By Noel Chrisjohn Benson
Over the tiny bridge in Woodstock, as you’re walking toward the library, there is a happy little store with happy workers, which not only holds some of the nicest logo designs and local artwork around, but is actually managed by one of the artists himself, Mike DuBois. DuBois is noted for his recognizable style, that goes along with the makings of old 60’s concert flyers, mingled into his own creations of psychedelic art and visions. He has done work for such artists as The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Bros. Band, Santana and The Wailers to name a few. He also has made flyers for local concerts such as Mountain Jam and Gathering of the Vibes, even the album cover for Levon Helm’s “Electric Dirt” which went on to win a Grammy in 2010.
HappyLife Productions is located at 54C Tinker St. Woodstock, NY in the Old Forge, a historic building on the Tannery Brook. Just past the Byrdcliffe Artists Guild, and across from the Center of Photography in town, which used to be the old Tinker St. Cafe. HappyLife also carries clothing, postcards, tapestries, hand-blown glass, incense, CBD oils, handmade hats, high quality tie dyes, as well as a huge selection of shirts with the coolest images and designs.
“We try to keep the arts meaningful and mostly locally made, to keep the old Woodstock spirit flowing, and to continue the vibe from the 60’s into the present. We also handpick our items, so that we know where they come from, and our imports are with fair trade commerce, for the betterment of the artists, earth and society”. Mike then pointed out some of the items for sale. “We have these pants with the elephant prints on them from the Elephant Pants Co., and 10% of these sales go to helping save the elephants. These hats are made by local fiber artist Bunny Lazoda. These are Haiku’s written by Rachel Marco-Havens. We also carry these CBD oils from CBD Daily, so you see, we go through our sources and see exactly where they come from”.
One of the main attractions of the shop is the selection of T-shirts available, from older images of Woodstock era musicians, to artwork printed on the shirts from DuBois and other artists respectively. “I’m a diehard fan of these tie dyes, I never looked at them the same” mentioned Cherene Zito, one of the people behind the desk at the shop. “I always wear only these ones, and when I give gifts away, these are the ones I will always choose. Since I started working here I can tell these tie dyes from others from the highlights within the patterns”. She is referring to the selection of shirts made by Jamie Flynn from Saugerties, and Phil Brown from Rosendale. Both are considered to be the top tie dye artists on the east coast.
On the other side of the store you have the HappyLife Gallery, which houses a lot of work by DuBois, as well as hand-signed, limited edition art pieces by such artists as Tara McPherson, Emek, Mikio, Mark Spusta, Izzy Ivy and David Byrd. As well as photographs from Kelly Sinclair, Elliot Landy and Jake Blakesberg. The HappyLife Gallery carries a variety of artists that are at the top of their game in the music industry and pop art world. They have a large variety of limited edition prints, the artists span three generations of music and pop culture. They also carry works by the famous Alex Grey. Grey is known for his super psychedelic paintings that show complex maps of energies flowing through his subjects, like people making love, sharing love with one another, the messages coming from the universe or the energies coming from nature. He is a member of the Integral Institute, and is one of the co-founders of The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a non-for profit church that supports Visionary Culture in Wappingers Falls, NY.
Figuring out at an early age that he had a knack for drawing, DuBois spent much of his time with a pencil and paper drawing throughout his childhood, becoming class clown of sorts, and drawing cartoons for his classmates. “I was always doodling on my books when I should of been doing homework” DuBois recalled. He won several prizes in Elementary School, and at age 12 designed a T-shirt for his father’s physical ed class, taught at Shea Jr. High School in Syracuse, NY. This also lent a way to winning a region-wide competition for an anti-pollution poster when he was in the fifth grade. “In my teens, I took printing classes in high school and began doing posters for local rock and punk bands that frequented Syracuse where I grew up. I then started creating my own posters of bands like The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd which I shared with my friends. I also painted the sides of buildings for the Syracuse Art Squad.”
In the early 80’s DuBois attended New Paltz University to study metalsmithing and jewelry design, but kept up his creativity in his 2-D work. “I used to do all kinds of graphics and art for organizations, as well as bands and political events, and I would wheat paste political posters around various college towns”. That led to Mike starting his company “HappyLife Productions” in 1984. A year later DuBois moved to San Francisco where he began to design posters for bands and festivals in the Bay area. “I was into the punk scene when I lived in Upstate NY and I always kept a fine line between playing music and doing art”. Soon afterward he launched a line of greeting cards using his image affectionately known as “Sunface”. The same year he designed his first piece for the legendary Grateful Dead through the company “Not Fade Away” out of Kingston, NY. They had a license to use certain band’s names.
“I eventually started to make my own contacts through networking at the various concerts and festivals that I would travel all over the country to attend and sell my designs. I printed “Sunface” onto postcards, and as people began purchase them often, shops and customers requested T-shirts with this image. I did a bunch of shirts with “Sunface” and brought them to a Dead show and they sold out immediately, I knew I was onto something. I then went back and began to sell them in the East Village in Manhattan.” Through “Not Fade Away”, DuBois also was able to design artwork for Santana, Blues Traveler, Hot Tuna and Wavy Gravy.
I was lucky enough to see Jerry Garcia at Pepsi Arena in the 90’s, one of the last few concerts he would play. I felt like that was the first time I truly understood their music and lifestyle. The parking lot was like a madhouse. Crazy kids with fireworks, to people selling anything you could imagine, from pipes to burritos, pizza, rideshares, tickets, beer, water, and yes of course, illegal substances. I hung out at a makeshift bar built into the back of some travelers van then, after a few drinks, picked up my backpack and went in. I thought this would just be another stage, but there was a big Pink Floyd “eye in the sky” flashing images of everything, from old photos of the band when Pigpen was alive to images of Jimi, Janis, Jim, old photos of their travels, all while projecting the colored dancing bears in the middle of the room. Jerry was not like he usually was, not up front on the mic, but bobbing his whole body up and down like he was in a trance jamming out on his Gibson SG. As I was staring at that I realized, all the way at the top, there was another projection of live women silhouettes dancing to the music as if they were possessed by a magical genie.
When I see this kind of artwork, it transpires my mind into thinking about the people I’ve met in my travels that wear these logos and designs close to their heart, like a token of their life that they will remember like I do my first concert. Many that knew each other, stuck together, took care of each other like a big family, no matter where in the country they were. Some have met on the road, some have hopped a train, some have hitch-hiked across the country, some have bussed it, some have driven. Most of my friends would treasure these shirts, like wear them until they are riddled with holes, even patch them up, to make them look even more like something out of Mad Max instead of fresh out of a gift shop. It’s a neat experience to meet up with a creator of those shirts and logos, and the clothing that will keep that culture within a culture alive. Through their part, the imagery is something that is truly American, because it was started here. Alive we are, but at some point, all of us, whether we like it or not, will eventually end up following the Dead.
HappyLife Productions and HappyLife Gallery
are open from
10:30-7pm, Mon-Fri, and 10-7pm, Sat & Sun
or visit them online at