Posted January 21, 2013 by Sam in Art

In a Lottery League of Their Own

Cleveland Lottery League
Cleveland Lottery League

Lottery League is a large-scale recurring experiment that brings together diverse Cleveland musicians and forces them to form new bands on the spot with people they definitely have never played with and may never have even met before. Each new group gets two months to come together, develop their band’s identity and, of course, practice for the Big Show on April 13 (which is free and open to the public). “At the end of this you are booked for a gig,” the players are told during an orientation night in Collinwood, an East side neighborhood. “You aren’t getting paid, but you have a show and you are expected to perform.”

It’s a lot of fun and spawns some great creativity, but making sure the nearly 200 participants in this year’s event are in fact randomly matched to create 42 brand new bands requires an extensive questionnaire and an intricate draft organized and executed by a Council of Chiefs. We recently met up with the trio —Jae Kristoff, Michael Pultz and Ed Sotelo — behind Cleveland’s growing music festival for and by musicians.

So, whose idea was this?

Jae: Originally I was doing some experimental projects with friends and there was more and more interest from other people. I remember at the time people like [musician] Tony Erba saying, “Hey, next time you do one of those things I want to be a part of it.”

Michael: The experimental thing he’s talking about is The Land of Buried Treasure. It was this rotating core of members that invited all these musicians and one of the things he had done was that he had something crazy like 80 people  . . .

Jae: . . . we had a different person come in every hour for 72 straight hours and recorded music . . .

Michael: . . . and they were up for 72 straight hours.

Jae: At the end of the project we spliced it down and came out with a CD. We had all this interest in it and it really got us thinking about what we were going to do next. We came up with a lot of bad ideas, but we knew we wanted to do something big. Then one Saturday morning my friend Nate was over and I glanced on Myspace which everyone was using then. Ed Sotelo had posted a long rant on there about the lousy music he had seen the night before and about how he thought all city’s bands should break up and be part of sports-like draft. I was like, “Holy shit.” Then, Nate and I started talking about it. Eventually I ended up calling Ed and said, “Remember that thing you posted earlier? We can totally do that.”

Ed: I don’t remember, but I am pretty sure I said, “Whatever, dude.” But it was definitely a fun idea even then when he laid it out. Jae was assuring me, “It’s going to happen.”

Where do you go from there?

Jae: As we worked it out we thought that we could reach out to our friends and we’d be pulling in like 20 or 30 people. But, if we reached out to Ed and we found other people who were like-minded and would be into it we could find a bigger community and make it a larger thing. We ended up meeting and eventually Michael, who is one of my close friends — I have always called him on his radio show and talked shit and we had traveled together to see shows — met up with us in a coffee shop. We had a few people drop off until eventually we had the core group that started going with it. Still, when we got together for the first draft night in 2008, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know who was going to show up even, but everybody showed up. It was at the Asterisk Gallery in Tremont and the place was just packed.

Michael: It was simulcast at nearby Edison’s Pub.

Ed: Yeah, we ran a cable.

Michael: At that point, we only wanted musicians at the draft. We were afraid that if their friends were there they’d be distracted from the process and wouldn’t be mingling together. But, pretty much everything that got us to that point—everything that is the Lottery League now—we created to get to that night. We met almost every week for five months writing out what this was going to be, coming up with the method, bouncing ideas off one another and . . .

Ed: . . . . trying to come up with a  system. Once we had the system down and we had a core group of people interested, we actually had a mock draft to test it out. It was so much goddamn fun. We were jumping up and down. We did it as if it was real. Everyone’s got a number and we were pulling them imagining, “That guy with that girl and that dude? That’s going to be amazing.”

Michael: Yeah, we were all getting our names pulled at that time too. This is the first year [the council of chiefs] is not performing.

Is it still as fun now—being in charge of something that’s in its third year and is rapidly expanding—as it was when you initially had that cool idea?

Michael: Ed has like six jobs, I have my work and my sports radio show and Jae is general manager of WCSB and a full-time student trying to get a CPA degree from Cleveland State University and there is just not enough room with all the Lottery League stuff we’re doing it on top of it. We all have had a great time in our Lottery League bands though.

Ed: It’s a lot of herding cats.

Jae: Right now we’re doing lots of orientation nights and we’re up against it, but we’re still all really excited for draft night.

What are some of the best Lottery League collaborations you’ve seen?

Ed: Well, there was a band that had a filmmaker in it so the band members were all cast in a short film. They wrote their music to perform along with the movie.

Michael: That was Matthew T. and the band was called Homeless Sexual.  They turned out all the lights and it was just the film sprawled out across the entire Beachland.

Ed: It was all really well sequenced.

Jae: There are some bands that can do creative projections and artwork during their performances.

Ed: Yeah, even without a filmmaker in the band they can conceivably reach out to their friends and do whatever . . . it’s very open. Oh, and one of the other bands that stands out to me is Isle of Eyelids which lost their drummer before performing because he had to move to Chicago so they replaced him with drum machines and sequencers. They played guitar, bass and saxophone but each of them had synthesizers. They did this thing that was very Kraftwerk but with layers and layers of sound and catchy tunes. They wore Tyvek suits and they had these films projected and it was dancy and fun. Other bands have even done things that were mini-musicals. For example, with [Michael’s band] the Newdicals there were puppets involved. Being in the crowd I was like, “Holy shit. That’s a dragon.” Is that what it was?

Michael: It was a 15-foot sea monster.

Ed: So, it was a sea monster and we were all in awe, wondering what was going on. It came off like a warped grade school play.

Jae: What you’ll see at the big show is a program filled with all these pages of back stories behind the bands . . . it’s all made up bullshit.

Ed: You’re encouraged to do that.

Michael: You’re not just creating your band, you’re creating its identity.

Jae: Everybody knows that these bands are made up of people that didn’t know each other before and have been together for two months. So, very every band, you’re just not expecting what you’re about to see. There were 33 bands last time, but no one left till the very end. Bands are different from each other, they’re creative and I don’t think anyone would say any of them are bad.

Run us through the numbers.

Michael: We had 33 bands in 2008. We had another 33 bands formed in 2010. And we’re doing 42 bands this year.  So, that’s what? Maybe about 150 people participating each year on average.

Jae: The first year we definitely weren’t expecting all the bands to succeed. When the bands were being drafted we thought there was no way. We were as surprised as anyone when they all came through.

Michael: When we got to the bowling [slot selection] night and every band was there we were shocked. As we planned this, we really tried to think ahead to our obstacles and how we’d circumvent them. We were mostly worried about everyone having a rehearsal space and everyone having access to a drummer. We figured those were their first chances to succeed. But we still thought if we formed 33 new bands we’d have maybe 20 or 22 make it all the way through to the big show. We get to the big night to see that, holy shit . . . they all made it. And now it’s a point for us. From the beginning we say, “Every band that’s formed makes it all the way through.” Orientation nights are really to ensure that everyone understands what they are signing up for.

Jae: We want people who understand the project, are willing to put themselves out there and are really creative.

Ed: You can’t be risk adverse, that’s for damn sure. I think people actually like that.

How do you convince anyone to do this—to rehearse and be in a band—when they’re not going to get paid for the big gig?

Michael:They all just fall in love with the idea. It’s kind of crazy. People are really receptive. It’s the idea that works.

Ed: Here’s a chance to completely take a risk and have fun. Some cats are really hungry for something like that. I can go play my own stuff for three hours or I can play someone else’s stuff for three hours. But you know what would be great? If I could just say “fuck it” and hang out with people I’ve never met for a while and do something completely different musically. I believe that every musician, regardless of genre, deep down inside would like to be challenged and wants to create.

What’s your goal for Lottery League? What makes you want to do this over and over again?

Jae: We wanted to be sure this all had structure around how this is done because we have contacts in other cities who want to do this too. You know, we’ve seen other cities saying they’re doing this. We’d look into it and it’s always something altogether different. It might be something a bar trying to make some money set up for a single night or it’d take the form of some sort of competition. For us, that’s not what it is about. We want to have a model for others to replicate, but I can’t even say this could be easily done in other towns.

Michael: When we started, people told us it could never be done here, in fact.

Jae: There are a lot of things available here. There’s space. There’s support. There are musicians.

Ed: And bands aren’t sprawled out all over the place like they are in LA or New York.

Michael: And in those places people are competing with one another. They moved there specifically to be in a band. I think Cleveland’s always been this interesting incubator. We’ve always been ahead of the musical scenes almost to a fault. In fact, if you think about it, most bands that are written about from this area didn’t fit into a particular genre at the time. Devo created a genre. Pere Ubu created a genre. There wasn’t a label for what they did. There are great college radio stations and clubs like the Agora, The Grog Shop, the Beachland Ballroom, Happy Dog and Now That’s Class here. Coming from outside of Cleveland I couldn’t believe what there was here.  But there was no musical festival specifically for Cleveland bands. Lottery League brings us all together.

Ed: And, you know, if we get a lot of moderately stoked younger people involved this thing could be around till 2050 and we won’t be running it. If this became a long-running really Cleveland thing, that’d be pretty great.

Key 2013 Dates

Fri., Feb. 1

Sat., April 13

Draft Night, Beachland Ballroom and Tavern

The Big Show, Cleveland Agora



Sam is live-music -loving vegetarian communications professional with an entertainment, travel and tourism background. A restless soul, Sam believes in getting out there and doing things because you only go around once but knows she could benefit from a little more sleep. Give her a reason to see a movie, catch a concert or explore a new destination at [email protected].