For twenty years the deepest mystery of Rock Lottery has remained, despite increasing access given to the audience via social media in the few hours leading up to the show as lineups drop and photos are posted. How do these bands, assembled at random in the morning, find the chemistry to begin, in creating those 20-minute sets featuring originals and covers? I attended the drawing at Dan’s Silverleaf Saturday morning and followed two of the just-formed groups to their rehearsal spaces to watch it all unfold.
The drummers traditionally draw names first. My instinct was to keep an eye on the band assigned to Ellie Alonzo, whose exuberance comes through at the kit for Sunbuzzed but also behind a camera in trippy portraits of Pearl Earl. And the stage did light up during opening ceremonies with the names she pulled out of the storied hat. Multi-dimensional talents Teddy Georgia Waggy (Midnight Opera), Jabari English (Lil Durt), Stephanie Burns (Lizzie Boredom), and Poppy Xander decided to call themselves Orgasmivore.
It was easy to make myself invisible at the house on Carlton Street where they assembled because the group agreed it was more comfortable to practice without overhead lights on. This created a certain mystique as they got to work, the wider world oblivious to their configuration even with teaser images of silhouettes. The sum of their energies was contemplative and serious. Ellie and Poppy (on keys) were the inspirational navigators, Jabari on vocals and Stephanie on bass stayed more quiet and laid-back. Jabari was especially blissed out in the corner finding his way on an Omnichord. Teddy, known for her prowess as a guitarist and costume designer, served as a kind of technician. The hours before lunch were steady, the sound darkly psychedelic and the members communicated musically, long ideas flourishing without interruption.
After lunch I headed to Swash Labs’ offices to spy on Dolphin Butt where the room was bright and the waveforms jagged with chat. This group was almost intimidating in the explosiveness promised by its lineup. A week prior when I mentioned my idea to Rock Lottery committee member Andi Harman, she offered this bit of advice before I’d even finished the thought: “Just follow Danny [Daniel Francis Doyle].” On another vein of discussion, she praised the record Dahlia Knowles just released as Lorelei K, called Be The Doll. The capacity of these two as performers and songwriters made it easy to imagine them in that moment as the leaders of two separate bands, the two most affecting bands of the night. Here they were, in the same group. Watching them casually joke about the staying power of rock and roll versus pop was like encountering two warring figures in Greek mythology who’d decided, for a day, to join forces.
They were joined by another solo artist, Daniel Folmer (Danny Diamonds), and drummer Josh Berthume, who has all the Type-A pizazz and quips of someone who leads an advertising agency (he does). Torry Finley (Tornup) was the only member who said outright that he was okay with not singing lead during the rotation. Too busy to sing lead was the sixth member, artist Aaron White, who was part of the brand new tradition in which five poster-makers face the show deadline with each band. He has a cameo in the video below. Just look for the iPhone-shot moment featuring the most stressed person in the entire six minutes. One could say he had an advantage in using the fancy workspace at Swash, yet obsession is a handicap that carries across mediums to keep things even. The artist used instant film to capture each member of Dolphin Butt and, without a fifth space in his design, combined Dahlia and Daniel into one.
It’s hard to draw the anatomy of the headspace all this requires. But consider this crossing of the two bands I followed, after the show at Dan’s, about 16 hours after the bands first took shape. Orgasmivore’s Poppy Xander called loudly to Dolphin Butt’s Daniel Francis Doyle, who’d just shredded to infinity in closing the night: “You’re a beast!”
“Was she talking to me?” he asked, about 10 steps later.
In the style of 25 musicians charged with short turnarounds, here’s a collage that (hopefully) articulates the moment of getting to work, out of one’s head to be swept somewhere new, taking an audience along. (This was longtime sound go-to Jimmy Smith’s final night working at Dan’s Silverleaf. Michael Briggs collected multi-track audio from the night and when it’s made available I’ll direct readers to it; this video doesn’t do justice to the performances themselves, which concluded with Dolphin Butt’s rendition of Cher’s “Believe.” Dahlia on vocals for this cover — a lifetime dream of hers to perform, she said — drew tears from the front row.)