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Tucson's Congress Hotel loses music director after 27 years

Tucson's Congress Hotel loses music director after 27 years


David Slutes sat on the Congress Hotel patio last Tuesday morning, enjoying the mid-morning sun peaking through the trees.

Most of his adult life has been centered in the historic building, where business deals are negotiated over hotel coffee and eggs at the Cup Café and day drinking is not entirely discouraged in the lobby lounge. You can buy nostalgic Clove, Black Jack and Beemans chewing gum at the reception counter, which still has that turn-of-the-last-century vibe.

But the Slutes' fingerprints are most evident at the club's iconic convention. Slutes has transformed what was a small footprint in the late 1990s into a thriving regional venue that hosts concerts from local, national and international musicians almost nightly.

Club Congress is the crown jewel of the downtown music scene, to its credit, said Rich Hopkins, a longtime Tucson musician who was a member of Slutes' band Sidewinders/Sand Rubies. Dave has done a lot for the Tucson music scene.

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For the longest time, Slutes could never imagine leaving.

But here he was this Tuesday morning, explaining how, after 27 years as the city's front-man, cheerleader and accomplished champion of live music, he was leaving.

I feel like it’s the right time,” he said. I gave him as much as I could.

Slutes, 59, will remain as entertainment director through May and has shows booked at Club Congress and the Plaza through the end of the year.

The next destination has not yet been announced.

In a Facebook post in early April, Slutes only hinted that their third act would involve Tucson music.

His announcement hit hard those who have followed the Slutes' journey, whether behind the microphone on Congressional stages or on the sidelines.

You've been oil in the machine for many years, sir, laments Matt Baquet, Slutes' former Congress Hotel entertainment colleague. Thank you for so many incredible memories and opportunities. You have touched so many people, more than you could ever imagine.

You have been a living treasure for as long as I can remember, bringing so much creativity, passion and glorious music to our beloved downtown Tucson, the longtime Tucson businessman said, Doug Biggers. Thank you, David, for all you have endured, enjoyed and created. People like you can never be replaced.

Slutes arrived at the Congress Hotel in 1997, when owners Shana and Richard Oseran asked him to run the hotel's Internet cafe. This was back when laptops were the norm and a good decade before smartphones arrived; Internet cafes provided the only access to a computer for travelers.

The Oserans had owned the hotel for 12 years, which they bought in 1985 to safeguard its heritage and history. Shana Oseran said they learned early on that a historical monument is only as good as what happens inside those walls here and now. So they created the Club Congress and started putting on shows.

Slutes Vegas Boys was the first band booked on the Congress stage, opening for Tucson cowpunk rocker Al Perry. It was the very first concert in Congress.

Slutes went on to manage the Sidewinders, who landed a contract with a major record label and were on the cusp of a national career when a legal issue regarding his name derailed his success. The band changed their name to Sand Rubies, and a few years later threw in the towel. Slutes continued to perform in local bands, but when the Oserans asked him to take over bookings for the club's convention in the late 1990s, he took the plunge.

Rock star

David Slutes, second from right, was the lead singer of the Tucson band The Sidewinders, which signed a major label deal in the 1990s.

Courtesy of David Slutes

He was very talented. …And you have to remember that he kind of grew up around the music here and he was riding that wave, Shana Oseran said. David has been instrumental in the field of music. We were stewards because we liked the kind of place we were going to, but I think it became more than that. People met and married there. They separated there.

From the beginning, Slutes was the originator of the idea. He took the annual reenactment of John Dillinger's capture in Tucson and turned it into Dillinger Days, two days of events including reenactments and a Speakeasy concert with bands performing swing-era jazz and pop for an audience dressed in their finest clothes from the 1920s. flaps and prohibition adornments.

In 2005, when Club Congress celebrated its 20th anniversary, Slutes brought back bands that had played on stage during its first 20 years, including Perry. He dubbed it HoCo Fest, a sort of family reunion that took place every Labor Day weekend with different groups from different eras of Congress. The festival took place 17 years before Slutes decided that last year's event would be its last.

Let's finish where it makes sense, he said at the time.

It also introduced the Taco Drop on New Year's Eve and the Mezcrawl, which for some is the highlight of the annual party. Agave Heritage Festival which takes place this weekend.

It's hard to imagine anything downtown without the seeds planted by Hotel Congress, said Fletcher McCusker, a longtime retired businessman and chairman of the Rio Nuevo board. They were the first to offer live music. They were the first to organize CD release parties. They were the first to put on national acts. They were there long before the Rialto and the Fox were concert halls. It all started with the Congress Hotel.

And behind most of those efforts was Slutes, McCusker added.

David has been involved in every aspect of this, from being a performing musician to a booker to being responsible for installing the amplifiers, he said. He does everything.

David Slutes, 2006

Entertainment director David Slutes, seen here in 2006, prepares for his third act, requiring him to move away from the Congress Hotel.

Chris Richards, Arizona Daily Star

It's the end of an era, said Tucson singer-songwriter Brian Lopez, whose bands XIXA and Mostly Bears have found their way onto the Club Congress stage since the early 2000s. think what stands out most about David is his approach. He is a musician himself so he knows how to talk to musicians. But he was able to be very creative and… sort of able to build this place within his own personality. … It gives anyone a chance to get their foot in the door and that's what you want as a young artist coming onto the scene.

Slutes said his goal has always been to make Congress a place for everyone, which might explain why, in 2012, he contacted Susan Holden shortly after the death of her music producer husband, Jonathan. Jonathan Holden and his Rhythm & Roots series were the leading promoter of Americana and acoustic concerts in Tucson.

When Jonathan died, David came to me and said, Come to me. I'll help you. If he hadn't, Rhythm & Roots wouldn't have survived, Holden said.

For years now, the Congress Plaza stage has hosted Americana greats, from James McMurtry and Jim Lauderdale to local singer-songwriter Lisa Morales and actress (Mozart in the Jungle, Gone Girl)/ country singer Lola Kirke, who plays at the Plaza on Thursday April 25.

He just makes it easy,” Holden said of Slutes. It's a great partnership.

On Tuesday, Slutes walked into Club Congress and pointed to a corner where the stage was when he arrived. Here in the middle, he told a guest, is where he had it moved years later before it was finally installed in the back of the small space with room for a few hundred standing places only.

Creative energy is the first thing you feel when you arrive here, he said. Was it a public space. I think I've been a good handler of that.

But leaving wasn't an easy decision, he said.

I met all my girlfriends and my wife here. I've been part of it all my life, he said. I love this place. It has this amazing big city vibe and a lot of creative energy.

Tucson Landmarks: The Congress Hotel, 311 E. Congress St., opened in 1919 as a luxury mainstay for visitors arriving in the Old Pueblo.

This downtown landmark has retained much of its history over the past century, while bringing modern amenities to Tucson residents and tourists.

Video by Riley Brown / For the Arizona Daily Star

Riley Brown for the Arizona Daily Star

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected]. On Twitter @Starburch




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