Bluegrass band The Lil’ Smokies perform at Vail Ale House on Oct. 27 | VailDaily.com

Bluegrass band The Lil’ Smokies perform at Vail Ale House on Oct. 27

The Lil' Smokies were named the Best Band at the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass festival band competition. The group performs Thursday at Vail Ale House. Tickets are $10.

the process of becoming a touring band can be tough. It can also be a dream come true.

For the members of The Lil' Smokies, the past eight years have been a little bit of both, from starting out performing without a formal band name to now performing across the country with bluegrass greats at the genre's greatest festivals.

"It's everything I think we've all ever wanted, and we couldn't be happier to be doing it," said guitarist Matt Rieger, who joined the group in January.

The Lil' Smokies perform at the Vail Ale House tonight, possibly one of the last performances at a small venue by the up-and-coming band.

Back in the band's early days, they were performing in a small venue, and just before they got on to play, the emcee asked their name. When the young group said they didn't have a name, the emcee looked around and saw a "thoroughly devoured plate of lil' smokies — all but the tooth picks — sitting on a table," Rieger said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, The Lil' Smokies," the emcee said as he introduced them, and the name stuck.

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Whoever ate that plate of lil' smokies in 2008 might well be one of their biggest fans now.

The Lil' Smokies are now gaining serious traction in the bluegrass scene. They were given the Momentum Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association this year, and in 2015, they were named Best Band at the Telluride Bluegrass festival band competition.

They've also played with the people and bands they all used to look up to and emulate, and still do. From performing with Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers to opening for Greensky Bluegrass and The Emmit-Nershi Band, The Lil' Smokies are becoming a staple in the bluegrass scene.

"It's inspiring and encouraging to get to perform before these people that have put in so much work and then to have them welcome us has been one of the more encouraging aspects of my entire life, Sam Bush in particular," Rieger said. "I think that's actually one of the cooler parts of this whole deal is how supportive all of the people who have paved the way for us have been."

At Thursday's show, The Lil' Smokies will play some of their classics, as well as new music from their album set to drop in January.

"This will be one of the last opportunities to see these guys in a small venue because they're getting huge," said Sam Gupta, of the Ale House. "They put on a great show, and they're just a lot of fun."

Rieger said he hopes to be performing in larger venues in the future, as that would be a result of the band's success. However, he enjoys the small-stage performances.

"We love every show we play," he said. "We've got some new material for you, and it's going to be a rowdy party."

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

If you go …

What: The Lil’ Smokies.

When: 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27.

Where: Vail Ale House, 2161 North Frontage Road W., Vail.

Cost: $10.

More information: Call 970-476-4314.