Jason McMackin

Jason McMackin, bassist for Total Combined Weight, has organized Missoula’s Rock Lotto for the past four years.

TOMMY MARTINO, Missoulian

Who's going to say, "does anybody remember laughter" first?

That's the big question for "Missoula Rock Lotto IV: ZOSO," a concert on Saturday in which bands assembled at random from a pool of local musicians will play originals, plus a few covers of Led Zeppelin, whose singer Robert Plant uttered that immortal, hilarious phrase at a concert in 1976.

Jason McMackin, a bassist for local band Total Combined Weight and David Bowie tribute project Glass Spiders, started the Rock Lotto four years ago as a way to break up the winter doldrums, importing the idea from other music-heavy cities.

The benefits will go to MusiCare Montana, a nonprofit that brings live music into assisted living facilities.

Anyone can sign up for a specific instrument, and McMackin sorts them into groups.

Each year, he's selected a loose theme and assigned each band some corresponding covers. Last year, the bands all got covers from female artists or female-fronted bands.

For the fourth lotto, he considered famous fourth albums, like "Toto IV," Bowie's "Hunky Dory," Iron Maiden's "Piece of Mind," the Who's "Tommy" and Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness of the Edge of Town."

"I didn't think that would be a draw for performers or an audience, whereas we're all familiar with (Led Zeppelin IV), like it or not," he wrote in an email.

Ironically, McMackin doesn't count himself as a fan.

"I loathe Led Zeppelin, specifically Robert Plant," he wrote. However, he does consider John Paul Jones among the greatest rock 'n' roll bassists, and thinks it pushes musicians to learn some music that's outside of their wheelhouse.

"The Lotto should be a challenge for the performers and while there are easier and simpler (Led Zeppelin) tunes, some are going to be really difficult to re-create live and hopefully that level of difficultly will bring about some creative/awesome solutions from the bands," he wrote.

***

Perhaps no other band was given a more difficult cover than Lit Zipline, which has to play "Stairway to Heaven."

While the epic track is the band's biggest hit, its also loathed by some fans of the group. For some, its its been so overplayed, and to others it doesn't necessarily even sound like a Zeppelin song. Plant himself disliked the song so much he would only rehearse it as a reggae tune.

"Originally, I dreaded tackling 'Stairway,' " Shane Rooney, a live-wire ball of energy who performs old-school hip-hop, wrote in an email.

"Everyone has heard it a million times, so right away I begged my new band-mates if they would want to do it differently," he said.

He said his band-mates Tricia Opstad (vocals), Nick Hawksley (guitar), Matt Weitz (drums) and Leonie Holmquist (bass), weren't initially as "repulsed" as he was, and so they rehearsed it in a straight-forward fashion before getting comfortable and making it their own. (They prefer to keep that exact style a surprise). And Rooney himself came around to the song after his initial distaste.

"The funny thing with Led Zeppelin, because you see someone wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt every day of your life, you can overlook them, but that guitar at the end of 'Stairway,' it's life. it's rock 'n' roll. As it turns out, the way we shaped our version of 'Stairway' is a true story of friendship and what Rock Lotto is all about. It's not all that different from Zeppelin's, but we captured a way to make it a mirror of our hearts," he wrote.

David Jones, a longtime Missoula singer/guitarist from the Hermans and Rooster Sauce, signed up again, but is sticking with vocals.

He said the fun of the night is getting to know new people from around town and also playing with musicians he's seen for years.

"I know I lucked out with the band I got," he said.

Sharing vocal duties is Kia Liszak. On guitars are Dylan Ritter and Kevin Sherwood, bass is Chad Loney and the drummer is Joey Running Crane. Ritter, for one, was a new face and a killer guitarist, Jones said.

"There's those little gems," he said. "New musicians you didn't know were here. Someone should snap them up for a band."

***

Each year, the proceeds go to a different nonprofit. Last year's went to the Zootown Arts Community Center's Boys and Girls Rock music camps.

This year, the benefits, with a target of $5,000, will go to MusiCare Montana, a nonprofit that provides live musical performances in assisted living facilities at no cost, while also paying the musicians.

"Providing quality entertainment to people in assisted living facilities and properly paying those who provide that entertainment is what we call a no-brainer at Lotto HQ," McMackin wrote.

Tara Emery and Chris Henry, both of whom have promoted music around town in various capacities for years, founded the nonprofit in 2014.

Last year, they had more than 100 hourlong performances, covering most of the major assisted living facilities in the Missoula area. This year, they're projected to have more 220, Emery said.

They rotate the performers around, and usually have 20 musicians on their list, a figure that's increasing. The styles vary from bluegrass to folk, jazz, classical, and the music includes old-time songs and patriotic tunes for the many elderly veterans.

The nonprofit is making connections in other Montana cities, with hopes to do satellite performances and eventually expand.

"The model itself is so scalable," she said. "You tap into the musicians in town and figure out the homes."

She said the proceeds from Saturday's concert will directly toward paying more musicians for more gigs and not toward operating costs.

The musicians, too, benefit from the experiences, as well as the listeners.

"The performers seem to get as much out of it as the residents of the facilities," she said.

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