As the birds sing in Missoula, MT, so does the bluegrass quintet that pays homage to the past and inspires what’s next for the genre.
In 2009, The Lil Smokies’ journey began by putting a bluegrass twist on rock songs from the 80s and 90s around Missoula. After becoming a popular local name, they took their talents on the road, eventually winning the Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition in 2015.
Despite making exciting progress, some members couldn’t soldier on as they were burnt out from gas stations and hotels. Amongst this uncertainty about the future, the band fortunately found a few gifted musicians who wanted to step in. The remaining members of the original group are Matt Cornette (banjo), Andy Dunnigan (vocals, dobro), and Scott Parker (bass), and have since welcomed Matt “Rev” Rieger (guitar, vocals) and Jake Simpson (fiddle, vocals). Fellow banjo shredder Kyle Tuttle appears to step in with them from time to time as well.
The band’s 2020 album Tornillo, named after the small Texas town it was recorded in, captures the spaciousness of the area. The group made it a point to disconnect from the hubbub and immerse themselves in their creative ambitions. The album is poetic, authentic, and riddled with highly technical instrumentation.
The revamped group has since released two albums (Tornillo and Changing Shades), performed at iconic venues like Red Rocks, and are next headed to share their sound in the Potomac River Valley at Delfest in Cumberland, Maryland, this Memorial Day weekend.
The band will be one of many incredible acts to grace the several stage festival, joining the likes of Tyler Childers, The Travelin’ McCourys, Bela Fleck, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, and many others. The music will echo through the trees and over the hills all night long, and all the usual festival delights will be in full swing. The band will be playing late night at 2:00 AM tomorrow night on the Music Hall stage, and again on the Potomac Stage at 5:00 PM Friday. You can find the full schedule here.
With roots as a cover band, my favorite of The Lil Smokies releases is a bluegrass performance of the legendary “Rocket Man” by Elton John. I didn’t know I needed it, but I did.