There's No Event in Local Music Quite Like the Phoenix Rock Lottery

Musician Holly Pyle has been on a reconnaissance mission for several weeks.

The vocalist for the quartet House of Stairs has been asking some of her fellow musicians what she can expect as one of 25 local participants in this year’s Phoenix Rock Lottery. The lineup to the event, now in its fourth year with proceeds going to Rosie’s House, is curated by promoter Stephen Chilton, a.k.a, Psyko Steve. Even he is impressed at how the concept has taken off.

“The first year, we did it on a Sunday,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s see how this goes.’ Everyone loved it. The next year, I was not surprised at all that we sold out.”

To recap how the rules of the lottery work: five local drummers will draw the names of the 20 other musicians participating at random to create five bands. There are no set band positions, so each team will have to work within the confines of the abilities of each member. After the lineups are set, the bands will then return to the Crescent Ballroom 11 hours later to perform three original songs and one cover in front of an eager audience. Musical high jinks ensue. One particular moment sticks out in Chilton’s mind:

“The first year we did it, one of the bands decided to use for their cover Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle,’ which was great because [Jim Adkins] was getting on stage right after.”

Pyle has heard that finding a practice space and writing lyrics has tested the abilities of past participants. Since she and the members of her jazz collective are natural improvisers, she feels confident in her ability to create melodies on the fly. Waxing poetic, on the other hand, can take her quite a bit of time.

“When I write a song with lyrics, I have to spend months researching them,” Pyle explains. “The sense of having to memorize and execute something with a sense of confidence is another challenge.”

Chilton is committed to putting together a diverse group of musicians for the Phoenix Rock Lottery who may not collaborate otherwise. No one in this year’s lineup, which also includes Chelsey Louise of Fairy Bones, Wyves’ Corey Gloden, and Austen Mack from Captain Squeegee, has participated in the event before. Participants also include members from Neko Case, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and Okilly Dokilly.
“I want to make it as diverse as possible but make a coherent product at the end,” he explains, “I’m not trying to set anyone up for failure. I don’t know a lot of musicians personally in the hip-hop scene. It’s very heavily curated. I haven’t included anyone from the metal community, either.”

Despite keeping things within the indie rock realm, those expecting something comfortable or familiar will be disappointed. Bands form and breakup in a span of hours (the exception is Wet Lab, who boasted Jim Adkins as a member and released a cassingle at a charity event last year), but new creative mentorships within the local music community are formed. That gets a musician like Pyle excited.

“I’m really excited to meet people in the community that I had otherwise no excuse to share a stage with,” Pyle says. “I think the concept is very creative. It’s a great foundation to get musicians to interact in a way they haven’t before.”

“I look for people who work well with others and will have a good time with this. I want everyone to have fun,” Chilton says, “I can’t think of another event where you sell out and no one has heard the music.”

The 2017 Phoenix Rock Lottery is scheduled for Saturday, January 28, at Crescent Ballroom.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil