Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eat-To-The-Beat: The Untold Story

With Club Congress’ Anniversary being celebrated in high style, and seminal Tucson bands The Pedestrians and The Suspects being given their props, it’s easy to overlook the importance that the University of Arizona had in developing Tucson’s New Music Scene. For while the early antics at Pearl’s Hurricane Bar and at Tumbleweeds may have gotten the music scene “out of the boonies and into the bars” (as was noted on KXCI’s website recently), it was the U of A’s “Eat-To-The-Beat” and “Rising Star Concert Series” that brought those bands, and many others, from the bars to the U of A campus—and what’s a music scene without a University connection? The University’s “Eat-to-the-Beat” lunchtime concert series was an important factor in the growth of Tucson’s music scene. How did it come to be? Now it can be told!

The story starts with the Student Union Activities Board, providing live entertainment for the student population. A common feature of the University of Arizona’s culture is a free “welcome back to school” lunchtime concert on the U of A mall. The concert was produced by a group of students, collectively known as the “Student Union Programming Board”(or “SUAB”, for short). Their role was to provide activities and programming for the University student body. It was at-once a leadership-building program for those involved with SUAB, as well as a place for those involved to act out their dream. SUAB was composed of several volunteer committees: Concerts, Publications, Trips & Tours, the beginnings of the KAMP campus radio station, and several others. In 1980, a math student named Jeff Cohen (aka “Chief”), was appointed as Head of SUAB, with long-time University Administrator Pat Moonen at Program Advisor.

As luck would have it, Jeff Cohen happened to be the neighbor of (Pedestrians drummer) Billy at the Loft Apartments (on Tyndall Ave.) Jeff often would watch Billy and the Pedestrians play at Pearl’s Hurricane Bar. When Jeff got his student job as Head of SUAB, he quickly used his connections at the U of A to bring Tucson’s music scene into the Cellar. Pen Pendleton (drummer for the Suspects) also had a job at SUAB (as did I).

Cellar flyer from

At the time, the Cellar wasn’t being utilized as a concert venue. There it sat, on the basement floor of the Student Union, waiting the rented out for various events. Kids would often go downstairs, get their mail from the Student Union Post Office (which was right next door), and eat their lunch in the Cellar. Jeff got brainstorm: why not bring bands into the Cellar? The Cellar is an under-utilized resource, and beside, the UA is already used to having bands play lunchtime concerts. Why not have bands play down there on a regular basis? This was born the lunchtime concert series known as “Eat to the Beat”.
What used to be a quiet campus spot to do your homework and eat your lunch quickly became a showcase for local talent and preview for bands that came to town to later play that night at the Night Train or Tumbleweeds.. Every hip New Wave band that was scheduled to play on Fourth Avenue would show up bleary-eyed to play there, and I mean everybody. From local acts such as the Pills, Giant Sandworms, Phantom Limbs, and many others, to national touring acts such as Black Flag, the Blasters, the Romantics, the Bad Brains, the Violent Femmes, the Teardrop Explodes, Steel Pulse, and many others. In its heyday, the Cellar sported concerts twice a week; one on Tuesday, one on Thursday. Al Perry & the Cattle played their first gig there, as did the Dogs, and others. The Cellar quickly became stuffed with people at these free lunchtime concerts, which often included students from neighboring Tucson High School, who would walk on over to see bands that they couldn’t otherwise see elsewhere. When hardcore punk hit Tucson, the Cellar frequently became a huge mosh pit. The music was so loud, that the people working in the post office next door couldn’t hear what their customers were saying, even though they were shouting. In retrospect, I can’t believe that this situation continued for years, but it did: every Tuesday and Thursday the thunderous roar of loud rock music would blast from the bowels of the Student Union for two straight hours.

The Cellar branched out to doing night-time concerts that charged admission, thus becoming direct competition for the Tucson club scene, thanks to Jeff Cohen and the addition of another music-loving volunteer, Kevin Cannata. The enterprising strategy used by Cohen and Cannata was having the lunch concert as a teaser for the nighttime concert. Cohen recalls how naïve and innocent the Cellar days were for him. He said that it was common after each those concerts to take the money home with him (which was literally a suitcase full of cash) since the box office and accounting departments were closed, and then bring it back to the Student Union the next day so that the concert proceeds could be counted and deposited into SUABs account or fund at the U of A.

Comedy Corner was also created in those early days of the Cellar, where local comedy elders Fish Karma and Mike Sterner got their starts. Comedy Corner continues to exist to this day, and many of its members have gone on to work in Hollywood. In the name of full-disclosure, As Publications Chairman for SUAB at the time Jeff Cohen was in charge, and I drew hundreds of fliers for practically all of the events happening in the Cellar, be it music or comedy.

So an entire generation of college kids Tucson’s live music brought directly to their doorstep. It was as if someone had built an invisible extension of 4th Avenue directly into the Student Union, thanks to the efforts of Jeff Cohen, Kevin Cannata, and Pat Moonen. Not only did Jeff get the Ramones to come to play at the UA’s Arizona Ballroom (located two floors above the Cellar), but he got the Pedestrians to be the opening act as well!

Other such pairings followed suit, with The Phantom Limbs opening for Rank and File (from Austin), and The Upsetters opening for Steel Pulse, as well as others whose names escape my memory at the moment. The Police, The Motels, The Pretenders, Romeo Void…the list went on and on. (Note to Pen Pendleton: thanks for getting me the interviews with The Police and XTC for SLIT mag when they came to Centennial Hall, back in 1980! I just wanted to say that, because I’ve never really publicly acknowledged it before…)

For as visionary as Jeff Cohen and Kevin Cannata were in bringing Tucson’s “New Wave” scene (as it was known back then) to campus, a huge chunk of credit goes to Pat Moonen, the wonderful and sweet woman over oversaw the shenanigans of the SUAB’s Concerts programming committee. In 1993, Pat died of ovarian cancer at the age of 58. One of the ways her memory has been honored has been the “Pat Moonen Service Award”, created by the Association of College Unions International. ( )
As the ACUI’s website states, “The award is given to an individual who best exemplifies Pat's dedication and motivation to students and staff”.

Jeff Cohen is now working as a school principal in Phoenix, and I met him recently to discuss this article. However great his move was of bringing the band scene to campus was, he needed Pat Moonen’s support and guidance. So thank you Pat, for your friendship, your support, and for letting Jeff Cohen use the University’s infrastructure to develop “Eat-To-The-Beat” into a fabulous lunchtime local band showcase that it was!
-- Howard Salmon

Note: This story was excerpted from SLIT 2010, which is available here


  1. The Cellar and these concerts (and Comedy Corner) were the best thing about the UofA back when I was a student for ...too many years. This was truly a special place, and I want to thank everyone responsible. And the bands. And the nerdy comedians, some of whom have made quite a name for themselves.

    Scary how much talent can come out of and through such a dingy little room.

  2. I also have very fond memories of those concerts, both attending and playing them. I remember seeing Jane's Addiction in the Cellar; it's one of the first times I saw a new band and thought "They're going somewhere..." Thank you for your part in bringing us that music, and thanks for this article!

  3. The Cellar ruled!! I recall someone coming to my health class & waving their arms at me & I said I had to go & promised to bring a note the next day... well, never had a note but had a lot of fun at the show anyway!! I think it was the Phantom Limbs playing... also saw Violent Femmes - they were awesome!!