Local alt-country music veterans L Shape Lot (LSL) are a tight-knit four-piece, whose roots burrow deep into Wilmington’s marshy soil. Even while facing major changes, they don’t plan on leaving any time soon.
This Friday, December 19, LSL will give a final performance with drummer John Kovalski, as he plans to leave the band, at the Booklyn Arts Center. The Kraken Christmas Concert will be part of LSL’s third annual toy drive for nonprofit Toys for Tots.
Conceived 13 years ago, LSL originated through local jam sessions at Wilmington’s now-defunt The Icehouse, where drummer Kovalski met Eric Miller. The two formed a three-piece bluegrass outfit with then-bassist Bob Trask, and Miller recorded their first known record “It Ain’t Grass… But It Is” in 2003 at Trask’s home.
Eventually, Trask left the band and was replaced by Kovalski’s neigbor, Rick Williams. When lead guitarist Alex Lanier joined the ranks in 2007, LSL focused on touring the East Coast. They made a career of playing festivals and bars, spreading their fan base.
After eight years with the existing lineup and a great deal of success, Kovalski has recently decided to throw in the towel. “It’s like leaving your family,” Kovalski says. “Eric’s dad said it best when he found out I was leaving the band: ‘It’s a time thing, isn’t it.’ He is exactly right. At 51, I need more time to do things I want to do before I am too old to do them.”
Miller expresses the expected sympathies of anyone who is familiar with “The Lot” and their loyalty over the years—not only to Wilmington and the Cape Fear region but N.C. as a whole. “How do you replace someone who has been there for so long?” he says. “Heck, John joined his first band at 9 years old. He has taught us all so much over the years, and he will be beyond missed.”
But Kovalski’s departure, as daunting as it may seem, does not insinuate the terminus of LSLs road, nor does it imply that a new roster is in the works. “I can’t say what the future may hold currently, or what a future iteration of the band may look like,” Miller says.
The band’s next step may be uncertain, but what they have achieved cannot be forgotten, and Miller certainly tends to remain on the positive side of things. “We have had some ups and downs over the years, like any band who’s done it for a decade,” Miller comments. “We have played some big stages, shared some stage with all kinds of folks from Sam Bush to Charlie Daniels to Peter Frampton. We had some music on TV shows, and played some cool music festivals, which were goals we set. And so many laughs we can’t keep up.”
They’ve released albums like “Blackwater Sessions” (2012) and “Looks Like Snow” (2009), both of which summarize the band well. Tracks like “Run Johnny Run” and “Down to Ride” off of the “Blackwater Sessions” are true barn-burners that will ignite the crowd instantly. Their fast tempos and Lanier’s tasteful guitar leads layer seamlessly with Miller’s acoustic rhythmic progressions. The band’s versatility can be heard easily on “Looks Like Snow.” The slower song‘s folky twang croons about the ensuing winter, the falling leaves of autumn and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
LSL remain humble and stick to their roots. They focus on the people and places they hold dear instead of the next available ticket to Nashville. In that sense, this band recognizes the importance of their role in the community, as exemplified by their upcoming benefit show.
“It is very important to us to be [a] positive influence, and doing our annual Toys for Tots fundraiser is one way we can do that,” Miller says. “We have received an unbelievable amount of support over the years, and it’s important to pay that forward, and help others when one has the ability to do so.”
Though they’ll undergo a dynamic shift, it won’t be LSL’s final bow. “Alex and I will continue to perform as L Shape Duo,” Miller tells. “I just can’t say what form the band will take, but LSL as a project will continue.”
Folks can see them one last time this Friday, as they play alongside opening acts Moss and Edmonson and Stray Local. The BAC will come alive with a festive spirit thanks to a Christmas tree where all the donated toys will be gathered. LSL has hinted that they may dress up in “seasonably appropriate” fashion, to liven things up a bit.
“We are really focusing on the show, with the goal of showing John all the love and respect he deserves and helping create a real magical evening,” Miller says. “[Hopefully, it will be one] that no one will soon forget. We hope to return some of the happiness he has added to our lives over the last 13 years, as well as get a massive amount of toys to give to Toys for Tots. Fingers Crossed.”
That being said, bring your Christmas cheer, hungry ears for some grooving music and, of course, a toy for a tot!
Kraken Christmas Concert
Feat. music by Moss and Edmonson, Stray Local and L Shape Lot
Friday, December 19, 7:30 p.m.
Brooklyn Arts Center
516 North 4th St.
Admission: $10 at the door