There’s a show tomorrow night in Denton featuring five bands no one’s ever heard. It’s Rock Lottery, an annual event that mixes up local musicians to form new groups. They have a day to write songs before performing them that night – and the show’s almost always sells out to benefit a charity of the committee’s choice. This year, the beneficiary hits home for one musician on the lineup.
Dallas artist Nevada Hill just moved into a new house in Lakewood, but he’s barely been home. He leads me past unpacked boxes with his cockatiel, Lulu, to show me a lonely game she invented. After Nevada lets her down gently on the bathroom counter, she sings to herself in the mirror, ducking her own image as if it’s a companion.
“They have to have like an hour of social time or else they get depressed, which I think is really fascinating,” Nevada says.
A former neighbor comes and visits Lulu while Nevada has tumors removed – this week, he’s going down for gamma knife surgery on a brain tumor – and visits with his doctor. Oh, and there was that West Coast tour last month, with his band Bludded Head.
“I think it’s like, ultimately more healthy for me than doing the treatment. I miss being on the road; I miss playing with my band,” he says.
Nevada plays with a new band tomorrow, for one day. He’s one of 25 musicians participating in Rock Lottery. Before cities like Brooklyn and Seattle adopted the ritual, it began in Denton as a project of the Good/Bad Art Collective. The Argot hosted the first event in 1997.
Committee member Chuck Crosswhite is reciting traditions as if he’s leading a rotary meeting. He’s a former member of Fra Pandolf and resident of the Fra house, an influential DIY venue in the early to mid-aughts. He explains that his uncle, an early member of the Good/Bad Art Collective, passed on an interest in this kind of eccentric communal exercise.
“[Now] we always have it at Dan’s, so it’s always got to be at the same venue in Denton, the lady that makes breakfast, Pam, who’s actually Dan’s wife, has made breakfast every year since it began. Everything has to be drawn out of the same hat, and any flyer we make or poster we make has to involve the Rock Lottery hat.”
Chuck has just come in from the weird November snow to sit down at Dan’s Silver Leaf with fellow Rock Lottery committee members Lance Martin, Ryan Williams and Danielle Herbert. I ask Lance about the hat’s origin story, and it’s a mystery.
“It’s just the same hat they’ve had since the very beginning, it was just a very gaudy looking pimp hat with all these feathers and buttons and silly looking stuff on it,” he says.
“It’s got a snake skull on it,” Ryan chimes in. But the committee expects it to arrive worse for the wear. Apparently when the hat was in Seattle, someone’s dog got a hold of it and chewed it up.
“It’s just got to hold a few names,” Ryan says.
Twenty-five names — of musicians that live in North Texas and have not participated in Rock Lottery before. Each drummer will choose 4 names in the morning on Saturday, spend the day writing songs with their new band members and then play a show that night. Proceeds always go to benefit a charity chosen by the committee.
Chuck’s first idea was to give the money to Nevada, to help with costs of treatment.
“Nevada has done countless album artwork for bands, he’s done posters for plenty of bands, he’s been playing music in this town for a long time and he’s kind of been a Denton staple. I asked the committee members if they were all on board with it, unanimously, everybody agreed. But Nevada, being the person that he is, he actually turned me down.”
“It took me a few days to reply,” Nevada says. “I just didn’t really know how to take that. I thought it’d be better to go to a charity – Parkland Hospital, which I had a lot to do with when I didn’t have health insurance, cause I was going to Parkland for a quarter of last year when I was diagnosed [with melanoma].”
Nevada will play in the lottery, with ticket proceeds going to Parkland Hospital’s HealthPlus program – and hopefully the patients he waited long hours with in the waiting room.
One of the Rock Lottery artists Nevada could conceivably play with – Kaela Sinclair.
“When I found out that I was going to be able to do this, I totally canceled a gig for it,” she says.
Kaela has a vocal jazz degree from UNT. She can write pop songs in a couple hours, no problem. The chance to collaborate with an artist who makes executioner-style drone metal – or hip-hop, or country rock – is what she’s in it for.
“It feels sometimes like people on the indie side aren’t really respecting the skill of the UNT side, and it feels like sometimes the people on the UNT side can be a little snobby. It’s kind of amazing to me how disconnected the two are right now.”
Nevada says it’s hard to get people to go to shows in general. That’s why when it was time to release Bludded Head’s new record last month, Reign in Bludd, he passed out a free download to everyone who came through the door.
“I have all these syringes from when I used to shoot the [cancer-fighting drug] Interferon, and so I’m not going to need them anytime soon. So I’ve been turning the syringes one way or another into downloadable objects,” Nevada says.
“I put the download card either inside of them – this time, what I did was I just took everything out because I didn’t want to give a bunch of people needles at a show where people are drinking – just took the tube part out and I colored the back of the download card red and curled it around the plunger and then shrink-wrapped it all together so it looks like a blood-filled syringe.”
For Nevada, making heavy sounds is a way to face his own fears — and help others face theirs.
“I think we’re afraid of ourselves, and we’re ultimately terrified of each other,” Nevada says. “We live in a world where we’re constantly pushed to take those things and kind of shove ‘em.”
Tomorrow, as the clock’s ticking for the musicians of Rock Lottery 13, fear won’t be an option.
The live recordings you hear in the piece are of brand new songs: “Death Questions 3” by Bludded Head, and “The Sweetest Thing” by Kaela Sinclair.
The organizers shared their players-to-watch:
I did the ultimate homer pick, and I picked a former bandmate of mine named Ryan Smith and we had a band together called Secret Cakes. I wanted to make sure that I had somebody that was a part of my musical experience with Denton in this thing.
This year we have Blue the Misfit, who’s a rapper. I would argue that he’s probably one of the biggest artists on our lineup this year. He just came off of a really successful run at Fun Fun Fun Fest … he’s been a really good sport so far, he’s really pumped about it.
Daniel Markham, I’ve played with. Super positive guy, so he’ll fit in well with anyone. I think what most people don’t know about him is that he can play any type of music. He’s a huge fan of heavy metal, he doesn’t play anything like heavy metal – he plays, in my opinion, sort of a nineties-style pop-rock thing. But that’s not his only thing. He plays in Southern rock, country sort of bands. He’ll be able to hang with just about anybody, with anything they want to do.
One of my picks also was a guy named Jonah Lange (Corporate Park), who I’ve recently run into. He’s told me he has no idea what he’s going to do, because he doesn’t really play any instruments. I told him to bring some lights and hopefully he’ll do that. But he does actually make really great experimental music and he’ll bring some weird stuff out.
There’s a girl named Ariel Hartley who plays in a band called the Mink Coats. She’s very versatile – she plays guitar, and bass, and keys.
Kaela Sinclair is the one that’s been talking to me the most and seems the most excited about it, too. She messages me all the time asking me questions about it. So she seems like she’s going to do really well, and I like her music also – but I didn’t know about her until we started talking about her for this. (Chuck knew about Kaela through McKenzie Smith of Midlake, who helped record and produce her record.)
Sharla Franklin is going to be exciting to watch because she’s a really good violinist, and she’s always fun with Star Party, so maybe she’ll do something that nobody’s seen before, because there’s a lot of Star Party fans.
I’m really excited because we have two DJs that are going to be performing this year – Yeahdef and Juicy the Emissary. Hoping they’re not going to be stuck together in the same band, but at the same time they’re both wonderfully talented musicians and can do other things too.
So they’re just going to be great supplementary musicians. They can’t just have their own beats they’ve made before. They have to create something new and something to go along with whoever else they’re in a band with, so it’s all got to be replicated live and they can’t just bring some pre-programmed stuff in there.