What makes a great concert poster?
It’s an essential question in Jeffrey Everett’s line of work.
Everett, working under the moniker Rockets Are Red, has designed posters for marquee names across rock music, including Lou Reed, Wilco, the Foo Fighters, Flogging Molly, The Bouncing Souls and many more, as well as comedians such as Patton Oswalt and David Cross.
Now, Everett is collecting his body of work into a full-color book. “Let It Bleed” will be published by Picture This Press and is a culmination of Everett’s 20-year career working with bands, record labels and venues to create unforgettable posters that fly out of the merch booth and stay on fans’ walls for a lifetime.
The book’s kickstarter launch on March 4 coincides with the opening of a month-long show at Lost Origins Gallery on historic Mount Pleasant Street that will feature an artists’ talk and make rare posters and sketches available for sale.
Gallery founder Jason Hamacher is a musician, photographer and documentarian — and the former drummer of D.C. hardcore band Battery. Everett met Hamacher when he designed a poster for the band’s record re-release and held his first show at Lost Origins in 2017.
Everett’s screen-printed posters are colorful, playful and surreal, and each evokes the music of the featured artist — from a zombie flossing (Gaslight Anthem) to an eerie Victorian home against a blood-red sky (Wolf Alice) to a cat holding a brick and a bat (New Found Glory). Everett says designing a poster is a triangulation between artist, band and fans.
“Ultimately, because all of these posters were sold as merchandise or given away as a form of promotion, I wanted to create something the audience would want,” he says. “There’s the really tight line of working with your formal client (the band) and your secondary client, which is the audience. If you make a poster and no one picks it up at the end of the show, you’ve basically failed.”
Hamacher agrees: “There’s the thought of the producer, and then there’s the hopeful understanding of the consumer. The really good design translates to them and they want to keep it.”
Concert poster collecting has surged in popularity in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the rise of the internet and digital music is an important contributor to this trend. In a world where album covers are pixels on a phone screen and songs are chopped into 30-second bites for social media videos, posters make a concert a memory you can hold in your hand.
“A lot of people started going towards concert posters with the death of CDs,” Everett says. “You’d open the jewel case and read the sleeve. Those things disappeared, and so the tangible quality of music became concert posters. It showed that you went out and did stuff — you were at that show and experienced life a little.”
“One of the things that gets me excited about books is that we’re creating a cultural artifact,” Hamacher says. “Jeff’s book is a very specific slice of American culture.”
So what makes a truly great poster?
“All the information is there, but the reason you’re looking is because it draws your eye,” Hamacher says.
“I want to tell a story, to see a moment that has a before and then after, like a still from a movie,” Everett says. “You walk by it every day and see it, and feel something special from the night of that show.”