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Meet Stu Reid: Winnipeg’s Gig Poster King

The veteran graphic artist & music nerd shares some of his work & memories.

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Winnipeg’s music scene would not look (or sound) the same without Stu Reid.

Since 1984, the well-known graphic artist, illustrator and self-described music nerd has designed thousands of gig posters for everyone from local bands to international artists. On top of that, he hosts the long-running Twang Trust radio show on university airwaves, holds house concerts at his world-famous StuDome, has a massive collection of memorabilia and just happens to be one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet (aside from that one time he threatened to throw eggs at Bruce Springsteen’s equipment trucks, but I won’t hold that against him).

Last year, after losing his job due to Covid, he wisely decided to build a website to archive and sell his work, which now includes calendars (see samples of his 2022 offering and a slideshow of his posters below). Featuring both his creations and posters that he didn’t design but has collected, gigposters204.com has become a virtual time machine, travelling through the history of Winnipeg concerts spanning all musical genres — Pink Floyd to Green Day, Dave Brubeck to Circle Jerks.

A while back, I told Stu I’d be happy to help spread the word about his site and his work by sharing some of his posters and stories on the site. Here’s the first instalment in what I hope will be a recurring feature. And if you’re looking for a great holiday gift for the local music fan in your life, look no further than his website. Now, over to Stu:

If you’ve attended a concert in Winnipeg over the last 35 years or so, that was promoted with a locally produced poster, there’s a better than good chance that I designed that poster. Throughout most of that time I’ve made my living in graphic design in some form or another, but I’ve always defined myself more as a semi-professional music-nerd than as a professional ‘anything’. Designing those posters was a part of what I consider my art but it’s no greater a part than working in a record store was, or the weekly radio show I host on CKUW, or the dozens of house concerts I’ve hosted in my living room. Just getting to the point where I could pull off doing all of those things is really the art.

My last full-time gig was running the music department at McNally Robinson Booksellers, but Covid brought that dream job to an end so during my unplanned freedom, I decided to chronicle the graphic side of my musical fanaticism and build an online gallery of all the posters I’d designed over the years. The initial plan was to get my name out there again as a designer and find work, but while building the website, I came up with the idea to throw some of the posters together and make a calendar for the sake of raising money to fund the site. The calendar took off in a much bigger way than I intended it to, and pretty soon I was an official nostalgia peddler.

The lack of cool gig posters in town during the mid-’80s was a big part of my impetus to start designing them myself. The first one I ever did was for a pair of shows at the Marion Hotel in February of 1984 — Alien Sex Fiend and B.B. Gabor. The late, legendary punk promoter Mike Lambert enlisted me to do that one for him and eventually I went on to design posters for virtually every promoter in the city. My first ‘big-time’ poster was for Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road tour in 1989. I was a huge fan and when the show was announced, I went to the offices of Nite Out Entertainment and told them I’d design them a poster for the show in exchange for front-row seats. Kevin Donnelly jumped at the offer and I worked for Nite Out as their main designer until the end of their run as Winnipeg’s main concert promoter.

I started designing posters in the pre-digital era. Everything was done by hand — cutting, pasting, drawing and using a production camera or a photocopier. Anyone with the skills and tools to do what I was doing at that time was making way more money at it than I was, but I was having way more fun. Plus I was sitting in the front row at a Steve Earle concert for ‘free’.

Straddling the line between a collector and a hoarder, I had boxes of old posters that I saved over the years. Many were ones that I had designed, but as a fan I’d also collected posters for cool shows that I wasn’t involved with. The website, GigPosters204.com, not only has my work on display, but there’s hundreds of other posters that tell the story of live music in Winnipeg, dating as far back as a 1965 Johnny Cash show at the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium. I recently uncovered a trio of old Kiss posters from the ’70s. Not only did I find the band-supplied poster blank for the 1974 show at the University of Manitoba (a free gig that was only the third show Kiss ever performed outside of their home state of New York), but also the 1977 show that was the first concert I ever attended myself. I peed a little when I found that one.

Via the website, as well as a few independent record stores in town, I started selling some of these posters after numerous requests came in. Some are the original copies I’d hoarded away in my basement, some are second printings from the original art and files that I hung onto over the years, and some are reproductions. I won’t reproduce anything that doesn’t look as good as the original. In most cases, due to printing and design technology, they actually look better. Not as valuable of course, but good luck finding an original screen-printed copy of Neil Young’s 1971 Concert Hall show. The only known copy recently sold for $2,500.

It’s a bit voyeuristic, but I love to discreetly hang out at a store that has the posters for sale and wait for a couple of people to start flipping through them. Folks get downright giddy coming across posters for favourite concerts they were at, reliving special moments or discovering shows by favourite artists that they didn’t even know had happened in Winnipeg. Like Green Day playing the Royal Albert in 1992, The Tragically Hip at the Spectrum Cabaret in 1989, or Leslie First playing to a few dozen people at the West End Cultural Centre in 2004.

This year’s calendar is more impressive than last year’s too. It’s the same price but a good 50% larger for 2022 at full gatefold LP-size, and there’s over 130 posters on view. Due to retail being shut down last Christmas, I sold almost all of last year’s model off of my front porch. Fortunately it’s not quite as bleak this year and folks can find them in most independent record stores in the city. And the front porch is still open, too.