The 1980s were a bawdy time of excess. That’s how Frank Manhardt
remembers the decade. “We used to get pretty outrageous back in those days,” said Manhardt, one half of the late 1970s-early-’80s country rock band The Frank & Woody Show. “The party seemed to just keep going. On my nights off, I didn’t rest up. You just kept going.”
This weekend, Manhardt and his longtime musical partner Woody Janda
will reunite with the band’s surviving original members for their first show together in seven years. They will be the second to last performer at the ninth annual Club Congress Hoco Fest, which runs tonight through Sunday. The Frank & Woody Show joins a lineup that includes 1980s pop stars Howard Jones (“No One Is To Blame,” “Things Can Only Get Better,” “New Song”) and Men Without Hats (“Safety Dance”) and a host of local bands. This year’s theme leans heavily to the 1980s as an unofficial 20th anniversary celebration of Club Congress’s once popular 1980s night. Founded and hosted by DJ Spyder Rhodes
, the theme night ran from 1993 to 2000.
“It was phenomenal. It was gigantic,” said Rhodes, the former KFMA and Club Congress DJ whose real name is Dennis.
“We had lines around the block. It was filled to capacity.” When Club Congress entertainment chief David Slutes
decided to theme this year’s Hoco Fest around the 1980s, he said it was a no-brainer to rope in Rhodes. “He’s the in-house expert; he knows it all,” Slutes said. “Eighties Night was perhaps one of the two biggest nights ever at Club Congress. It was his baby.” Hoco Fest, which Slutes launched in 2005 to celebrate Club Congress’s 20th anniversary, has always featured a retro theme. It’s Slutes’ way of bringing back bands that defined Tucson’s music scene and, to a large degree, Tucson. Twenty-five bands participated in the inaugural Hoco Fest over Labor Day weekend in 2005. “Everyone had such a great time. It was like a high school reunion. It was crazy. It was really great,” he said. Every year since, Hoco Fest has grown, pumping life into what is historically the slowest weekend of the year at the club and its parent Hotel Congress. “One year it turned out to be our busiest,” Slutes said. “As much as I pull my hair out, we decided to do it again and it’s been rolling ever since.” After he had settled on a theme for this year’s festival, Slutes called on Frank & Woody, who barely dipped their toes into the 1980s before pulling the plug. The band broke up in late 1980 after nearly seven years together.
“They kicked off the ‘80s by dying,” Slutes said. “That sort of ended the era along with the Dusty Chaps
.” This will be the band’s first show together since they played a gig at El Casino Ballroom in 2006, which was only the second time the band reunited since their 1980 split. Manhardt said the wheels started turning for the Hoco Fest gig at last year’s festival, when he sat in with Chuck Wagon and the Wheelchairs on a night that also featured fellow Tucson music legend Ned Sutton.
Before the night had ended, Slutes had dropped more than a subtle hint about Frank & Woody being part of this year’s festival. “They are the one big piece that we haven’t done of that generation,” Slutes said. Manhardt said he is glad the band is among the final acts of the weekend, and he hopes there aren’t many young kids in the audience. He and Janda have a habit of taking u-turns into more PG-13 rated territory than their country-rock label might suggest. “If I don’t get at least a couple jaws to drop then I’m not doing my job right,” said Manhardt. “All of our fans are accustomed to the lyrics of our songs. But there just seems to be something that Woody or I will say or do that will get the jaws dropping. We don’t shy away from controversy.” Example: One of their most popular songs is the Janda-penned “Damn the Luck, What the ----,” the ironic tale of a boyfriend about to score when his girlfriend is run over by a car. Janda was the principal songwriter of the bunch while Manhardt was the frontman. On Sunday night, they will share the stage with familiar faces — original band members Tim O’Connor on fiddle, banjo and sax; and Donny Roberts (who went on to become an in-demand Nashville session musician) on guitar.
Tucson steel guitarist Neil Harry and bass player Scott Bish
will sit in to replace late band members Pete Smith and Glen McKinney.
“We used to get pretty outrageous back in those days. And some of these songs are really going to resurface. I hope there are not a lot of really young kids,” Manhardt said.