Luck of the Draw: Brooklyn Rock Lottery Curator Tierney Stout on Forming One-Night Mega-Bands
By Juliann DiNicola
While the music community here in Brooklyn might seem small, many artists have likely never seen each other live, or perhaps even met. But so, what would happen if you brought together a hodge-podge of local acts, scrambled them up, and spit out a mega-band? This is where the Brooklyn Rock Lottery comes in. The one night-only charity gig pulls together 25 musicians from different bands (or no band at all) and puts them together to create five groups. The drummers of the bunch are deemed team captain, select their teammates at random, and then are given 12 hours to practice and to compose three to four original songs (they have a one cover song limit) and then perform in front of a live audience that night. Sounds genius, right? You can thank Tierney Stout, the event’s curator, for pulling it all together.
Inspired by an event she attended in Texas, Stout came here in 2010 with the mission to bring the Rock Lottery to Brooklyn. Over the years, the night has boasted tributes from the likes of greats including A Place to Bury Strangers, Dismemberment Plan, St. Vincent, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Crocodiles–and it’s only growing. This year, you can catch members from music titans The Hold Steady, They Might Be Giants, The Rapture, and Tanlines, who will be joined by growing local favorites Porches, Strange Names, Autre Ne Veut, Heliotropes and many more.
But most important of all? All proceeds from this event go to Daniel’s Music Foundation, a non-profit that provides music programs to people with physical and developmental disabilities.
Curious as to how Stout pulls off a feat as tremendous as the Rock Lottery year after year, we chatted with her about its past, its future, and Stout’s role in it all.
You started putting together the Rock Lottery back in 2010. How has organizing such a feat changed since it’s inception? Brooklyn Rock Lottery started in 2010, and it has definitely evolved over the past few years. The first year, I had only lived in New York for about a year and a half. So, I went with what I knew and who I knew. At the time I was working with bands like White Rabbits, Oberhofer, Suckers, and a handful of other Brooklyn artists, so they were who I reached out to first for the inaugural event. Now, when I start to reach out to artists, I first hit up the alumni participants for suggestions. I then reach out to people that have been on my wish-list for a few years and for various reasons, were not able to make it work. Then, I start thinking about who can we get to make this year’s roster the weirdest and most diverse yet.
Some other differences between then and now, I now have a group of friends who all help carry the heavy lifting of the zillion different layers that go into this wacky event—merch, rehearsal spaces, raffle prizes, charity, host, etc.
The raffle is also a new addition within the past few years. The proceeds raised used to be solely based on ticket sales, and in order to ramp up those numbers, we’ve added a raffle element.
Every year, we try to at least achieve three new things that can improve or build on the previous year.
What do you take into consideration when booking talent? Is working with super local musicians who are heavily involved in the scene here in Brooklyn an important credential? Rock Lottery is supposed to represent all genres, age, race, sex, and instrumentation. So, those are all things I focus on. Do we have a strong representation of females? Is jazz being represented? How many metal musicians do we have on board? Do we have enough drummers? I, of course, want a healthy amount of artists that have a name or a draw, but that is not what it is all about. I also want those baby Brooklyn indie darlings along with the “Saw Lady” who can often be found busking on the subway. (She denied me this year… but hopefully we can get her next year.) The wild cards are always what make it interesting.
Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav at last year’s Rock Lotto Photo by Maryanne Ventrice
These musicians are coming from all across the spectrum genre-wise. What has the collaborative process in the past been like for the artists involved? From navigating the time crunch, the diverse musical backgrounds, etc. To be honest, I am not entirely sure. Once the names have been drawn, and the participants go to their rehearsal spaces, they are left to their own devices. That being said, I’m always fascinated at the few times when I catch them at brunch or walking around the neighborhood instead of rehearsing. To some people, 12 hours to create 3 to 5 songs sounds insane, and others… It gives them enough time to write some songs, eat a hearty brunch, and take a nap.
Has there ever been a complete nightmare happen collaboratively, or does the charity nature of the event tend to keep everyone on track? Not from my standpoint. I have definitely seen some bands bond more than others. There was one year when only 23 participants showed up in the morning. There have been times when an artist has requested to not be in the same band as another participant… but the Rock Lottery gods had a different plan. However, based on the crowd’s reaction, there has never been an obvious disaster. It helps to have a sold-out crowd that showed up to see you perform in a band they have never heard of and play songs that they will more than likely never hear again. That, along with the charity element, I think, takes a weight off of what could be a stressful…and perhaps disastrous day.
To that point, last year we had one band with one drummer (the drummers are the captains and draw the names) and FOUR bassists. The band, LOVVLIFE (pronounced Low Life) featuring Sal Maida (Roxy Music / Milk’N’Cookies), Ryan Jones (Mutilation Rites), Sean Yeaton (Parquet Courts), Ross Clark (St. Lucia), Rob Pallotta (Tragedy: A Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees and Beyond), along with all the other participants, seemed thrilled that this had happened. And, it was by no means a disaster, but in the end, a lot of people’s favorite band by the end of the night. Their cover? “Big Bottom,” by Spinal Tap.
I’m interested in what happens to the creative partnerships post Rock Lotto. Have any artists found themselves inspired to keep working together after the event? Yes! And that’s my favorite part. The most magical moments are when you see a band on paper that looks terrifying, and then after their set, the entire crowd is shouting “ENCORE”. This happened at Brooklyn Rock Lottery 2—”S of So” featuring Liam Finn, Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Nandi Plunkett (Pinegrove), Kotaro Tsukada (Peelander-Z), & Arone Dyer (Buke & Gase). Later that year Liam was hosting a weekly residency at Union Hall, and for the last installation, he reunited S of So. Nandi and Greg from that same band went on to put a 7″ out together. It’s not uncommon for me to run into a previous participant, and they are on their way to meet a former “bandmate.” That is the stuff I really geek out about, when artists that perhaps would have never had a reason to play together, let alone meet, are now making a regular thing of it.