Tom Shaw is one of music’s most popular concert poster designers

“I’ve had the pleasure of working for bands that I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager,” Shaw said.
Updated: Jul. 3, 2023 at 5:45 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - If you have attended a concert at Live Oak Bank Pavilion in downtown Wilmington, or at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater near the state port, you’ve probably seen some of Tom Shaw’s work. Fans of Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee or Lukas Nelson may even have one of Shaw’s designs framed and hanging on the wall at home. The 36-year-old from Wilmington has become one of the most popular concert poster designers in the United States, and his portfolio continues to grow.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working for bands that I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager,” Shaw said. “You could have come to me in 2013 and said, ‘Hey, in 10 years you’re going to do a poster for one of your favorite bands.’ And I would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

Shaw spent years as one of the performers on stage. He played guitar in bands while attending UNC Wilmington, and started designing posters to self-promote his group’s shows.

“We needed to let people know where our shows were somehow,” he said. “So, I got a bootleg version of Photoshop and taught myself the wrong way how to do graphic design and then from there, I got a job in graphic design after college and learned the right way to do graphic design.”

Shaw is a graphic designer by trade, working as Creative Director of the DFS Agency in downtown Wilmington. He began to think about designing concert posters as a way to stay connected with the music industry after deciding to give up on touring with the band. So in 2015, he reached out to a good friend, Beau Gunn of WUIN-FM, better known as 98.3, The Penguin.

“I remember texting him this and just basically being like, ‘If I send you design concepts for concert posters, will you send them to the management of the bands that you’re bringing to town? Tell them, ‘We’ll print them, we’ll make them for free, sell them for you, and we’ll split the money after the show.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ So the first one I did was for the band Dawes in 2015. I sent it to him, he passed it on and not even an hour later, they had approved it. And I had not screen printed a single thing in my life at that point,” Shaw said.

Shaw taught himself the process of screen printing, setting up the machine and accessories in the garage of his home in Wilmington. He began his new career by promoting local shows, layer by layer, color by color, screen by screen.

“I built a portfolio based on concerts at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and Brooklyn Art Center, and I probably did five or 10 of those before I really jumped outside of Wilmington for the gig posters,” he said.

As Shaw got these smaller jobs, he started putting the images on his social media pages, like Facebook and Instagram. Fans started sharing them, giving them attention outside of the Wilmington area. His design talent started to get noticed by the right people in the music world. Instead of Shaw reaching out to bands and asking to design their concert posters, he started getting those kinds of calls.

“That would have been Umphrey’s McGee,” Shaw said, recalling the first band to inquire about hiring him for a poster job. “Their art director reached out to me about doing a poster for one of the shows in Florida. I want to say it was maybe 2017. I remember getting that email and kind of getting this rush and feeling, ‘Okay, it’s go-time. It’s time to prove yourself.’”

Since then, Shaw’s client list has grown to include Umphrey’s McGee, Big Something, Steep Canyon Rangers, Lukas Nelson, Old Crow Medicine Show. He promoted shows in Myrtle Beach, Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond, British Columbia, San Francisco. When Widespread Panic played three shows in Wilmington in July 2021, Shaw did the poster. When Trey Anastasio, the lead singer of the band Phish (one of Shaw’s all-time favorites), brought his band to town in September of that year, Shaw created several versions of the poster. When Panic came back in 2022, you guessed it, Shaw did the poster. The week before I interviewed him for this story, Shaw got a request to do a poster for a show Anastasio’s band was doing in Denver.

“I got a phone call from B.J. with Conscious Alliance,” Shaw said, beginning the story about the rush order. “Conscious Alliance is a nonprofit based out of Denver, and essentially what they do is, they commission concert posters that they then sell to generate money to feed less fortunate people. So, he calls me Thursday afternoon and says, ‘How busy are you right now?’ And I’m like, ‘What have you got?’ He says ‘I’ve got Trey Anastasio in Denver. The show is next Friday, I would need the posters in hand, next Thursday!’ Seven days from this past Thursday. And I didn’t think twice, I was like, ‘I’ll do it. You know, I’ll figure it out. I’ll start working on the proof tonight for you to send to the band!’ So, I did that, I finished the proof Friday morning and sent it to them. The band approved it Saturday. I did all my prep work on Sunday, and then Monday and Tuesday, I spent about 15 hours printing the posters, signed them, numbered them, got them cut down to size, packed up three boxes, got to the UPS Store five minutes before the truck left, UPS two-day air, and they will arrive tomorrow, just in time for the show.”

Tom Shaw’s work has now become as much of a fan’s show experience as the music itself. He wants people to be as proud of owning his art as he is of making it.

“When I’m doing a concert poster, I’m basically I’m not creating it for myself, I’m creating it for the person who’s going to end up buying and hopefully framing and hanging on their wall,” he says. “I don’t want someone to buy it and keep it in a tube or keep it in a closet or put it in a portfolio book and forget about it, I want them to want to bring it home and get it on the wall.”

So when you buy that concert poster with the “T. Shaw” signature on it, you now know it came out of a garage in Wilmington, and out of the mind of an artist who has a love for music. You can click here to visit Tom Shaw’s website to see all of the concert posters he has designed in his career and his other pieces.