Relix 44: Merch Designer Chris Kovach
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
A Lot Artist Earns His Merit Badge: Chris Kovach
For Chris Kovach, whose creative vision has enabled him to work with numerous artists and festivals over the years—including Fare Thee Well, Newport Folk, Newport Jazz, Coachella, LOCKN’, the recent Bobby and Phil shows, moe. and Umphrey’s McGee—it all goes back to his days as a fan, trying to support himself on tour.
“I started selling T-shirts on the Phish lot in 1993-1994,” he recalls. “I was just out of college and I did really well. And, by that, I mean I made enough money to go to as many Phish shows as I wanted to. I worked with Amy Skelton, who ran their merch and made sure that my shirts were cool and didn’t violate anything. Then, right after Jerry died in ‘95, she came to me and said, ‘I can’t let you sell shirts any more. We can’t have the whole Grateful Dead lot scene hop onto Phish.’ And I said, ‘It was always about the music for me. I’ll stop selling shirts immediately.’”
However, just as he began to re-orient his creative energies, Kovach received another call from Phish, this time soliciting his input for T-shirt ideas. One of his concepts was selected for the group’s 1995 New Year’s Eve run, kicking off a relationship that continues to this day. “I started working for them designing and producing T-shirts, and later made limited edition stuff like merit badges and pennants and coins. I typically work with them on the niche-ier stuff that appeals to more of the hardcore fans. Since I am a big Phish fan myself, I just make the stuff I’d want to buy.”
In the late-‘90s, he started a streetwear brand called Nucleus and landed his clothing line in stores like Urban Outfitters and Zumiez. Ultimately, he sold that business in order to focus on the music realm. And, despite his success and close proximity to many of his favorite acts, it’s still about the music for Kovach. “I started to shiver and my knees buckled a little bit,” he says of his reaction to hearing that Trey Anastasio was going to join the “Core Four” at Fare Thee Well. “That was just such a thrill for me as a fan.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.