Legend City

Tucson's Club Congress throws a mammoth 20th-anniversary party

If you've ever wondered why there are so many cryptic jabs at Arizona on The Simpsons -- from Homer's nixing of a Grand Canyon State vacation ("Arizona smells funny!") to Ned Flanders' unforgettable decree, "Looks like Heaven's easier to get into than Arizona State" -- a proclamation from Governor Janet Napolitano designating September 2 through 4 "Club Congress Weekend" may provide an unlikely clue.

Seems creator Matt Groening, back when he was sketching syndicated comic strips about one-eared rabbits for underground rags like the Phoenix New Times, was part of an eclectic assortment of artists and musicians who hung out at Club Congress, a rock club built around Tucson's famous Tap Room watering hole, just off the lobby of the 86-year-old landmark Hotel Congress.

This weekend, the club celebrates its 20th anniversary of hosting cutting-edge concerts and providing funky sanctuary to the Tucson creative community with a three-day, three-night bash featuring 40 of the city's most influential bands -- 20 of which are reuniting specifically for the event.

From local legend Al Perry, punk pioneers Green on Red, and Howe Gelb's experimental '80s outfit Giant Sandworms (now known as Giant Sand), to '90s favorites like Shoebomb, Earl's Family Bombers, and Calexico (operating under its original moniker, Spoke), a septet led by founders Joey Burns and John Convertino and featuring a mariachi trumpeter and a cast of multi-instrumentalists, the festival, held on three stages in and around the historic Hotel Congress, is sure to be ground zero for southern Arizona cool.

The 40 rooms at the Hotel Congress, restored to their early 1900s splendor (featuring antique iron beds and vintage radios), have been sold out for weeks. But special rates, starting at $35 a night, are available at four nearby hotels (see hotelcongress.com/20th for details).

In addition to the nonstop music, a new documentary about the Tucson music scene of the '80s and '90s, High and Dry, will be screening each day of the festival at The Loft Cinema, where filmmaker Michael Toubassi will also speak. And if all that's not enough to lure Phoenicians to our southern metro's five-degree-cooler climes, musician and barbecue fiend Jeff Grubic will be rustling up an all-star mesquite-fired Texas barbecue Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Smells funny? Tucson should be smelling sweet this Labor Day weekend.

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