ROCK ON: Rock Lotto

Before going on stage at Rock Lotto, members of the band Turtlocalypse, Danny Luegers of Holland, left, Michael Cummings of Ferdinand and Wade Baker of Vincennes joked around singing and playing air guitar in the basement of the Astra Theatre in Jasper last Saturday.

Story by Allen Laman
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump

What do you get when you throw 12 Southern Indiana musicians’ names in a hat, randomly draw them out and assign them into three separate bands?

One heck of a show.

After just a few practices each, the three groups assembled at the newly renovated and refurbished Astra Theatre in Jasper on the evening of Saturday, July 21, for a unique concert that rocked the more than 80-year-old theater for more than two hours. Called the Rock Lotto, the light-heartedly competitive, all-ages event was a benefit concert that raked in about $4,000 for the Astra’s ongoing maintenance and programming funds in front of a more than 200-person crowd.

A guitar built and painted by brothers Eddie and Danny Luegers served as the Rock Lotto trophy. Members of the winning band autographed it.
With the draw of an ace, Danny Luegers earned the chance for his band to select which performance slot they wanted during the Rock Lotto draft at the Astra Theatre in Jasper on June 29. The band, Turtlocalypse, chose to play first.

Eddie Luegers, a member of Next Act Inc., the owners and organizers of programming at the theater, took the concept from a similar event he saw in Louisville. While the idea originated outside the area, the emphasis of the local iteration was on talent that lives and performs close to home.

Some of the performers said before the show that area musicians are loaded with talent and experience but are often overlooked because they don’t have big opportunities to showcase their talents. So, while the lotto financially supported the Astra, it also shined a much needed spotlight on the region’s loaded music scene.

“I don’t think that people around here realize that some people live here that can really play,” said Wade Baker of Vincennes, a multi-talented musician who was the bass player in one of the event’s bands. “You don’t have to drive to Indianapolis. You don’t have to drive to Louisville. You don’t have to drive to Evansville.”

You can stay right here in Dubois County. That was abundantly clear Saturday, when the participants shredded out covers of country songs, rock anthems and even a dash of country twang.

The band members lived predominantly in Dubois County, but players from Bloomington and Evansville also comprised one of the groups. Each group played for about 40 minutes the night of the event, and audience members voted for their favorite bands by placing their entry ticket stubs and cash donations in buckets stationed in the theater.

The event featured Baker, guitarist Jeff Crandall of Huntingburg, guitarist and singer Michael Cummings of Ferdinand, drummer Evan Elrod of Jasper, drummer Nathan Harman of Bloomington, guitarist and singer Danny Luegers of Holland, keyboardist and guitarist Joe Luegers of Evansville, singer Alax Luegers of Evansville, singer and guitarist Kyle Lueken of Jasper, drummer Shauna Lueken of Jasper, guitarist and singer Devin Sorrells of Haysville, bassist and singer Mark Sparrow of Ireland, bassist and singer Steven Wagler of Jasper and violinist Rafaela Schaick of Jasper.

In lieu of chimes, Shauna Lueken rang a jingle bell as her band, Johnny Nashville, comprising Rafaela Schaick of Jasper, center, and Mark Sparrow of Ireland, spent over an hour working on their rendition of “Black Water” by The Doobie Brothers at Lueken’s Jasper home on July 13. The band was able to secure chimes for the final performance.

Construction on the Astra — which included extending the stage, reopening the balcony, swapping in new seating, the addition of new restrooms and concessions area, replacing sound and lighting equipment and much more — ended in April. Total, the work cost $1.7 million and was funded solely by donations, a $400,000 historic preservation grant and in-kind work.

And though that is paid for, Next Act still needs money to flourish.

“We’ve had enough to support our acts and everything for the year, but if you want to keep building upon it, you have to have that base,” Eddie Luegers said the night of the random drawing that decided the bands. “Having some small fundraisers like this will help with that.”

None of the musicians reported any issues gelling with each other after they met and practiced. Sure, it was tricky not knowing their bandmates’ musical tastes at first and finding time to practice since many have families and day jobs, but all the participants are experienced, so jiving when the notes began wasn’t an issue.

Turtlocalypse, the band who kicked off the night, started the show with songs like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Pink Floyd’s “Time” and Beck’s “Where It’s At.” At a practice the day before, members Baker, Elrod, Cummings and Danny Luegers took a break and reflected on their playing careers as well as the impact they believed the event could have on the local music scene.

Alax Luegers of Evansville, center, joined her husband, Joe, left, and bandmates Nathan Harman of Bloomington, Jeff Crandall of Huntingburg and Steven Wagler of Jasper on stage as their band, Rick Laudo & the Astranauts, performed third during Rock Lotto. Each band was allowed one “wildcard” addition and the Astranauts chose Alax Luegers as their vocalist.

Cummings has played in area vintage rock ‘n’ roll and country band The High Road for years but didn’t personally know anyone in the Rock Lotto until he met his bandmates.

“That just shows you the depth of the pool of musicians that is around,” he said. “But there’s really not a scene for adult musicians to play.”

The beauty of the Rock Lotto, he said, is that it encouraged a scene like that to blossom.

Next on stage came Johnny Nashville, a group consisting of both Luekens, Sorrells, Sparrow and Schaick. Their set included “Black Water” by The Doobie Brothers, “Cherry Bomb” by John Mellencamp, “At Folsom Prison” by Johnny Cash, “American Girl” by Tom Petty and more.

Like the other bands, members of Johnny Nashville were intrigued by the concept of the Lotto and honored to be a part of it.

“I like this idea,” Sparrow said before a band practice. “The random drawing and sort of pitting randomly tossed together bands against each other. I’d never heard of anything like that before. That’s a cool idea.”

Rick Laudo & the Astranauts capped off the night with a set featuring “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Come Together” by the Beatles, “Crazy on You” by Heart, “Foreplay/Longtime” by Boston and more. That band consisted of Harman, Wagler, Crandall, as well as Joe and Alax Luegers.

Grant Stinson of Velpen, 11, center, cheered after the final song of the evening last Saturday. The show was held on Grant’s 11th birthday and he brought his friends J.J. Belmore, 10, left, and Awstyn Luff, 10, both of Winslow, to celebrate with him.

Once the thousands of votes were tallied, Johnny Nashville emerged as the top band of the night. The victors signed a guitar designed, cut and painted by Eddie and Danny Luegers that will act as a trophy for the event for years to come, and they took pictures with each other while basking in the new stage’s lights.

“Really, overall, I gotta say it was just a blast,” Eddie Luegers said a few days after the event. “I think we had a lot fun, the audience had a great time and the musicians did (too).”

He plans to talk with the Next Act group members and the musicians to see how they can change the event going forward. He said he believes it will be an annual event.

After the winners were announced, audience members mingled at the conclusion of a rocking night and spoke on the importance of supporting homegrown talent.

Todd and Kim Gunderson of Jasper attended the event with their 10-year-old son, Graham. They recognized some of the participants from other area performances like Will Read and Sing for Food benefit shows. Events like the lotto are especially important to their family.

“We have three budding musicians at home, so we love to let them see what the community has for them to offer,” Kim said. “It’s really amazing people in their day jobs do something else, and behind that talent that they do all day long, they have something else to give and share.”

Just before the winners were announced and the amps were powered down, Alax Luegers left the crowd with an emphatic call to support.

“I just want to take a second to say: Look at all the musical talent you have in your local community,” she said after her band’s final song, and the crowd erupted into cheers. “Thank you so much.”

Members of the band Johnny Nashville — Devin Sorrells of Haysville, from left, Schaick, Sparrow, Shauna Lueken and her husband, Kyle — high-fived as they were announced as the Rock Lotto winners.

 

Wade Baker of Vincennes jammed with Turtlocalypse in the first performance of the night during Rock Lotto at the Astra Theatre in Jasper on July 21.



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