The Five L’s Pack It In
The dressing room at Bucked Up Super Saloon in Kernersville would seem an unlikely site for the high drama in the cosmic cycle of life and death to play out.
But it’s not as though the venue is off the map.
“Lindsey Buckingham slept on this couch,” Five L’s guitar player James Hilton jokes, alluding to the rock mojo in the place, as the band assembles in the dressing room. And, indeed, the Fleetwood Mac member did play a concert here in 2012.
The Five L’s are playing their final show. It’s not so much an ending — that really transpired a year or so ago — but more an acknowledgement of something that mattered, that brought together a community, that in many ways was bigger than each of the individual members. And the enactment of this final ritual is a way of recognizing some important people who are no longer here.
Bo Richards, one of the founding members, died in a car accident in 2006. A native of Randolph County, the surviving members describe him as being like Ricky Bobby, the NASCAR-driver character played by Will Farrell in Talladega Nights, except with wicked, highly advanced bass-playing skills. His passing almost broke up the band.
Eric Turner humbly stepped into Bo’s shoes, mindful to keep the basic rhythm template set by his predecessor while recognizing that his style was different enough that he could never fully replicate him. James says Eric is probably one of only two bass players in the Triad of whom Bo would have approved as his replacement.
Eric had been playing with the Five L’s for about two years when he began dating Bo’s sister, Brean. They kept it a secret for a while because they didn’t want to arouse the objections of the other members, but there came a point when they realized they were deeply in love and basically didn’t care what anyone else thought about their relationship.
Now, Brean is nine months pregnant with Eric’s child, and the doctor says she could go into labor at any time. But she’s at the show, and everyone’s counting on the baby to wait just a little longer. After the sound-check, as members mill in the parking lot with wives and girlfriends, Eric can’t seem to stop grinning as he proudly enunciates his firstborn’s name: Jackson Lee Turner.
Jay Ovittore, the drummer, has been a little withdrawn all afternoon, and after the soundcheck he says he’s missing two people more than at any time since their actual passing. One is Bo, of course, and the other is Jay’s father, Louis Ovittore Jr., who has not even been buried for a week.
James, who served as a pallbearer at Louis’ funeral, remembers when Jay joined the band in the early 2000s, and the Five L’s suddenly had a spacious basement to hold rehearsals.
“He was almost like the head coach of a Super Bowl team,” James says. “It was like clockwork: Every time we’d finish a practice he would come downstairs and give us a pep talk. He said, ‘You all sound so good. Each of you has so much talent. I know you’re going to be successful.’ I feel like he believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.”
And they achieved success by measures that count for any band. They opened a New Year’s Eve show for Clutch at the old Ziggy’s in Winston- Salem, shared stages with Slayer, Slipknot and Three Days Grace, drew comparison with Lynyrd Skynyrd in one regional music publication, enjoyed mutual esteem with local artists like the late Tré Stylez, recorded a theme song for the Greensboro haunted attraction Woods of Terror, landed a sponsorship from Jägermeister and consistently packed concert halls with rabid fans who went nuts every time they played.
But James said he remembered having the feeling when the Five L’s opened for Rehab at the new Ziggy’s in February 2012 that it would probably be their last show. They’ve all gotten older, and many of them are raising children now. They’re no longer willing to do the kind of relentless touring that is required for a band playing original material to remain viable — the kind of touring that precludes holding down regular jobs and being at home on a consistent basis with families.
None of the members in the final lineup was there at the inception. Throughout its history, the Five L’s have been defined as much by its fans as its members. To be present for a show was to witness a communal ritual notable for its inclusion and representation of disparate strands of humanity. The only price of entry to the club was total commitment to the music and the moment.
Mike Miller, one of the earliest members and part of the double-guitar attack with James, describes the musicians as “a bunch of goofballs playing heavy music.” If they were on a bill with metal bands, they were usually the least metal; if they were on a bill with rock bands, they were usually the most metal. What set them apart is they were more interested in having fun than perpetuating gloom.
The members of the band — particularly Cheebo and Cowboy, the two lead vocalists — all make a point of showing hospitality towards the fans. And the players, including Eric when he replaced Bo, have found themselves on the receiving end of that spirit.
James recalled his first show with the band at Somewhere Else Tavern in Greensboro, which was followed by a gig in Myrtle Beach.
“I got on stage, and looked out into the audience, and it was slam-f*cking packed,” he said. “Everyone took me in as family. The fans were a huge part of what got me in the band.”
Consummating the Five L’s’ career onstage at Bucked Up Super Saloon, the two guitarists make a pulverizing, joyful and cathartic groove while Jay and Eric throw down a relentless, rhythmic scree that pings off various cues from the other players at any given moment. Cheebo and Cowboy create double insanity of screaming-singing-runningslamming, with Cowboy perhaps more energetic and Cheebo more emotional between the two.
Tim Westmoreland, the band’s original singer, joins them onstage for a couple songs, including the finale — the appropriately titled “Planting Seeds.”
At one point the mic passes into the audience and Brandon Teague, the guitar player for a band called All Fall Down, testifies.
“The Five L’s, they were the band that made me want to start a band,” he says. “If there were no Five Ls, there would be no All Fall Down.” Before the last song, all the members embrace. James tips up a Corona up and swallows the dregs before smashing the bottle below the drum riser.
When the last chords plays he lays down his guitar and flings the strap, overcome by the emotion of the moment.
Meanwhile, everyone else has cleared the stage except for Eric. He unplugs his bass and rolls up the cord.
Time to pack it in.