-year-old was born in Binghamton, N.Y., and has worked around the country as a concert promoter and club manager, creating posters for his own shows and developing his art career while serving as a booking agent. He has created merchandise for Further, Allman Brothers, Warren Haynes, Citizen Cope, Gov't Mule, and for festivals like the upcoming Peach Festival, also at the Toyota Pavilion in Scranton, where The Grateful Gallery will be installed as well.
Warner's relationship with Old Farmers Ball headliner Cabinet began when he discovered the band on Myspace and invited them to play the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival in 2008; he has since illustrated a series of “Wizard of Oz”-themed posters for the group and became the inaugural Ball's vending coordinator.
Both Warner and DuBois have reached a point in their careers where they only work for musicians they listen to, and fans may be drawn to the work because it's created by fellow fans.
“These days, I really don't work on much that I'm new to, I guess. I really have to be familiar with the content before I consider working with somebody anyway,” Warner said. “I've got to like your band; I've got to be a fan to work on your stuff.”
They also appreciate the art's collectability.
“A commemorative show poster is important because it's an artifact of history. The show happened, you have this commemorative piece of artwork, which is not a digital print or a throwaway type of print – it's a hand silk-screened piece of artwork – which becomes collectible. There's a huge market for this stuff,” Warner continued, saying that limited editions “go pretty quick.”
“I have fans that collect my work. It doesn't matter who I do work for; they just like my work and they collect it. They are very interested in purchasing these types of things, and this is really what this market is targeted to, the collector and the fans of the band – the real fans of the band.”
And even though it's the digital age, DuBois said he receives more work than ever.
“Actually, in the last 10 years, because albums have gone away, there has been a big resurgence in music posters, and it's become an important revenue source for bands, especially bands that tour because, as you probably know, they're not making the revenue on record sales like they used to,” he noted. “But, they are making money with posters and t-shirts and things they take on tour with them.”
Another featured artist in The Grateful Gallery, AJ Masthay, is also a printmaker at Masthay Studios in West Hartford , Conn., with clients like Furthur, Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, Bob Weir, Disco Biscuits, and more. He will be showcasing his distinctive linoleum block print process at the Old Farmers Ball.
“I've been drawing my whole life, but I first fell in love with printmaking back in my college days at the Hartford Art School. I loved the idea of creating multiple copies of a work while each retains its status as an original piece; it's a great way to produce a work of art and be able to sell them to an audience at an affordable price,” he recalled.
“I primarily focused on stone lithography back then. It wasn't until I first got into the gig poster world that I fully dove into my unique form of letterpress and began piecing my studio together.”
His passion for handcrafted work is one that is shared by all the featured artists in the Ball, including William Giese, J Rizzi, Nick Clemente, Bill Orner, Matt Hiller, and local photographers Jason Riedmiller and Jim Gavenus.
“I love handcrafted objects, things that were obviously made with love. I don't care if it's a print, clothing, a meal at a restaurant, whatever – when something is made with love by a true artisan, it stands out. I have nothing against digital work, but I still love getting down and dirty with my carving tools and getting ink under my fingernails. The results just can't be replicated any other way. My prints have a certain look and feel in person, and due to the oil-based inks I use, they have a certain smell to them that collectors always comment on, in a good way,” Masthay explained.
The sights, sounds, and smells will draw in audiences as they take a break from the music or escape the sun, but Warner also uses the opportunity to pass on his artistic knowledge.
“To me, the fun thing is the young artists that are trying to break into the business and me being able to give them advice and meet these young guys and kind of have some sort of influence on the guidance of how they do things. It's kind of fun for me because I myself am a high school dropout. I learned all this stuff on my own; I've got no formal training or art degree or anything like that,” he acknowledged.
“I think people get inspired by seeing this kind of artwork, and it's inspiring to the artists, too.”