"Are we too loud, um, for a library?" Kirk Ross asked mischievously Monday evening as his rock band Lud pummeled UNC-Chapel Hill's Wilson Library. Steve Weiss, head of the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC's Wilson Library, simply shook his head no. After all, Weiss invited Lud into his library, alongside Billy Sugarfix and Regina Hexaphone, to celebrate the work of Casey Burns and Ron Liberti, two Chapel Hill musicians and poster artists entering their rock art into the permanent archives of the Folklife Collection. A little loudness was mandatory, right?
Liberti and Burns were driven to rock-band poster art by similar impulses: As musicians, neither Liberti (of Pipe, Ghosts of Rock, Bringerer) nor Burns (formerly of The Nein) were getting their fix by producing colorful adverts for their own bands. They began to offer their skills to others, pestering Frank Heath—the owner of the Cat's Cradle, who was on hand to speak on a panel with Burns and Liberti—for work. The two finally met while hanging their posters—mixtures of pop art, narrative illustration, orchestrated chaos and, of course, band names, dates and venues—in the streets.
Perhaps pulling the rock 'n' rollers' work off those streets and into the library seems like an end to some sort of rebellion. After all, Burns studied journalism at UNC in the mid-'90s, but he spent his extra time designing and screenprinting posters. Liberti earned fine arts, film and printmaking degrees on two continents before settling in Carrboro in 1991 and forming a bunch of bands. Weiss eagerly explained that folk art—usually considered old and quaint—is an ever-evolving, useful array of do-it-yourself projects. Essentially, it's always been valid art, even if it's hanging on a utility pole.
As the crowd gathered to buy prints that once told fans where and when they could see Polvo, Sonic Youth, Tift Merritt and a few hundred other bands, Weiss said those posters captured "ephemeral moments." I wondered how many others in the room had slyly pealed a Burns or Liberti original from its place on the wall of the Cradle or a record store to document their memory, taking it home and hanging it up in their own private gallery.
Paper Trail: The Poster Art of Casey Burns & Ron Liberti is on display through the end of May on the fourth floor of UNC-Chapel Hill's Wilson Library.