MANKATO — Who could blame Chuck Hues?
He was only 6 years old, towed behind his mother on the way to her hair appointment on an upper floor of the Hilton Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., when none other than Elvis Presley exited the elevator. As the entourage cleared space for Presley to navigate the crowd, he paused and said to Mrs. Hues and her three kids: “ What cute children.”
When the King speaks, subjects listen. And Hues has been a faithful rock n’ roll disciple ever since.
“It seems like rock n’ roll has always been a big influence in my life,” said Hues, whose Rochester residency still hasn’t been able to overcome a slight Southern drawl. “I still love it.”
In a career that has taken him from a physical confrontation with tie- dyed Grateful Dead security to some of the biggest music festivals in the Midwest, Hues has established himself as the paintbrush of music. He’s painted the giant, stage-wide backdrops for festivals like 10,000 Lakes, WeFest and Shangri-La. He’s provided album cover art, T-shirts and illustrations for Grateful Dead, Insane Clown Posse, Moe, WookieFoot and God Johnson. All the while, he’s gained a reputation for being a frequent live painter during outdoor music events, creating sale-ready works in under 90 minutes that are matched to the mood of the music.
“I close my eyes and try to see where the music is going,” said Hues, who’s more commonly known by the handle Artguy Chuck. “I use the music to surf on, and the painting sort of takes shape on its own.”
Hues will be in Mankato on Saturday for a collaborative event between Red Sky Lounge and Christy and Kristie’s, a newly established collective of art, jewelry, gems and glassware located at 420 Park Lane in Mankato.
At Red Sky, a pair of eclectic Twin Cities bands — reggae rockers Jon Wayne and the Pain, and the relentlessly touring funk-punk bunch Dead Larry — will command the stage. Meanwhile, Hues will ply his paintbrush in a live painting booth beginning a few hours before the 9 p.m. concert.
The event serves as a sort of grand opening celebration for Christy and Kristie’s, which has already been open for a few months and is in the process of mounting a full inventory of mostly locally produced items. Hues’ paintings will also be sold in the store.
Co- owner Christy Steinbach, a Mankato music promoter who frequents the festival scene as a vendor, said the storefront will allow her to sell her own wares as well as “ have an outlet for other artists of all forms to showcase their work.”
As for Hues, many music fans and concert- goers have probably seen his work without even knowing.
Of course, the backdrops he creates for music festivals are hard to miss. Thanks to a youth spent collecting album cover art, Hues is well-versed in the visual nomenclature of rock n’ roll. Many of his backdrops and paintings are imbued with same psychedelic mysticism and cemetery symbology that he grew up admiring.
But Hues can paint in more traditional styles as well. After winning a prestigious drawing prize while a student at Auburn University in 1990, Hues gradually madehis way into mural painting. In the decades since, he’s painted murals across the country in hospitals, schools, restaurants, retail stores and art galleries.
Perhaps Hues is best known, however, for the Tshirt he created for the Grateful Dead’s 1994 fall tour.
After quitting his job as a waiter at a saloon in Florida in 1992, Hues began focusing more on his hobby of making T-shirts. During a threeshow run in Atlanta, he was accosted by Grateful Dead security in a parking lot for selling his designs without approval.
Eventually, Hues linked with Liquid Blue, the company contracted to provide art for the Grateful Dead. Until a freak injury to the tendons in his arm forced him into involuntary hiatus (he accidentally broke a glass mirror with his arm), Hues created a number of designs for the legendary band.
Among them was the so- called “Banjo” T-shirt, which is still available through the Liquid Blue website.
That T-shirt marked the last tour before Dead frontman Jerry Garcia died.
“I’ve met doctors and lawyers who own my shirt,” said Hues, adding that he still receives compensation for the Tshirt design which remains among the most popular with fans. “But I was just a tiny little cog in that giant machine.”
The mural painting and festival- chasing have made for a long, strange career, Hues said.
He’s hoping that selling his work in art galleries and stores like Christy and Kristie’s will help him trade the vagabond lifestyle for one that allows him to spend more time with his family.
“It’s been a busy career of chasing bands and going place to place,” Hues said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how to break that trend.”