If you were a local high-school student in 1984, one of your first real concerts may well have been Philly’s own Hooters. At the time, the soon-to-be-national rockers were taking their show to gymnasiums around the region on what the band later dubbed the “Lasagna Tour.”
“Every concert was catered, and they always served lasagna,” recalls drummer David Uosikkinen. “Some weeks, we were eating lasagna from the same restaurant a couple nights in a row.”
Despite the carbs-and-cheese overload, Uosikkinen remembers those early days fondly. “We played what seemed to be every high school in the Delaware Valley,” he says. “Radnor, Conestoga, Harriton, West Chester. We played everywhere. We played public and private schools. It didn’t matter.”
The multiple appearances came about inadvertently, when 93.3 WMMR decided to promote a “School Spirit Concert.” The rules were simple: Students were encouraged to write “WMMR” and “Hooters” on an index card and send it to the station. The high school with the most responses won a free Hooters concert right on campus.
No one anticipated such an overwhelming participation. The WMMR offices were flooded with millions of cards—26 million, to be exact. The deluge was so great that the station had to rent a warehouse to store all the correspondence as the contest dragged on for two months.
“It was a fascinating example of how large the listening audience of the station was and how big the following of the Hooters was locally,” says veteran WMMR personality Pierre Robert. “We had some high school principals calling up the station complaining about the contest because it was causing such a disruption among the students.”
All entries had to be handwritten, so, in many cases, the scribbling went on during classes and study halls. “It became a very competitive contest,” says Robert.
In the end, New Jersey’s Shawnee High won the grand prize with three million cards. But the Hooters were bowled over by the devotion of their teen fans, so they decided to launch the tour. “It was a wonderful idea,” says Uosikkinen. “The schools came up with money to pay us, and we played every night and had a blast. We had a chance to practice becoming a real performance-oriented band.”
For basically a few bucks, many of us got to experience a band coming into its prime, and hear local hits like “All You Zombies” and “Hanging on a Heartbeat” from its Amore EP.
Before long, the Hooters would have a few national hits on their hands, and they’d be playing arenas and stadiums. How quickly fortunes can change. “But I’ll never forget the crowds at those concerts,” says Uosikkinen. “The gyms were mobbed, and the kids were non-stop screaming.”
Uosikkinen distinctly remembers girls approaching the band and asking for autographs and permission to touch their hair. “That definitely doesn’t happen anymore,” he says with a laugh. “We felt like The Beatles-—though obviously we knew we weren’t.”
Next summer, the Hooters will be in Europe kicking off its 35th anniversary tour. “We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to stand the test of time,” says Uosikkinen. “Not many bands can say that.” And those young ’80s Hooters fans are now older—but no less faithful.