“We seen it right here didn’t we?”: Austin through the art of Micael Priest

concert poster with illustration of the dancehall Broken Spoke with tour buses for Alvin Crow and the Texas Playboys parked out front and an oversize fiddle in between. The Southern Folklife Collection is honored to hold a number of collections of individual poster artists including the Ron Liberti Collection (20398), Casey Burns Collection (20415), Jason Lonon Poster Collection (20451), Matt Hart Poster Collection (20457), Steve Oliva Collection (20506), Skillet Gilmore Poster Collection (20468), Clark Blomquist Collection (20465), as well as the work of many other artists represented across the collections, like that of Micael Priest whose work can be found in Folders 3218-3240 in the Archie Green Papers (20002). Priest died yesterday at the age of 66.

Artist Micael Priest moved to Austin, Texas in 1969 and quickly became an active participant in the city’s growing counterculture. As a member of the famed music venue Armadillo World Headquarters’ Art Squad from 1972-1980, he created hundreds of iconic images that document the people, places, and activities of the music scene in the form of posters advertising upcoming shows, AWHQ calendars, advertisements, and record covers. With an instantly recognizable visual style, Priest’s posters distill the spirit of a community and, along with the work of his fellow AWHQ crew Jim Franklin and Kerry Awn, imbues such a strong sense of place that it serves as a simulacrum of an Austin that blurs the real and the remembered until the boundaries seem to disappear.

Folklorist Archie Green recognized the power of Priest’s work while teaching at UT Austin in the mid-1970s. Always an ethnographer, Green collected a number of posters, clippings, recordings and more documenting the “cosmic cowboy” scene at the Armadillo and around the city. In memory of Micael Priest we wanted to share a couple of these.

Below is the now famous poster for Willie Nelson’s first show at the club, August 12, 1972, arguably one of the most significant performances in Nelson’s career that marked his turn away from Nashville and toward his own unique sound. Above is one of my personal favorites featuring Alvin Crow and the Original Texas Playboys at the Broken Spoke. I had the fortune of growing up not 1/2 mile from the Broken Spoke, and despite the best efforts of “New Austin,” I am very glad to report that it’s still there, still honky-tonkin, and the Shiner beer is still cold. Priest’s note handwritten on the bottom of the poster is a prescient comment on the importance of his work and of all poster artists in the historical record. A comment that celebrates the general sense of wonder those cosmic cowboys and post-hippie hipsters must have felt to be able to attend shows like this on a regular basis — singular moments in music history that transcended the commercial drive of the social scene.

“We seen it right here didn’t we?”

Go on easy, Micael Priest.

Concert poster for Willie Nelson, August 12, 1972, a cowboy cries into his beer while a jukebox in the background plays Nelson's hit song "Hello Walls" Willie Nelson AWHQ concert poster by Micael Priest, Archie Green Papers (20002)