More than I could possibly ever put up – says Mike the Posterman

Mike Wellensiek – better known as Mike the Posterman – estimates he’s popped off 10 million staples in 25 years of gig postering on the front lines of Edmonton’s entertainment scene.

Do the math: At 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 staples per poster … I admit I had trouble counting while watching him work during a recent ride-along one frosty morning. Fast as a machine gun is the heat-packing gig poster policeman of Edmonton.

The owner and operator of The Main Staple claims he’s the only company in Edmonton you can actually hire to put up gig posters. Mike and what he calls his “motley crew” of assistants work at least 30 different events a week – from theatre events to book signings, but mostly rock shows – in more than 150 kiosks around Edmonton, with more of these poster pillars going up every time the city revitalizes another neighbourhood. Nobody has postered this city like Mike the Posterman, and he has a uniquely huge knowledge of what’s going on – in the music scene and on the street. He has literally had his hands in more gigs than all the rock bands, promoters and bar owners combined.

“I always thought I should get paid by the city for being a tourist guide helping people find entertainment events,” he says.

There are a lot of them. More than ever.

On this particular morning, we’re on Whyte Avenue, the Wild West of the Edmonton poster wars. Evidence of postering malfeasance is everywhere. Mike happily rips away or staples down the wreckage and starts afresh. Past gigs are covered with new ones. Whap-whap-whap-whap, up goes Colleen Brown. There’s Rock Against Easter over top a trip for two to Las Vegas. “It’s not an event,” he explains. Hey, cool, Social Distortion’s coming. Whap-whap-whap-whap-whap, right up on top of another ad for a gig not happening until May. “Stupid,” Mike mutters. “Way too early.” He bitches about the Pawn Shop, which hired him and another guy to both do posters, which he says is ridiculous. “I’m going to sever that relationship,” he says. The gigs go up fast: Earth Day, AWOLnation, Joel Plaskett, the Brains – I get excited, “Bad Brains?!” “Nope, just the Brains.” – whap-whap-whap-whap. Kathleen Edwards – “That’s would be a good show,” he says. Working from memory, Mike quickly pulls out another handful of posters from his satchel, for a bunch of gigs happening at the Starlite Room, whap-whap-whap-whap-times-10-million, you get the idea. Just watching him is exhausting.

“Whyte Avenue’s a real battleground,” Mike says as he works, sadly shaking his head at pile of upcoming gig notices some vandal had apparently ripped down for the sheer hell of it. He notes that most of the fresh posters he’s putting on this day will be ripped down or covered up in about 24 hours. Most rock bands consider eye level the best spot, but those don’t last even that long, the prime spots covered up again and again. Some of the round poster kiosks that line the Avenue bulge in the middle, packed with geological layers of gigs present and past, until they are regularly cleaned up and replaced by the city to start the whole mad, paper-wasting enterprise all over again.

This sort of advertising “will never go out of style,” says Mike. Because it works. Gig fans watch these poster kiosks all the time for the weekly embarrassment of riches. Changing trends, the Internet and a deflated economy have had no effect whatsoever on the Posterman’s business.

“I knew when the downturn happened in 2008, it wouldn’t affect my business at all,” Mike says. “There were less big shows, people were more cautious about touring, but the number of posters I was putting up didn’t change – more than I could possibly ever put up.”

Though Mike polices the poster kiosks, keeps them clean, he doesn’t own them. Lots of clubs, bands, theatres and promoters of all kinds and in all genres of entertainment do their own postering, many of them oblivious to postering etiquette. Some tack up 10 posters on one pillar, “not giving a rat’s ass what they cover up,” Mike says. Particularly irksome is the “wraparound,” a ring of posters secured with tape covering up perhaps dozens of upcoming gigs. All that work, all those expectations, in the trash.

Bars do a good deal of their own postering – and their methods are often as cutthroat as the bar business itself, done in some cases out of “desperation,” Mike says. He says he’s been stiffed several times when nightclubs went under before they could pay their bills. Rusty Reed’s House of Blues and Lyve on Whyte are two cases he remembers well.

Says Mike, “I try to help them. It’s a catch 22. You can promote events and get people into the bar and you forego being paid for a while, but then they go out of business  You try to give them a break, but …” Whap-whap-whap-whap. The work must continue.

Rock promoter Ryan Walraven of Raised Fist Promotions has his own guys to do the postering, and allows there is much chaos on the postering battlefield, people (his own included) putting up posters “like retards.” It’s still an effective way to advertise a gig, he says – basically because everyone else is doing it.

“It’s got its up and downs,” he says. “You kind of have to do it. There have been times we put up posters on one side of the street and by the time we get to the opposite side my posters are already covered up.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Mike covered up one of his posters on our morning rounds – the gig that wasn’t happening until May.

The Posterman does his best, tries to help promote the scene wherever he can, but takes a dim of people who break the unwritten rules of the unofficial postering code. He’s been doing this a long time, gotten to know street people on a first-name basis, and nobody messed with him because he’s 6’ 4” and 280 pounds. He considers himself a Sesame Street character – “a person in your neighbourhood.” Quick advice to bands if they want it: don’t poster six weeks away from a gig, don’t wait until the day of the gig, don’t cover up another upcoming show, metal bands should use readable fonts, and so on.

Mike used to do his rounds on bicycle, but along with 25 years of constant rapidfire stapling, the brakes took their toll on his hands. “I used to go to all these shows, too,” he says, adding that it helped that his wife Sharon has worked at Ticketmaster for the last 24 years. They had their pick of gigs, could probably write a book. The Posterman is still going strong, only in a van now.

“Take a look at this,” Mike says, pulling out a large full colour poster from the back: Iron Maiden, July 27, Rexall Place. It’s beautiful. Mike obviously loves the art of poster making as much as he does putting them up. He’s kept a copy of almost every one over 25 years. He could put on an exhibition.

Iron Maiden goes back in the van.

“I couldn’t put it up here,” he says. “It would get ripped down in a minute.”