Letter Perfect

Hatch Show Print is keeping the rock-and-roll tradition alive.

Pop culture is about the new, the young, and, especially these days, the numbingly synthetic. (Britney, anyone?) So the craftsmanship of Hatch Show Print feels like a breath of fresh air. This 123-year-old operation in Nashville, Tennessee once produced album covers and posters for Patsy Cline and Hank Williams — and now works for the Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen. Manager Jim Sherraden employs letterpress technology from the 15th century, equipment from the 1940s, and young staffers who hand-crank and print the colors one at a time. The result radiates authenticity. "It's a very tactile poster," says Sherraden. "You can't get this look on a computer."

Hatch is a historic landmark (it attracts about 25,000 visitors a year) and a lively business. Because of its vast archives, designers borrow from the past when creating a new poster. When Sherraden made a poster for a Springsteen performance on the acoustic "Ghost of Tom Joad" tour, he used an image of a car from a 1939 ad for Peco Gasoline. Springsteen was so pleased by the fusion of past and present that when he and the E Street Band released the hard-rocking Live in New York City CD, he looked to Hatch to design the cover. This time, Sherraden took stars from old Elvis Presley posters and fonts from a venerable African-American printing company in Nashville that had gone out of business.

Not all of Hatch's clients are performers. Posters have advertised wrestling matches, dance contests, and whole-hog sausage (in which, apparently, "The hams and shoulders make the difference"). Hatch has also worked with Jack Daniels and Nike. Still, Sherraden holds a special reverence for musicians, all of whom, regardless of stature, pay the same price. "I look at Hatch as a stone wall in the southern countryside," Sherraden says. "We'll always be here for the entertainers, whether they're on their way up or down in their careers. Everyone gets treated equally."

Visit Hatch online (www.hatchshowprint.com/hatch).

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