Two decades of Cleveland concert posters featured in Jake Kelly’s new art volume

CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the coronavirus pandemic led to event shutdowns and unprecedented challenges for local music venues, some members of Cleveland’s music community stepped up to help.

That includes Cleveland-based artist Jake Kelly, who raised money for his favorite independent venues by selling his art on t-shirts, posters and even contributing a design to a local benefit beer release.

Now, his unique black-and-white artwork will be the focus of another fundraising endeavor through a new art book release, “Fliers Volume 2.” The compilation of Kelly’s striking fliers for Cleveland concerts will give a portion of its sales back to the Grog Shop and the Beachland Ballroom.

The new art compilation follows Kelly’s first “Fliers” book release in 2015. Combined, the two books collect more than 800 posters drawn by Kelly, spanning two decades of concerts at Northeast Ohio venues.

“Fliers Volume 2” and a reprint of “Fliers Volume 1” are in presale on the Grog Shop’s website. The new volume costs $50, and the first volume is only available in a bundle order with the second book ($85 total). Presale runs until Feb. 21, and then books will print and ship out in early March.

For Kelly, the new volume is a way to pay it forward to the places that first gave exposure to his artwork.

Kelly first started making fliers to advertise shows at underground concert venue Speak In Tongues in the ‘90s. But, he said, he got his first two “official” jobs designing concert posters for the Grog Shop and the Beachland Ballroom in 2000, after showing his sketches to the owners. Later, Grog Shop owner Kathy Blackman hired him to create his locally famous “This is a weird time to be alive” mural inside the venue.

Kelly’s sketches became a key part of marketing certain shows, with his art advertised in venues and around town for music fans to see.

“My goal with fliers and flier art from the beginning was to make them so good that someone might rip it off the telephone pole or the club wall and take it home to maybe stick on the fridge or hang on their own wall. Maybe that would remind them, ‘Hey, I need to go to that show,’” Kelly said. “These things are ephemeral, temporary little works of art, but I have had many people tell me they did just that, so there’s some satisfaction in that for me.”

Concert posters.

(Images courtesy of Jake Kelly)

The fliers led to other connections, including murals with Melt Bar & Grilled and designs for touring bands’ t-shirts and tour posters. Kelly also worked with comic artist John Greiner to create the “Lake Erie Monster” comic book series.

But Kelly’s first — and most lasting — gig continues to be designing art for the Grog Shop and the Beachland Ballroom.

“I have a deep debt of gratitude for both of these places. It would kill me if they shut down and went away,” Kelly said. “Obviously they can’t go on forever, but to help them out and help them get through this — it’s important to me.”

“Fliers Volume 1” contains 420 posters, and “Fliers Volume 2” contains 430 posters, for shows that took place at the Grog Shop, Beachland Ballroom, Agora, Winchester Tavern and more.

“Honestly, there’s still more that I have. There’s still some on the cutting room floor, but I tried to use the most critical eye to some of these,” Kelly said. “It’s the best of the best stuff that I’ve done, from 1995 to 2020.”

The artist estimated that he has created more than 1,500 posters in the last couple of decades. The book includes some of his favorite bands, like The Growlers, who performed at the Agora in 2019 — and shows that stand out to Kelly as a music fan.

That includes the last show Kelly was able to see before the pandemic shutdown — The Black Lips at the Beachland Ballroom, on March 4, 2020.

“That’s got sort of a maudlin retrospective,” Kelly said. “The show was a blast, and I think it was the next week after that the lockdown went into effect. That one’s bittersweet.”

Now, nearly a year after that last show, Kelly is using art to make sure live music will someday return at Cleveland’s most beloved venues.

You can order Kelly’s two “Fliers” volumes at grogshop.gs, under the “Merch” tab.

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