A few years ago, Ed Sotelo, bassist with local glam rockers Cobra Verde and the far rootsier Jack Fords, posted what he thought was an innocent update on his Facebook page. He suggested every band in Cleveland should trade away all their original members and draft a new set of prospects, kind of like what major-league sports teams do after a season in the cellar.
"I don't even remember the exact message," says Sotelo one afternoon, sitting on the patio outside Tremont's Visible Voice Books with fellow musicians Michael Pultz, Jae Kristof and John Delzoppo. Taking Sotelo's sports metaphor to its logical conclusion, Sotelo, Pultz, Kristof and Delzoppo were four of the co-founders who formalized the concept of an indie-rock draft, christening the organizing committee the "Council of Chiefs" and giving each participant his or her own baseball card. They put a few rules into place — you had to play in a band that had recorded, and no two collaborators who previously played together could be drafted to the same band. But the Council left the rest to chance.
The 2008 Lottery League was a surprising success. It yielded 33 bands that convened to play 10-minute sets at a blowout show at the Beachland. Last year, several of the acts contributed to a compilation CD, and some bands kept going after the "Big Show," earning their way into the Lottery League's "Hall of Fame." Because of the amount of work involved in coordinating the project, council members decided to wait until this year to launch a sequel.
This year's draft took place in February and resulted in the formation of 33 new bands, all of which will perform again at the Beachland for the "Big Show." Participants from 2008's Lottery League were automatically invited back, but the Council of Chiefs also opened the door to new members.
"We didn't really change anything this year," says Pultz. "Because of the nature of it, some people felt left out. We could only fit so many people. This time around, we allowed it to grow naturally and only allow participants from the previous year to invite new people this year."
While participants generally come out of the local indie-rock scene, there's still an element of surprise to the mixing and matching.
"I knew everybody in my band well, for the most part," says Pultz, who's playing in a band called the Newdicals. "But the idea of us being in a band together was never discussed and didn't seem probable. It opens the doors of your city. You're all going to the same shows, and you may not talk to the person who's into metal if you're into pop. So this acts as an icebreaker."
"I only knew two-thirds of the participants this year," says Delzoppo, who formed a band called the Beat Vikings with world-class sax man Christopher Burge. "And that's really cool. I don't recognize them or their bands, so there's a lot going on that I don't know about."
The fact that you never know which musicians will be paired up makes the Lottery League an adventure, even for seasoned local musicians.
"It's like being the MacGyver of music," says Sotelo. "It's like you have this paper clip and this piece of paper, and you have to open a lock. It's the same with the Lottery League. You have these people and a challenge, and you have to be up for the challenge."