It’s The Lil Smokies and they’ve come down from the

Tempo - - CONTENTS - By T.L. Tester­man

Nine years ago mu­si­cian Andy Dun­ni­gan said that he and his newly formed band, so new they didn’t have a name yet, were sched­uled to play in a rowdy biker bar deep in the woods of the Mon­tana wilder­ness. In the green room, a space for pre-show horsd’oeu­vres and drinks for the mu­si­cians, there were Li’l Smokies brand sausages. The an­nouncer came into the room and asked them for the name of the band, Dun­ni­gan re­called that he looked over to a pile of tooth­picks and said: “We’re the Lil Smokies,” and the name stuck.”

The Lil Smokies will be tak­ing the stage Fri­day (Feb. 23) from 8-11 p.m. at the Taos Mesa Brew­ing Mother­ship, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west.

The self-de­scribed Amer­i­cana band, with heavy in­flu­ences from rock, has head­lined nu­mer­ous fes­ti­vals: the High Sierra, FreshGrass, Tel­luride Blue­grass, Grey Fox, Del Fest, Floyd Fest and String Sum­mit fes­ti­vals, to name a few. And they won the Tel­luride Band Com­pe­ti­tion in 2015 and re­ceived Band of The Year from the In­ter­na­tional Blues Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion in 2016.

They’ve kept up a gru­el­ing pace of al­most 200 shows a year in the tight quar­ters of their Sprinter van haul­ing a trailer with the band’s equip­ment, nearly a dif­fer­ent venue ev­ery night across the United States. Lead song­writer, singer and do­bro player Dun­ni­gan said, “We are all best friends and we get along… Although this is a sac­ri­fice, we love what we do.”

Dun­ni­gan’s fa­ther is also a singer­song­writer. He listened to James Tay­lor and Si­mon and Gar­funkel as a child and calls them his in­flu­ences.

He says his cur­rent band “has tran­scended the bound­aries of blue­grass” to Amer­i­cana and some­times rock and roll. He and banjo player Matt Cor­nette are the only two orig­i­nal mem­bers of the band. They met at a “wilder­ness and civ­i­liza­tion” party in Mon­tana and started as a jam­ming garage band, then be­gan busk­ing on the streets of Mis­soula.

Through the years, the band evolved mu­si­cally, gain­ing and los­ing mem­bers along the way. The cur­rent lineup in­cludes Scott Parker on bass, Jake Simp­son on fid­dle, Matt Rieger on gui­tar, Cor­nette on banjo, and Dun­ni­gan on do­bro and vo­cals. Af­ter a few years of play­ing in lo­cal and re­gional clubs, it was win­ning the Tel­luride Band com­pe­ti­tion, Dun­ni­gan said, that was “the cat­a­lyst event” that con­vinced the band mem­bers to quit their day jobs and pur­sue mu­sic full time.

Their mu­sic is not eas­ily cat­e­go­rized. It flows ef­fort­lessly through mul­ti­ple gen­res.

Dun­ni­gan said about his song­writ­ing on the road: “It is like a co­me­dian whose jokes are about air­line se­cu­rity. Be­ing on the road be­comes your nor­malcy, so that’s what you write about.”

The press re­lease about its new al­bum reads, “When peo­ple see The Lil Smokies set­ting up their acous­tic in­stru­ments, they’re of­ten un­pre­pared for the elec­tric energy they gen­er­ate. The band cap­tures that same dy­namic pres­ence on its new al­bum, ‘Changing Shades,’ de­liv­er­ing their ex­cep­tional song­writ­ing and blue­grass roots with the punch of a rock band.”

“We wanted to du­pli­cate the energy of our live shows. It’s a per­fect mix­ture of im­pro­vi­sa­tion and com­po­si­tion. The record shows how fear­less we’ve be­come in the last year,” Dun­ni­gan adds. They cut “Changing Shades” in a light­hearted, week-long session at SnowGhost Mu­sic in White­fish, Mon­tana with en­gi­neer Brett Allen (The Avett Broth­ers,

Kris Kristof­fer­son, Béla Fleck) and co-pro­ducer Rob Gor­don (Ele­phant Re­vival).

“It was a breeze,” Dun­ni­gan said. “Rob got us to fo­cus on what makes each song spe­cial. We re­fined and recorded them live, to­gether in one room, just like on stage.”

The band will be tour­ing na­tion­ally to pro­mote “Changing Shades.” In the fall they are look­ing for­ward to the Camp­fire Car­a­van tour from Sept. 26 through Nov. 18, 2018, a cross-coun­try mu­si­cal marathon with The Broth­ers Co­matose and Mipso. The three bands ro­tate in the lineup with no sin­gle en­sem­ble act­ing as the head­liner. Dun­ni­gan re­flects, “Last year, we did 175 shows and lived on the road. We eat, sleep and breathe mu­sic. We’re road war­riors: mo­bile, sonic pros­e­ly­tiz­ers with ban­jos.”

Tick­ets are $10. Doors open at 7 p.m. This is an all-ages show, bar with an ID. For more in­for­ma­tion, call the venue at (575) 758-1900 or visit taosmesabrew­ing. com.


AMERICANAGRASS artists The Lil Smokies

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