16 Musicians Discuss Their First Concert T-Shirts

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Even after Black Crowes rolling papers, Prince tambourines, Bloc Party condoms, Rush socks, Tegan and Sara scarves, Ween coloring books and Mötley Crüe panties, the concert T-shirt remains king. And this quintessential live music souvenir has evolved. Those dodgy black Iron Maiden Ts and Grateful Dead tie-dyes of yore have given way to semi-couture numbers hawked at Radiohead and Animal Collective gigs.

Some music fans’ closets contain museum-worthy tour shirt collections. But, no one forgets his or her first. So we asked 16 musicians, who now have their own merch to oversee, about their first concert Ts and the stories behind them.


1. Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards)

The Bob Dylan shirt was a surprise gift. Erika Wennerstrom’s aunt bought it for her at a Dayton, Ohio, show they attended together, circa-Time Out of Mind. “The whole arena smelled like incense,” says Wennestrom, who was a teen at the time. “And I was like ‘God, that’s a lot of incense to fill an entire arena.’”

Today, the Heartless Bastards singer/guitarist is speaking from Austin, Texas’ Topaz Salon, where she’s “getting my hair did.” Wennestrom remembers that first T as being black and adorned with Dylan’s visage. Heartless Bastards are touring in support of their fourth LP “Arrow,” and the Austin classic rockers have recorded the score to Winter In The Blood, a film based on the 1975 James Welch novel.


2. Jason Isbell

“It was the one with two crows on the front, and I think it was the only one they had for sale at that point in time. I kept it forever. But, I don’t know where it is now.” Singer/songwriter Jason Isbell is recalling his first concert T-shirt, purchased when he was just 11, at The Black Crowes’ performance in the University of North Alabama gymnasium during the Shake Your Money Maker tour. About 15 years later, Isbell, then with Drive-By Truckers, would spend three months opening for the Crowes. “When I met Chris (Robinson, Crowes frontman), I told him about going to that show,” says Isbell, calling from his Sheffield, Ala. apartment. “I think it made him feel old. So when I got onstage that night I brought it up just to fuck with him.”

This spring, Isbell is touring Europe with Ryan Adams and plans to begin recording his next album this summer.


3. Steve Aoki

It was a long-sleeve Outspoken T-shirt boasting a lyric from the alt-punk band’s song “Burning”: “What makes it so seductive to lead a life that’s self-destructive?” DJ/producer Steve Aoki believes the 2003 show may have taken place at the Anaheim venue Chain Reaction. “I’m sure I was crowd-surfing and stage-diving,” says Aoki, from room 103 of a London hotel. “I went to all [of Outspoken’s] shows when I got into straight edge hardcore.” Based in Los Angeles, Aoki’s taste in concert Ts is more about passion than fashion. “For me, I have to like the band and that is the biggest deciding factor,” he says.

Aoki released his Wonderland studio album in January, and is working on collaborations with artists including Diplo, Knife Party and Tiesto. He is touring the U.S. and Europe this spring.


4. Zack Martin (Natural Child)

The three dudes in Nashville garage-rock combo Natural Child are sitting in a Toyota van mired in New Jersey Turnpike gridlock. Singer Seth Murray can’t recall his first concert T-shirt, so he and bassist Wes Traylor pass the cell phone to drummer Zack Martin. “It was a Hank Jr. shirt and it had lightning on it,” Martin says. He was only about two or three when a family member took him to that early-’90s Bocephus show in St. Louis. “I fell asleep at the end,” Martin says. When asked what makes for a cool concert T, the drummer remarks, “If it doesn’t have lightning it isn’t cool at all.”

Natural Child’s sophomore disc For The Love Of The Game drops April 20.


5. Max Bemis (Say Anything)

When it comes to concert T-shirts, Max Bemis, singer for Los Angeles indie-rockers Say Anything, isn’t a fan of the bootlegged variety. “There’s always a touch of ghetto-ness to them for some reason,” Bemis says. He’s standing in the parking lot outside a Salt Lake City venue. “You can always sort of tell if they’re off-the-books, so to speak.” Bemis’ initial foray into tour Ts was totally legit: A Metallica shirt he bought at the metal kingpins’ 1997-ish concert at California amphitheatre Irvine Meadows. “It was just a regular Metallica logo,” Bemis says. “That was also my first show that I’d ever been too. I was pretty obsessed with Metallica and pretty into it being my first show. It was pretty insane.”

Say Anything is touring behind their fifth LP, Anarchy, My Dear.


6. Troy Sanders (Mastodon)

If you had 100 guesses as to what Mastodon bassist/singer Troy Sanders’ first concert shirt was, you still probably wouldn’t get it. Maybe even 200. “It was Men at Work,” Sanders says. He’s standing in a Houston alley, not far from his torch-bearing metal band’s bus. “Men at Work was my first concert, my first album. I was a young little boy at the time, but I was a big fan and still am to this day. Business As Usual is one of my favorite records of all-time.” This cross-genre information is less shocking when one considers Sanders is also a George Jones enthusiast, and Mastodon’s last album, The Hunter, was produced by Eminem knob-twiddler Mike Elizondo.

Mastodon is touring the U.S. this spring with fellow head-bangers Opeth and Ghost. Photo by Cindy Frey.


7. Dave Hamelin (The Stills, Eight and a Half)

Luckily, future Eight and a Half frontman Dave Hamelin obtained his Metallica “Don’t Tread On Me” T-shirt before the crowd erupted into one of the most infamous riots in rock history. Yes, Hamelin was at that 1992 Metallica and Guns N’ Roses show detailed in at least one episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. After Metallica’s James Hetfield was severely burnt by onstage pyro, and Guns singer Axl Rose stormed offstage early in their set, a disappointed crowd began to trash Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and turn over police cars outside. “I was like 11, 12 or 13 and there with my mom,” Hamelin, formerly of The Stills, says. The indie-rock singer is lying in the bed of his Toronto home, sick with food poisoning. “I remember thinking, ‘I guess all shows are like this. Like this crazy thing.’ But it was fun while it lasted.”

Eight and a Half releases its debut disc April 10.


8. Scott McMicken (Dr. Dog)

He’d previously owned a Michael Jackson T, but the first shirt Dr. Dog singer/ guitarist Scott McMicken obtained from a concert he actually attended was for Ben Folds Five. “In 1993 or 1994, I went to go see Ben Folds Five in Philly right when their [self-titled] first album came out,” McMicken says, speaking from his kitchen. It was a “ringer T,” a white shirt outfitted with red lines around the sleeves and collar. “And the image on the shirt was just a big Polaroid photo from above a piano and someone sticking middle finger over the middle-C on the piano,” McMicken says. “So it was a cool shirt to have when you’re 16.”

Dr. Dog released its sixth studio album, Be The Void, in February and the Philadelphia psych-pop group is playing select days with Wilco and festivals, such as Hangout and Beale Street, this spring. (Photo by Jens Nordström)


Even after Black Crowes rolling papers, Prince tambourines, Bloc Party condoms, Rush socks, Tegan and Sara scarves, Ween coloring books and Mötley Crüe panties, the concert T-shirt remains king. And this quintessential live music souvenir has evolved. Those dodgy black Iron Maiden Ts and Grateful Dead tie-dyes of yore have given way to semi-couture numbers hawked at Radiohead and Animal Collective gigs.

Some music fans’ closets contain museum-worthy tour shirt collections. But, no one forgets his or her first. So we asked 16 musicians, who now have their own merch to oversee, about their first concert Ts and the stories behind them.

9. Simone Felice

At a 1993 Fugazi show, Simone Felice picked out a simple black T-shirt because, “It seemed to me at the time to have a revolutionary air to it, a feeling of intelligent revolt.”
Fittingly, Felice would get booted out of the venue later that night for smoking a joint. “I guess to me [a concert T-shirt] never really feels cool until you’ve worn it in,” says Felice, an ambient-minded singer/songwriter. “Three-hundred washings, a few tears, some memories, ’til it fits like a glove and feels like an old friend.”

Based in New York State’s Catskills Mountains, Felice released an eponymous solo disc on April 3, and is touring Europe this spring.


10. Adam Olenius (We Are Serenades/Shout Out Louds)

In 1995, Adam Olenius attended a show at a Stockholm venue called The Globe, which “looks like a golf ball,” he says. “It was sort of a mini festival with bands like Soundgarden, Kyuss and Mudhoney.” Olenius, who fronts indie outfits We Are Serenades and Shout Out Louds, picked up a Blind Melon T. “I had never seen a white band t-shirt before, and it was very non-tour-shirt-like,” Olenius says, speaking from his family’s home an hour outside Stockholm. “I liked [Blind Melon’s] second album [Galaxy], when they became more psychedelic.” During Blind Melon’s set, Olenius made it close to the front, and even though he recalls singer Shannon Hoon, who’d die of an overdose within weeks, “falling off the stage a few times,” Olenius describes it as a “great show.”

We Are Serenades’ debut LP Criminal Heaven is due April 17, with a tour to follow, and Shout Out Louds are recording their fourth disc.


11. Lou Barlow (Sebadoh/Dinosaur Jr.)

Growing up, Lou Barlow didn’t own any concert T-shirts. “Early on, the punk rock shows I went to, it was before the bands had it together to milk everyone with their T-shirts and whatever,” Barlow says with a laugh. “I loved Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and The Doors and all that shit, but when I was a kid and the ‘Black & Blue’ tour, with Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, came to town I didn’t go to that show.” But he did pick up a Sabbath T when the original lineup’s reunion tour came to the L.A. Forum around 2000. Looking back, Barlow who sings and plays guitar in lo-fi trailblazers Sebadoh (and bass with alt-rock heroes Dinosaur, Jr.), finds his Black Sabbath selection somewhat dubious. “I bought this incredibly ugly neon-green T-shirt with this really cool old picture of them. The shirt was so huge I actually had to cut it off at the mid-section so it would fit me.

In March, Sebadoh reissued its seminal Weed Forrestin’ album.


12. Sam Ubl (Fort Lean)

Sam Ubl wanted the shirt inscribed with the phrase “Limp Bizkit Is Better Than Everyone,” but, “my friend Alex had already claimed it.” So, Ubl, now the drummer for Fort Lean, settled on another memento from the 1998 Family Values package tour. “On the front it had a drawing of a ’50s-era woman shooting a gun,” Ubl says while eating lunch inside the classroom where he teaches third-grade. “On the back were the logos of all the bands: Korn, Limp Bizkit, Incubus, Rammstein, Orgy.” The Nassau Coliseum performance remains etched in Ubl’s brain. “The singer from Rammstein sodomized the keyboard player with a hose. Brandon Boyd played a djembe for Incubus’ entire set. Limp Bizkit didn’t actually perform because Fred Durst was too fucked up, and when Wes Borland came out to announce this people starting throwing bottles at him.” Classy.

This spring, Fort Lean is touring with We Were Promised Jetpacks, and demoing their next album.


13. John McCauley (Deer Tick/Diamond Rugs)

Raspy-voiced John McCauley’s dad kicked him down a mid-’80s Dire Straits tour T. “Badass stuff. I lost it though,” McCauley says. He’s drinking tea and vodka inside the Berlin club Bi Nuu, where he’s playing a show with Diamond Rugs, his new, garage-y horn-spiked sextet also featuring members of Black Lips, Los Lobos and Dead Confederate. McCauley, who made his name singing and playing guitar with Deer Tick, didn’t actually buy his own concert T-shirt until he attended a 2009 George Thorogood show. “It’s black, and it says ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch & One Beer’ on it, of course,” McCauley says. “I went with Nikki [Darlin] from [Nashville female country-rock trio) Those Darlins. We got to meet George and he gave us this lame ‘don’t do drugs, stay in school’ kind of pep talk. It was uncomfortable.”

Diamond Rugs’ self-titled bow is due April 24, with the band touring through summer.


14. Ian O’Neil (Deer Tick)

Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil admits his first concert T-shirt purchase “has always been a source of personal embarrassment.” It’s a Korn T, outfitted with tour dates on the back, and “a hilarious illustration of the band members on the front.” He acquired the shirt at a 1998 show at Amherst, Mass.’s Mullins Center. “In retrospect, the whole entire evening was funny,” O’Neil says. “I think it was the first time I smelled pot. All of the people around me [were] scary as hell. They were most likely Western Massachusetts burn-out meth-heads.” O’Neil prefers Ts designed for a specific tour, as opposed to a shirt that “looks like you could have picked up at a souvenir stand in Ocean City, N.J.”

Deer Tick has begun writing and recording their next album, and are prepping for a two-month tour. In addition, O’Neil is contributing to another Deer Tick offshoot called Dirt Naps.


15. Gary Clark, Jr.

Not only did Gary Clark, Jr. take home a T-shirt from the Jimmie Vaughan gig he saw when he was about 12-years-old, Clark also nabbed an autograph. “I think it was at an Antone’s show,” the Austin blues phenom says while driving up Highway 101 in Los Angeles. “I just remember buying the shirt, then getting [Vaughan] to sign it. I wore it to school the next day.” Clark is into tour shirts with “real art,” but acknowledges such aesthetic preferences are, “different for different people.”

Clark is finishing up his highly anticipated and yet-to-be-named major label debut LP—possibly for a September release—with help from producers Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple) and Rob Cavallo (Green Day), and playing major festivals and touring through the summer.


16. S. Carey (Bon Iver)

Solo artist and Bon Iver percussionist S. Carey calls his Pedro the Lion T-shirt “storyboard squares.” He further describes the design of his first concert T as, “really simple outline drawings of people” and “pretty dang dark.” Carey picked the shirt up at a show at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union. “It was tiny—maybe 75 people were there,” Carey says. He’s on the couch of his sun-lit Eau Claire, Wisc. living room. “I was 14 or 15 and my head was about to explode with how cool everything was. At that point, any T would have been cool, but this one was minimal and really telling a story.” Carey took in the Pedro the Lion set during a weekend visiting his sister, a Wisconsin coed at the time. “The music was raw and rockin’, and I loved the songs from the start,” he says.

S. Carey’s “Hoyas” EP will be released May 8. (Photo by Cameron Wittig)