Rock Lottery XV Is Straight Up Magical
We’ve all had the nightmare: You find yourself on a stage in front of a sold-out house with an anxious audience waiting to hear you sing, and you realize that not only are you naked, but you haven’t a clue what any of the lyrics are. Well, welcome to the world of a Rock Lottery musician, in which you have only twelve hours to create and perform three to five songs (only one of which can be a cover) with people you’ve never met before to a sold-out venue. Challenging? Uh, only a little.
Here’s how it works: Twenty-five musicians meet at 9:30 AM on the day of the Rock Lottery, where each of the day’s five drummers chooses his or her bandmates by pulling four names from a hat. Then, the newly formed groups disperse to rehearse the day away before reconvening at 9:30 PM to perform. Not for the weak, to be sure. This isn’t lost on Rock Lottery's current director, Chuck Crosswhite: “It just shows how much I appreciate these people saying yes to doing this, because it is terrifying. And myself as a musician, [I] would be absolutely terrified to do it, and I’m in charge of it.”
It's hard enough that these courageous songsters must mold three or more original songs in half the time it takes the earth to do a 360º spin, but they’re also often paired with artists on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum. It’s not unheard-of for country singers to be teamed up with metal guitarists, or for rappers to be grouped with opera singers. Cast out of their cozy creative comfort zones and forced to explore foreign genres, these participants undoubtedly get schooled on the art of compromise.
Because the very essence of this event is steeped in uncertainty, it’s only natural that a few wacky, borderline-controversial occurrences unfold. Last year’s Rock Lottery was full of the zany and the crude — one band wrote a song about the woes of food poisoning (appropriately entitled “Poop Vomit”), while another decided to call themselves Vagician, paying perverted homage to The Beatles by announcing “We’re gonna take you on a Vagical Fistery Tour!” at the top of their set. And the previous year’s Rock Lottery sparked controversy when someone played an angle grinder (a handheld power tool) during their performance, which spawned a heated online debate and gave birth to a several-hundred comment thread about “What is art? And what is music?” Also on 2014’s bill was a band that wrote five songs about having sex with God, and a drummer who relieved his kit duties to rap a song about the ever-polarizing Bill Cosby while dressed as a terrorist.
You never know exactly what a Rock Lottery will deliver, but it’s a tradition that has carved its way into Denton’s rich musical history with an admirable, steadfast goal: to promote and support local musicians. Rock Lottery was founded by Martin Iles and Chris Weber of the Good / Bad Art Collective in 1996 and has since found legs on both coasts in the cities of Brooklyn and Seattle, while remaining firmly rooted in its hometown of Denton. Though Brooklyn’s Rock Lottery has boasted members of Les Savy Fav, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Dismemberment Plan as contributors, Denton’s focus has been locked on the promotion of aspiring, under-the-radar musicians. The aim is to showcase talented local artists who need a spotlight, instead of those who already bask in its glow.
A convenience store’s blazing overheads served as the unlikely spotlight for Sunbuzzed’s lead guitarist Cari Elizondo, a participant in this year’s Rock Lottery. Having never heard of Sunbuzzed before, Crosswhite was immediately impressed by Elizondo: “I saw them play at Midway Mart Craft House underneath the bright, fluorescent lights behind some, like, cereal and hot sauce. And [Elizondo] blew me away, and immediately I thought, ‘Wow, I’d really love to have her to play at the next Rock Lottery.” You can’t throw a rock in Denton without hitting a formidably gifted musician, and the scene is in a constant state of evolution. Consequently, Crosswhite and the Rock Lottery Committee have plenty of talent to sift through each year in the selection process. “I don’t care if it’s just somebody busking on the Square or somebody that has a million-dollar record deal,” Crosswhite explains. “It’s all about trying to put together a great list of 25 musicians you respect and think would be down to donate their time for a good cause.”
In keeping with tradition, this year’s Rock Lottery is giving away all garnered profit to CASA of Denton County. For the second year in a row, proceeds will go to this volunteer-based non-profit organization dedicated to serving as advocates of abused and neglected children with the goal of getting them into loving foster homes. “To know that we can throw this crazy weird fuckin’ art show, and raise money to help [these kids], it couldn’t be more rad,” Crosswhite says. Rad, indeed.
Several local businesses are sharing the love by volunteering their services. Pam Chittenden, hometown hero and PamFood’s singular culinary wiz, is whipping up breakfast for those who purchase an early admission ticket and the 25 participating musicians. The Chestnut Tree and Tex Tapas are donating their time and resources to serve the musicians lunch and dinner. Audacity Brew House is giving away some of their handcrafted liquid courage to musicians and event staff. And Dan Mojica of Dan’s Silverleaf is proffering his esteemed music venue. Rock Lottery has stuck to its creed of keeping everything homegrown, and that is evidenced in the symbiotic relationships it maintains with local businesses.
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Rock Lottery is the sheer spontaneity of it all. Everyone in the audience is rooting for the stage’s daring occupants, cheering them on during their high points and waiting to break their fall should their performance begin to crumble. Staring off the cliff of the stage into the black abyss of a crowd, performers are taking a giant leap of faith — Will they screw up, or will their bandmates falter, or will the audience reject them entirely?
These musicians will likely never play with each other again, and the songs they obsessed over for twelve hours will be entirely forgotten with the passing of time. But whether the Rock Lottery lifts these musicians to new heights of artistic ecstasy or hammers them down with the steely shame of failure, at least they can walk away from this musical crucible knowing they’ve stared their worst nightmare square in the face and tackled it as best they could. And witnessing that kind of insane bravery, mixed with first-rate musicianship and the incomparable sense of a supportive small-town community, is worth way more than the price of admission. Celebrating the diversity of Denton and DFW’s music scenes, it serves as a concert, as a community fundraiser, and as an art installation. Or, as Crosswhite puts it, “It’s the type of thing you’re not gonna find on your Spotify the next day. It’s the type of thing you get to experience for one night and one night only. And it’s straight up magical.”
Rock Lottery XV takes place this Saturday, November 12th, at Dan's Silverleaf. Get your tickets here, and get them now! Morning admission is 9:30 AM. Evening doors are at 8:30 PM; music starts at 9:30 PM.
ROCK LOTTERY XV MUSICIANS
Gregg Prickett (They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy)
Header photo by Andi Harman
Header image design by Brittany Keeton