Posters announcing rock shows in Sacramento in the mid-20th century are a main part of the new exhibit in the University Library Gallery. (Sacramento State/Phillip Altstatt)
By Dixie Reid
The Grateful Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage – Dead founder Jerry Garcia’s offshoot country band – played Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium three days before Christmas 1970.
In the crowd that night was Roger Shepherd, the 19-year-old artist who created the psychedelic advertising poster for the concert. He also painted the stage backdrop, which showed a lissome female figure dancing across a starry sky.
“They tried to take it at the end of the night, and I told them, ’Uh, no,’ ” Shepherd says now. “It was the only sign I ever did. Honestly, that was a long time ago, and I don’t know who asked for it or why I did it.”
Shepherd’s two Grateful Dead art pieces will be on display during the “Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection” exhibit, which opens Friday, Nov. 1, and continues through Dec. 13 in the University Library Gallery. The show will include more than 60 local concert posters and handbills and related music memorabilia from Sac State’s Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection.
Shepherd will be joined by fellow music poster artists Paul Imagine and Jason Malmberg, as well as collector Marty Hohn, for a panel discussion at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in the Library Gallery.
The exhibit and discussion are free and open to the campus community and general public.
Dennis Newhall ’73 (Theatre Arts) will serve as panel moderator. Earlier this year, he gave to Sac State hundreds of original concert posters, handbills, T-shirts, a necktie, K-ZAP Radio logo wear, photographs, concert tickets, and an Oasis Ballroom cocktail table from his now-closed Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum.
Newhall’s initial gift of 650 items is housed in the University Library's Gerth Special Collections & University Archives. The balance of about 4,000 promised items will come to Sac State over time.
“This is not an art collection,” Newhall said. “This is a story about the venues, the poster artists, the pioneering radio stations that brought rock ‘n’ roll and rock to Sacramento, and the rock bands that played here. It’s about this community.”
Rising rent costs in 2017 prompted Newhall to shutter his midtown Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum and put into storage everything he’d collected over 17 years. Then he set out to find a new home for his treasures.
University Library Dean Amy Kautzman and James Fox, who heads Special Collections & University Archives, saw a newspaper story about Newhall’s search and were interested in acquiring and preserving the collection.
“I realized this would be unlike anything I had imagined – a place where it would stay together forever,” Newhall said. “There would be endless opportunities for students to go out and find new things to add to the collection and know what old things to look for.
“And the University has the wherewithal for preservation, which is so important. The reds are starting to fade on some of the posters.”
Sac State debuted its Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection in February 2019, with a reception and small exhibit in Special Collections. The University has since loaned out pieces for exhibits at Ella K. McClatchy Library and Capital Public Radio.
Newhall began collecting local and area concert posters 1991, when he worked as a sound engineer and voice talent for Nakamoto Productions, a commercial recording studio. The business was housed in a space formerly occupied by the once-popular music clubs Crabshaw Corner and the Oasis Ballroom.
Inspired by the building’s legacy, business owner Ray Nakamoto asked Newhall to track down concert posters from the clubs, which he wanted to use as wall décor.
Newhall had loved rock ‘n’ roll since childhood and worked at iconic K-ZAP Radio, so he knew that Roger Shepherd – who drew the original K-ZAP cat logo (based on the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland) – was a prolific poster artist.
Newhall asked, and Shepherd soon sent over a stack of his original concert posters and handbills.
Three of Shepherd’s posters, along with the Grateful Dead backdrop, will be displayed in the University Library Gallery. Malmberg and Imagine each will have two posters on display.
The Sacramento Bee covered the December 1970 Grateful Dead concert. The music critic reported that 4,700 young fans “turned up and turned on” and stayed until an orchestrated onstage explosion ended the show at 1 a.m.
Shepherd remembers little about that night nearly a half-century ago, but he recalls that he earned $350 for the poster. It was so much money at the time, he joked with a friend that he could retire at 19.
He became one of Sacramento’s most sought-after artists for concert posters, album covers, and music venue advertising.
“I tried to do something a little different every time,” Shepherd said. “I didn’t like to be boring in my style and do the same thing twice. Looking back, everything looks similar. So I guess that was just me.”
The “Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection” exhibit was curated by Newhall, Fox, and Special Collections librarian Lynn Drennan.
WHAT: Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection exhibit
WHEN: Nov. 1-Dec. 13; gallery ihours are 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
WHERE: Sacramento State's University Library Gallery
ADMISSION: Free and open to University community and the public