The last recording local Americana group L Shape Lot did was in July 2015. It was a single, “Beautiful Day (Bound To Run),” used in Dock Street Productions’ local film, “Finding Home” (a movie about adoption and what makes a home). While there are no new projects or full-length albums in the near future for members Eric Miller (acoustic guitar and vocals), Alex Lanier (electric/acoustic guitar and vocals), Mykel Barbee (drums), and Rick Williams (bass and vocals), L Shape Lot has plenty on their plate. This holiday season, for example, marks their fourth annual Toys for Tots fundraiser at the Brooklyn Arts Center (BAC) on Sat., Dec. 19.
What started off as a modest event—just big enough for the Wild Wing Cafe stage on Military Cutoff in its first two years—has grown to host hundreds of supporters for the music and cause. encore had a chance to discuss the evolution of the event and what’s new this year with L Shape Lot’s lead singer and guitarist—as well as disc jockey on 98.3 The Penguin—Eric Miller.
encore (e): What’s the personal connection for the band and the cause? Why Toys for Tots each year?
Eric Miller (EM): Well, we have just been so blessed to receive so much support over the years, that using it to help others seems right. Toys for Tots is a way to do just that. Plus it’s a lot of fun: getting toys collected to help children have a better Christmas. It’s something we all enjoy doing.
e: It continues to grow as well. Aside from the venue change, can you tell us how else this has evolved over the years?
EM: Every year has grown from the previous—in attendance and toys collected. Last year, we tied it in with [our previous drummer] John [Kovalski]’s farewell. We really wanted to show him a proper goodbye. The BAC is a beautiful venue, so we made that move. It was a grand time. We were able to raise about $10,000 worth of toys, [and] you could really feel the magic in the room. And with BAC executive director Rich [Leder]’s motivation, we are going for it again this year.
e: In addition to toys, do ticket proceeds go toward fundraising or is that separate?
EM: We have accepted some cash donations over the years from people who can’t make the event and wanted to contribute. Ticket sales are a separate entity, and mainly go toward the cost of production for the event. It is a tad, at least for me, intimidating to put a full production event at the BAC. There is a lot of overhead behind the scenes to make the show go on.
e: In your opinion and experience, what are some of the best or most appropriate items folks should consider bringing?
EM: Any and all, new and unwrapped toys, are so appreciated. We have a grown to have a relationship with the Toys for Tots folks. Their volunteers are phenomenal and so very kind. We meet with them recently and they mentioned that the 0-2 age groups and 10-13 age groups sometimes have a little less collected than others, so that could be a idea for some people. But, again, any and all donations make a huge difference.
There was a neat, little pink bike with matching mohawk helmet that was donated two years ago, [which] always sticks out in my mind. It was pretty rad.
e: Just out of curiosity: What was your most memorable Christmas gift as a child?
EM: I really wanted a metal detector when I was young boy. I was big into treasure hunting and was convinced I was going to find some in the front yard. I never found treasure, but i did find a few coins. Also, I am gamer, so my first Nintendo entertainment system was a big deal for me.
e: The band has gone through a lot of changes in the past year. What can folks expect of old favorites and new music?
EM: Replacing founding member [John Kovalski], our drummer who played with us for 15 years, was not something we were looking forward to, but it has worked out. Mykel Barbee is now behind the kit and is fitting in very well. We are all very happy he has joined [and] we’re pleased with what he brings to the table, musically and as a person. Working up 15 years worth of music with a new drummer is a task in itself, but it’s going well. With a new drummer brings new energy and creativity. So some classic tunes may sound a little different, just a new twist here and there. We are also bringing guest musicians to join us for the night.
e: Can you clue us in on who those guest performers are?
EM: One is my good friend, Brian Edmonson, from the Oak Grove String Band out of Charlotte, NC. He’s playing banjo with us. The other is another friend, Lindsey Tims, a fiddle player from Raleigh, but he has had some potential conflicts arise, and may or may not be there. He may be replaced by another fiddle player or a dobro player. That is yet to be determined.
e: How did Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey get on board for this year’s benefit?
EM: We met Rebekah some years ago at an event we played in Greenville, NC. I was immediately a fan. What talent she has—wow. We reconnected and have become good friends over the last year or so, spending a good amount of time at the Hourglass Studios’ Open Mic at the Goat and Compass. We wanted to share the night with some good friends, as well as good musical talent, so she was just a perfect fit.