Joshua Tehee

Exhibit showcases Fresno’s music history through band art

This series of concert posters are part of an exhibit of more than 200 such works that will be display at Tower District Records through May.
This series of concert posters are part of an exhibit of more than 200 such works that will be display at Tower District Records through May. Special to The Bee

Band art may seem quaint – a holdover from a time before digitized social media confined things to handheld devices and what you knew about local music came from what you saw stapled on telephone poles, taped inside store windows or passed hand-to-hand at shows.

Still, there is no better way to get a sense of a city’s music scene, where it has been and where it is going.

“Before recorded music, there were concert posters and sheet music designs,” says Brad Polzin, a local artist and curator of Tower District Records Gallery, which is hosting an exhibit of more than 200 local gig fliers, band posters and other art. The exhibit kicks off at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7, as part of ArtHop and will be on display in the store through May.

“What you’ll be able to see in this exhibit is not only a bunch of fliers and posters but a visual, and I think very visceral, representation of Fresno music history and the eras in which these bands played,” Polzin says.

Q: So, why gig fliers?

A: I’ve loved music ever since I was a little boy. About the time I was in junior high, I started covering the walls of my room with posters and fliers I found about town, at the nearby KYNO radio station and at various businesses. Many other people I’ve talked to appear to have had the same experience or felt something similar, no matter when they grew up or what bands they listened to.

Art and music complement each other and can be very inspirational.

Gig fliers are basically advertisements and as such have been around for a very long time. In many cases, it’s hard to separate a particular album or artists from the artwork. To use the Beatles as an example: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” the album cover and the music are inseparable, if you acquired the music by buying the LP album.

Album artwork doesn’t have the same prominence today in the era of digital music, but fliers and posters still inspire and help to illustrate what a band is about and why you’d want to go see them or buy their music. Fliers are very democratic, in that many bands make their own fliers or will work with artists who get what they are about and can express it in an artistic fashion.

Music, art and design therefore ends up being a document of a certain time, music, feeling and movement. Various eras and types of music graphics often have very recognizable traits reflecting the times and music they portrayed. That’s one reason I think this exhibit is going to be particularly fascinating. It’s going to be not only a graphic depiction of the history of music, bands, clubs, promoters, etc., in Fresno, but will also show a deeper message about the times and environment the music was made in.

Q: So, you can trace some of the history of the art as well?

A: Before there was an easy way to set your own type, people had to be creative and use a variety of methods. In the ’60s and ’70s, artists developed beautiful hand-drawn lettering and used collage techniques and pop-art designs. They used creative printing techniques like split ink fountains, where more than one color of ink was put in a single ink reservoir to obtain multicolored work without having to pay for several press runs.

In the ’80s, you see people using more press type and pasted-up type from a photo typesetter. Punk fliers were very DIY and anarchistic, much like the music, using just about everything from magazine cutouts to handwriting done with markers.

Then, the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer, scanner and laser printer made it possible to create your own type, artwork, collages and combine them all together with photos or what ever else you wanted. Today, designers and many bands are capable of producing very elaborate artwork at home, in much they same way they are able to produce high-quality recordings of their music.

And they can get high-quality printing done at a reasonable cost.

Q: What were you looking for in curating the exhibit?

A: My aim has been to represent as broad a range of music, eras and bands as possible from all quarters of Fresno’s music history. I saw this from the start as an all-inclusive, collective and community participation exhibit and invited everyone I could to participate and spread the word. Fresno has an enormous wealth of great musicians and artists and I saw this exhibit as an opportunity to represent their contributions to Fresno’s musical heritage. It’s really been a blast meeting with folks and making discoveries about Fresno’s music history. I’ve heard so many amazing stories and I think this exhibit will go pretty far in conveying that magic and diversity. I have so far narrowed the submissions down from several thousand, so I expect the walls of the Tower District Records gallery will be packed.

Q: Who has been bringing stuff in?

Everyone from artists to musicians, to promoters, to record store owners, to radio stations and collectors have been instrumental in the exhibit coming together. …

Fred Martinez, a musician and former owner of Club Fred, has been especially helpful as someone who saved a copy of just about everything from his club and elsewhere. He’s also loaning the original 30-foot mural from Club Fred for the exhibit, which should be exciting for folks to see, after having been out of sight for so long. Especially in the wake of Audie’s Olympic closing.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Fresno Music History

  • With live performance from Trey Tosh
  • 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7
  • Tower District Records, 302 E Olive Ave.
  • Free, all ages
  • 559-478-4034,