By Matthew Tracy
Most people know “Poker Face.” They know that Lady Gaga wants to “hold ’em like they do in Texas, please.” And in Falls Church, folk band The Big Cheese holds ’em like they do in Virginia.
The Big Cheese’s tagline is “‘Cripple Creek’ meets Lady Gaga.” Using old time folk tunes, they put a special twist on pop classics such as “Poker Face.”
Bandleader Larry Rice gives the lowdown on their music: “The oldest tune that we play is from the 1500s,” he says. “It’s a really old folk tune, but it’s a cool melody. It’s timeless. We take old songs, and we sort of mash them up.”
Rice’s music career began in a band with his brother when he was growing up in Falls Church. He then went on to cofound country rock band Flatbush in Cleveland and made a name for himself in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Flatbush released two 45s and an LP during its time together. One tune, “Snug as a Bug in a Rug,” became a Cleveland radio hit in 1979, yet Flatbush broke up soon after this success. Rice chose to continue with music, making a part-time gig as a music teacher in Falls Church his full-time passion.
Just eight years ago Rice formed The Big Cheese with his former mandolin student Julie Anne Greene and his daughters Lea Mae Camarda and Shannon Rice, who is on performance hiatus while serving in the Navy.
“I’d have to say it’s just as fun (as Flatbush); it’s just different,” says Larry Rice.
Fans can tell they have a fun time from the humor of recent novelty tunes like “Redneck Cappuccino,” a song about Mountain Dew, and “Harvey,” which is about what Rice calls a fierce “ninja cat.” And one thing that makes The Big Cheese different is its members’ variety of tastes.
“Shannon is a little more modern. Julie’s into traditional; she’s into bluegrass in particular as a mandolin player,” Rice says. “And it’s sort of a democratic band. Everybody picks the song they want to do.”
The band also stands out in its choice of instruments. “(Lea Mae Carda) plays the (mountain) dulcimer, and literally a crowd gathers round because most people have never seen one,” Rice says. “It’s a very traditional sound, but when you put it into some newer music, it’s kind of a cool tune.”
The Big Cheese uses ten different acoustic instruments, giving them vibrancy other local bands lack.
“All our instruments are acoustic,” Rice says. “But mixed together with more modern approaches, it’s really neat music.”
Audiences can see Larry Rice perform with Lea Mae Carda and three of his fiddle students Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Epicure Cafe in Fairfax in anticipation of the band’s “Live Culture” CD release party on March 28.