A Brief History of the Rock Lottery: "It Was Meant to Be a Scene-Building Exercise"

Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

In 1996, the concept of the Rock Lottery was quietly born via former Good/Bad Art Collective music coordinator Chris Weber. Twenty-five pre-selected musicians would meet at The Argo in Denton, a music venue in the Fry Street area, which has long since closed down. Five area drummers would take turns picking local musicians' names out of a hat. These groups would then retire to different locations to spend the next 12 hours writing three to four original songs, and learning one cover.

The event went off successfully in February of 1997 at The Argo, and since then, there have been nine other Rock Lotteries in Denton at The Argo, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, and its longest running home, Dan's Silverleaf. This Saturday night at 10 p.m. marks the 11th Denton showing of the Rock Lottery at Dan's.

Weber moved out of Denton almost 15 years ago, but has brought the concept to Brooklyn and Seattle, where Dave Bazan, Reggie Watts and Tim Fite have all participated in respective local lotteries. The concept proved so pervasive that scores of other U.S. cities, as well as cities in Canada, have all co-opted the concept.

"It was meant to be a scene-building exercise," Weber told me via email. "The hope and aim is to pick a diverse grouping of musicians that reflect the overall landscape of that area's music scenes."

The Rock Lottery is not necessarily an annual event, given the fact that the eleventh installment will be the first since 2007. And the concept is rigid only insomuch as the drawing starts with five drummers, but after the bands are all selected, any member can play any musical role they wish, as evidenced by previous lotteries where one drummer opted to play the harmonica, and another band featured two drummers.

"The coolest part was being accepted into a group of musicians that I'd admired," says Denton's Corn Mo, who played that first lottery in '97. "Paul Slavens, Jeffrey Barnes, Will Johnson, Sam McCall...." Mo continues his music career these days in Brooklyn, but remembers the Rock Lottery as one event that completely enamored him to the scene in Denton. He also hosted last year's Brooklyn Rock Lottery. "It was a sonic dream," he says. "It was the first time I'd seen Liam Finn and Tim Fite. Those guys are amazing."

During the 15-year expanse of the event in Denton, members from dozens of DFW bands have participated, including Bedhead, Lift to Experience, The Riverboat Gamblers, The Baptist Generals and Polyphonic Spree. The list of bands represented in lotteries outside of Denton is equally impressive, including The Fleet Foxes, Built to Spill, Deerhoof, Les Savy Fav, and the Long Winters. Not surprisingly, it seems one facet of playing in a Rock Lottery band is to come up with a band name that is hilarious, disturbing, scene-referential or any combination of the three. Band names from former lotteries include: The Jackson Polyp Five, Magic Johnson the Gathering, Colin Carter and His Underage Boys Next Door, Yanni DiFranco and the Phallus Palace.

This year's selection committee includes Denton musician and scene enthusiast Scott Porter, and he's giddy about this year's lineup. Porter moved to Denton from Fort Worth in 2000, mainly because he came to idolize the innovation and vitality of the scene through Malcolm Mayhew's weekly music column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2003, after the Rock Lottery had been on hiatus for over three years, Porter saw a flyer that read, "RLV: 10/3/03."

"As a long-time Denton fan-boy... I immediately knew it was for Rock Lottery 5," Porter says. "I couldn't have been more excited. And it blew my mind when I was invited to play in Rock Lottery 7, so you can imagine how humbled and thrilled I feel to serve as an organizer for Rock Lottery 11."

This year's event, with Porter as one of the many competent organizers, will no doubt retain the same magic of lotteries past, and benefits a good cause, so make sure to get there early.

This year's participants:

Aaron White (Old Snack) Adrian Ordones (Scoff, Stoned Men) Bill Dodds (Bukkake Moms) Chris Welch (Pinebox Serenade/Old Warhorse) Cody Garcia (The Heelers) Darcy Neal (Bludded Head) David Saylor (Terminator 2) Doug Burr Ginny Mac (Brave Combo) Isaac Hoskins James Washington (Peopleodian) Jeff Barnard (Dust Congress) Jeremy Buller (Bosque Brown/The Hope Trust) Judson Valdez (Chambers/Becoming) Justin Gray (Cerulean Giallo/Idiots) Mckenzie Smith (Midlake) Mike Forbes (Shiny Around the Edges) Nicole Estill (True Widow) Paddy Flynn (Deep Snapper) Petra Kelly (Spooky Folk/Hares on the Mountain) Rachel Yoder (Odd Partials, Madera Wind Quintet) Rob Buttrum (Vaults of Zin) Ryan Becker (RTB2) Taylor Kimbrough (DEEP Throat) Tex Bosley (Warren Jackson Hearne & Le Leek Electrique/The Holler Time)

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.