The Grateful Gallery visits First Friday

Grateful Art in The Electric City

We caught up with The Grateful Gallery’s John Warner about his upcoming appearance at The Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, on Friday, March 7 as part of Susquehanna Breakdown’s Fee Free event. The night will feature selected works from The Grateful Gallery, as well as live music from The Kalob Griffin Band and The Tom Graham and Bill Orner Duo.

Give us a little background on your work.
I work primarily in the music business creating concert posters for bands like The Allman Brothers, Further, Phil Lesh & Friends, moe., Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes to name a few. I’ve also created artwork for festivals like Lockn’, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. In addition to posters, I design T-shirts and other band merchandise. I also work locally with Cabinet and this upcoming festival – the Susquehanna Breakdown.

EC06FEATURE_2_WEBHow did you get involved in the business?
I’m originally from Binghamton, N.Y., not far from this area. As a kid, I was a huge fan of album artwork and it was my objective from a young age to become a professional artist. I started seeing the Grateful Dead, Phish and other jam bands in high school and I fell in love with the scene. I started making fan art back then in the ‘90s, selling my T-shirts in the parking lots at shows. I moved to California in 1990 and followed several Grateful Dead and Phish tours. At the same time, I was developing my design business, working with local bands and clubs. After a while, my art just kind of got noticed, my client list grew and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. I always prioritized developing good working relationships with the bands and have been designing for some of my clients for five, 10, 15 years now. In addition to artwork, I’ve worked on the business side of the music industry by booking bands, promoting shows and so on. In 2004, I moved to Austin, Texas to focus on developing my graphic design business, and at the same time I started managing a bar and booking shows there. I created the artwork for the shows and did promotion too. In 2007, I moved back to the Northeast and continued developing my design business with some great new clients like Citizen Cope. I met Cabinet in 2008 and booked them at a festival I was producing and promoting — the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival — which was in its second year in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since, and I am thrilled to design posters and other artwork for them.

You’re not “just” a full-time artist, then?
Oh, no — I work on the production side too. I work with Bill Orner who is the lead promoter for the Susquehanna Breakdown. I’ve helped with the nuts and bolts of the festival like layout and attractions. I also coordinate vending for a few music festivals.

EC06FEATURE_1_WEBHow did you get involved with Susquehanna Breakdown?
In January 2013, Orner called me up and said “LiveNation is giving us the opportunity to host a festival at Montage Mountain.” He knew I had worked with Mountain Jam, Peach and other festivals and that I had some experience. He wanted to know if I would come on board to give a hand and we’d see what happens. I love Cabinet and it has been really awesome to see their success and growth over the years, so naturally I said “absolutely, anything I can do to help.” Initially, the festival was supposed to be outside by the front entrance to the venue. We had some bad luck with the weather, which turned into good luck, because they moved us all under the big Pavilion tent. I really don’t think it would have been the same if we hadn’t moved it under the Pavilion. It just added such a special vibe to an already great event. It was dumb luck that we wound up underneath the tent, but it totally transformed the look and feel of the whole thing. In the first year, despite bad weather, we put on a show that looked like a legit, real, big event.
Everything went really well, and it was pretty much an automatic decision that day that we were going to do this again. So Orner usually takes care of all the booking, ticketing, promotion and organization there, and I fill in the gap by coordinating food and craft vendors, sponsorships, that kind of stuff. This year the lineup just speaks for itself — it’s fantastic. We really have some great talent this year and we’re really looking forward to it.

It’s great to showcase local talent on a stage that houses giant national acts.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. I’m originally from the region — I love the area. My mom lives in Susquehanna County and there’s just so much local talent around here that I think all too often gets passed over. There’s the proximity between NYC and Philly, so we get overlooked, but I think our region is ready to get put on the map in a big way. I know there are a lot of people in this area who just have no idea that so much great music is in their back yard! The other day, I was checking out the Facebook page for Montage Mountain, and somebody posted “What’s with Montage Mountain booking these festivals with bands nobody’s ever heard of?” This is a good thing! This year’s lineup for Susquehanna Breakdown is amazing year with both local talent and nationally touring artists. I recommend skeptics come up to the show to check it out, because they’ll walk away thinking “wow, these bands are really good!”

EC06FEATURE_3_WEBIt shows the strength of the local scene that we can support a main stage show with local acts.
Well, that’s the thing — last year could have been a huge failure and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have come back. It gives me a feeling of pride that so many people came out to support Cabinet and the local scene, and the whole thing was a success. This year, I’m really hoping that we get a wider variety of the community to come up — those who aren’t necessarily Cabinet fans, friends and family, but people who just heard about the festival and thought it sounded pretty cool.

What’s going on Friday at The Backyard Alehouse?
A night of music by Susquehanna Breakdown artists The Kalob Griffin Band and Tom Graham, along with a chance to buy festival tickets with no service charge. (Ticket prices are $20 GA and $55 VIP.) I’m going to be there with a gallery of my artwork as part of a sneak preview of the Grateful Gallery concert poster and photography show that I bring to music festivals throughout the summer. I’ll also have some posters from Mike Dubois, another Grateful Gallery artist, and there’s a chance we’ll have a special guest and some other surprises. These gallery shows are a great opportunity to pick up a poster from a favorite band or a show you attended.

What can we look forward to at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown?
In addition to the music, we also have a great variety of vendors and artisans this year. We have some of the best vendors in the country, like handmade apparel, accessories and artwork from the non profit Eden’s Rose Foundation; organic cotton and bamboo clothing from Hooked Productions; hand-painted ornaments made from recycled Christmas trees from our local favorite S.A.W. Family Creations; and Uncle John’s Outfitters, which is my own family business. We also have a couple of the best food vendors joining us — the Gouda Boys have an out-of-this-world menu and we are happy to have our local favorites Shady Grove Wraps. We’ve got some new stuff coming in like a children’s drum workshop from Everyone’s Drumming. There’s going to be something for everyone. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be able to help bring this kind of event into my backyard.
— tucker hottes