It is an image that is seared into my memory: our friend Jim with his limbs akimbo like a puppet yanked skyward, his booted heels touching his butt, shrieking with glee when he won Disco Lottery one night at the Pavilion on Fire Island. It was a retro dance night, and Jim’s winning selection was “Evergreen” (the “only” song he could think of). His prize: Gloating Rights. His delight: Priceless.
What the heck is Disco Lottery? Giving credit where credit is due, our friend Mark Carr gets props for introducing us to this “parlor” game. Before a night out on the dancefloor, each person selects two songs: one they “hope” the DJ will play and the other one they “think” the DJ will play. Sometimes there is a bonus selection, like “last song” or “best remix.” Any association with the DJ excludes a player from participating. Longtime Sundance DJ Mark Thomas would growl dismissively as part of his greeting, “y’all playing that silly game of yours again this year?” and then he’d chuckle.
For years and years, we each showed up at Sundance with two song titles on a scrap of paper. Often, they’d be tucked into a back pocket, and at some point, a soggy pack of notes would be extracted to examine in better light. More recently, texts start flying over the course of the weekend, and they are more likely to be assembled into a note on someone’s device. We’ve recruited many of the Production Team Captains into the game over the years, and sometimes, as soon as a player enters the convention center, they seek out lottery leadership to file their selections. When you see me jotting a note on the dancefloor, that is usually what is going on. If you are not at the dance from beginning to end, you might miss your selection. This is a self-monitoring game. We use the submissions mostly as evidence that a song was selected in advance as we’ve had some dodgy players over the years.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am an audio ignoramus. This makes play very hard for me. I don’t recognize songs well, and even if I know the song, on the dancefloor, the lyrics and the music mesh fairly tightly, and it is possible for me to mishear anything. Lyrics are a fluid blend of possibilities, even if I know the song. Even so, I am amazed at what I do recognize, even after the fact. The year we were surprised by a dance version of “Kumbaya,” it was nearly over by the time I figured out what was playing. So while I am an enthusiastic player, it isn’t a sport that comes naturally to me.
Anyone can be a winner. And multiple people can be winners. The more the merrier.
And what do you get if you are a winner? Gloating Rights. Yes, only Gloating Rights. For some of us, that is a big deal. As a matter of fact, our gloating abilities vary so much that we’ve designated three levels for Gloaters: beginners are Gloaticians, moderately advanced are Gloatologists, and the most advanced gets a Ph.G.—the Doctor of Gloatology. You get to point your fingers at yourself, gather congratulations, sing as loud as possible, dance with great élan, and, if you are like our friend Jim, leap with delight. He earned his Ph.G. that one night. Really, who doesn’t like to leap with delight?
For years, we’ve been pondering how to invite the larger community to play along with us. And since this Sundance starts off in a retro mode—so many people lobbied to bring back a little of the magic of the retro dance night of Love—why not study up a bit and join us in our game? Or if contemporary sounds are more your thing, that will work too. What do you HOPE to hear? Where do you THINK the DJ might go?
Both Robbie Leslie and Joe Gauthreaux have lots of sets available to listen to online through their own websites, radio stations, even YouTube. Take some time and study up. Plot your wishlist.
Study Up Now. You Too Can Be a Winner!
Pick your songs, and join our game. Since the dance is sort of a two-for-one night, pick FOUR songs if you’d like. Send your email selection (maximum: two HOPES, two THINKS) no later than 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 2, to this special Disco Lottery email address.
You must be present to win. You have to declare yourself a winner. We don’t keep track, but feel free to sidle over on the dancefloor and let us gloat along with you. We’ll all shout: “You’re a weiner, you’re a weiner!”
We thought it would be fun to assemble the submissions for a follow up in a future Letters. Sorry to say, but “In the Name of Love” cannot be anyone’s selection this year, but if it plays, we all will be winners. ▼