The Lil Smokies release 3rd studio album, coming to Beaver Creek in February
Bluegrass band comes long way since inception in 2009
Whether you’ve seen them at WinterWonderGrass, Bonfire Block Party or at Agave, The Lil Smokies are a bluegrass band out of Missoula, Montana, that boasts a large following in Colorado, including the Vail Valley.
Formed in 2009, the current lineup of Scott Parker on bass, Jake Simpson on fiddle, Matt “Rev” Rieger on guitar, Matt Cornette on banjo and Andy Dunnigan on dobro have been together close to four years. “Tornillo” dropped today, Jan. 24, and is the band’s third studio album as The Lil Smokies get into a five-month tour across the country, including a stop at the Vilar Performing Arts Center at Beaver Creek on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
“I always love our time in Vail,” Rieger said ahead of the performance, mentioning previous shows at Agave in Avon as well as the Bonfire Block Party in Eagle and WinterWonderGrass, formally in Avon.
Recorded over the course of two weeks at the Sonic Ranch in a small Texas town, the namesake for the album, “Tornillo” is produced by Bill Reynolds, a “vibe doctor,” Rieger said.
“He comes into whatever environment he’s in, reads the situation and finds the ways that he can contribute the best and build up the tem,” Rieger said, adding Reynolds has worked with other bands such as the Avett Brothers and Band of Horses.
At Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, the band was looking for “uninhibited creativity,” which Rieger says The Lil Smokies found. While the small town of Tornillo is also known nationally for stories about its migrant tent cities, that had nothing to do with the album name.
“The reason it’s named ‘Tornillo’ is quite simply because we were so blessed by our experience in Tornillo, Texas,” Rieger said. “What I experienced in Tornillo was love and acceptance. The impact of that town and the people at the ranch will be with us for the rest of our lives.”
The band has come a long way since its inception in 2009, when the original members took to a stage in Missoula without an official name. The green room snacks that night were lil smokies, and with an empty plate of toothpicks and barbecue sauce sitting on the edge of the stage, the emcee introduced the band with, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Lil Smokies.”
“That’s the story I’ve heard,” said Rieger, who celebrated four years with the band on New Year’s Eve. His first performance with The Lil Smokies was a sold-out show at The Wilma in Missoula on New Year’s Eve four years ago, performing “Wilma” by Derek and the Dominoes, “something special.”
The band is frequently on tour more than 250 days out of the year. To start 2020, The Lil Smokies will tour the West Coast, Canada, Colorado and Utah before heading to the East Coast. In addition to the Vilar Center, The Lil Smokies will hit the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; Belly Up in Aspen; The Independent in San Francisco and many other venues.
“Thank you to everyone in Vail and the surrounding area for so much support for so many years,” Rieger said. “We were able to make this record because of ya’ll, and we are really appreciative of it.”
The Lil Smokies take to the 535-seat Vilar Center at Beaver Creek on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $22. Visit http://www.vilarpac.org for tickets. To hear “Tornillo,” visit The Lil Smokies website at http://www.thelilsmokies.com.
Life on the road
With the band on the road most of the year, Rieger has taken a unique approach to life on the road the past couple of years, although he admittedly says it is most likely to change in the next year or two.
Rieger has refrained from putting down a permanent residence and opts for the Airbnb life.
“I was looking at that number (256 days on the road),” he said about his first months with The Lil Smokies. “I’m no accounting whiz, but it was clear that I could probably pull off not having a house.”
At Sonic Ranch, the band was provided housing for the two weeks of recording.
“Airbnb has really given me an incredible opportunity,” he said, adding jokingly he has no side deal with the vacation rental company. “It’s been good to me, and nothing crazy has happened.”
Admittedly, Rieger says it’s almost time to put down roots somewhere.
“The Oregon coast really speaks to me,” he said. “I feel a peace and comfort there that I don’t feel anywhere else. I can’t say why, but that’s a compelling enough reason to consider living somewhere.”