Mike Armistead, Poster Boy for OTM SHO-CARD

This week readers of the San Francisco Chronicle can enjoy a great bluegrass-oriented feature written by Sam Whiting.

The article prominently features two bluegrass art forms that have joined and prospered at an East Bay neighborhood English pub, the Kensington Circus Pub. Locals just call it “the Pub” and enjoy the fish & chips, burgers, draft brews and particularly the welcoming atmosphere for families (Tonka trucks in the corner for the kids?!?!)

While it’s not at all unusual for pubs to present live music, last year master banjoist Bill Evans and his band Bangers & Grass started hosting a free admission monthly bluegrass show at Kensington Circus Pub.

“We only play at the Circus Pub. I had been thinking for a while about how great it would be to have a local gig that wasn’t too much trouble or fuss, where I could leave my doorstep, walk a block, go through the door, and there’s the show, you know? Factor in a huge crowd and that would be more or less a musician’s dream – at least if you like to be back home by 11 p.m.! After walking past the place literally several hundred times on my nightly dog walking route, I finally went in one night for dinner and before I left, I had booked our first date.

We have a lot of professional bluegrass musicians right here in this neighborhood. The folks in this band regularly play with David Grisman’s bluegrass band, Laurie Lewis, John Reischman and Kathy Kallick, among others. We’ve made a point to never rehearse…. Okay, we’ve had two short trio rehearsals but they don’t count.

There’s no cover but we pass the hat. We structure sets around requests and we’ll try anything, even if we don’t know it. I enjoy laying down the hard driving standards the best – I get to pretend to be J. D. Crowe and this is my New South! It’s a no-pressure gig playing the music we love the best!”

Kensington Pub posterAdditionally, Bill enlisted the graphic arts support of Mike Armistead of Goodlettsville TN and his OTM SHO-CARD poster service. Apparently the combination really clicked, as in the old psychedelic days when poster art complemented the Bay area music scene.

As the late Brother Oswald might say “Can everybody see that all right?!” Mike isn’t shy about use of color.

Sam Whiting at the Chronicle picked up on this winning combination of neighborhood pub, bluegrass music, and visually arresting posters. Not only is the bluegrass music popular, but in the Bay Area tradition, the posters are avidly sought after. Collecting each new monthly OTM SHO-CARD poster has attracted nearly as much attention as the bluegrass music.

The Chronicle will tell the story of Kensington Circus Pub and Bangers & Grass. Let’s concentrate here on Mike Armistead and his OTM SHO-CARD service.

Growing up in the Nashville area country and bluegrass scene, Mike is steeped in the music. He not only plays and sings (with The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band), he built guitars at Gibson and with Jim Triggs, advised CF Martin on the design of the Lester Flatt commemorative and the Del McCoury models, trades knives, and is a country music historian with a tremendous audio/visual collection.

After attending the initial IBMA Leadership Academy he also branched out into booking, CD production, co-producing the IBMA Old Tyme Opry for three engagements on the Roots & Branches Stage during World of Bluegrass Week in Louisville and Nashville, and now, custom designing show posters in the old time style of block printing and screaming colors. He’s also with Nashville Fire Dept. Special Operations as a HazMat Specialist.

Let’s just say Mike is a world traveled renaissance man steeped in hillbilly music, trying to help people promote themselves with poster art.

Mike discovered a niche in the poster world for small-run orders for regional bands and small venues. Where the big national poster makers have minimum orders of 500 or 1000 pieces, OTM SHO-CARD will make just a handful if that’s what the customer wants, plus they get the use of the digital copy too. Mike credits early stylistic advice and guidance from Paul Ritscher and Mike Compton who both worked at Nashville’s Hatch Show Print (think of all those old Bill Monroe and Grand Ole Opry posters from Hatch that you’ve seen for decades). He uses special British software on his home computer. It recreates that old time look of block letterpress printing in a way that’s very suited to small run digital printing by Mike’s high school friend David Wrye at his company S.O.S. Printing in Goodlettsville. Mike can turn around a request within HOURS, but typically he works on a one to two day order cycle from first call to posters in the mail.  Mike has learned that good posters are more effective advertising than newspaper print ads or even radio.

Mike’s first effort was in 2008, needing a poster for his own band, the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, for a home state show. Note that this first poster was somewhat “subdued” in tone.  However, even in that first design, Mike enlisted an (unpaid) professional endorser.

Word-of-mouth news of Mike’s design and production skills, and especially his willingness to do short run “one-offs”, led to requests from friends and acquaintances for more, MORE, MORE!  And OTM SHO-CARD was born!

Bill Evans met Mike at a Nashville pickin’ party hosted by Sonny Osborne to celebrate Bill Monroe’s birthday, and Mike has been doing posters with Bill and Bangers & Grass from the beginning, as their “sixth band member” as Bill says.

Since that first 2008 sepia-toned poster Mike has designed some eye-popping stuff that has been posted all over the country!


Mike isn’t fussy about working some whimsy into his posters!

Rank Stranglers

And he even designed a poster for a big-time country music hoedown jamboree extravaganza show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Marty Stuart Ryman Show


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About the Author

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden is a VERY traditional bluegrass picker and fan from New England, who makes occasional contributions to Bluegrass Today representing the old timers' viewpoints.