Progressive bluegrass band Lil’ Smokies play Vail Ale House
If you go ...
What: Lil Smokies.The Sweet Lilies open.
Where: Vail Ale House, West Vail.
When: 10 p.m. Saturday.
More information: Call 970-476-4314.
Describing a band’s sound, much like classifying an early relationship, often times merits two words:
Such is the case with Missoula, Mont. band The Lil Smokies.
“Our style can move pretty far away from bluegrass sometimes, even though we have an ensemble of bluegrass instruments,” said guitarist Pete Barrett. Barrett is joined by Andy Dunnigan (dobro), Scott Parker (upright bass), Matt Cornette (banjo), Cameron Wilson (mandolin) and Jesse Brown (Fiddle). The band got its start in 2009 playing house parties, followed by their first paid gig, which is where the bands name comes from (ask them about that). In the years since they’ve shared the stage with heavyweights like Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Keller Williams, Greensky Bluegrass, The Emmit-Nershi Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Infamous Stringdusters and dozens of others,
The band doesn’t always appeal to traditional bluegrass folks, Barrett sound.
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“We keep heading in a sort of rock direction, and folk rock,” Barrett said. “We were labeled a bluegrass band to begin with, but sort of out of respect for the genre, we started to say ‘progressive bluegrass.’ We have some songs that fall into that progressive bluegrass-newgrass category and some of the stuff that we’re coming up with that’s newer has almost a classic rock influence.”
The band performs at the Vail Ale House Saturday night. The Sweet Lillies, a band that combines guitar, upright bass, viola and banjo with powerful three-part female harmony, opens the show.
Barrett took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily as the band drove toward Lyons on Friday morning for a show with Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys at the Planet Bluegrass Wildflower Concert Series.
Vail Daily: You performed a show in Vail earlier this winter. Tell us about it.
Pete Barrett: We performed in Vail in January. We were on a two-week tour. That was the first time coming down through and around Colorado. (The show at Samana) was a little weird, to tell you the truth. We kind of had an open night and that was a friend of a friend doing us a favor. Samana Lounge usually has DJ’s. So it was kind of fun; we had a crowd come in that was probably expecting a DJ and they were a little surprised. I guess this place is known as an Argentinian hangout. They came in ready to party and saw us picking on stage and had puzzled looks. But we had a pretty good crowd that stayed for awhile that night, so it was pretty fun.
VD: Who or what is influencing your music these days?
PB: We really like bands these days like Dawes; those guys have such an awesome classic sound. They’re influencing our music a little bit. We started to write songs that have melody hooks in them and chorus hooks and traditional bluegrass is very melody based, but not neccesarily melody hooks. At this point, I’m not sure how I would describe our music. We’re struggling with that as we expose ourselves to more people. We don’t want to just be labeled bluegrass because we’re not — it’s more complicated than that.
VD: You all were honored by the International Bluegrass Music Awards with a nomination for the Momentum in Bluegrass Band Award in 2014. That sounds like quite an honor.
PB: It was. We didn’t win, obviously, but that nomination was truly humbling because we didn’t know we were on the radar of the IBMA. it’s sort of the Grammys of the bluegrass world. We didn’t really know our music had made it that far, which was really really cool. We were stacked up against some fine pickers. We found out about that this past October.
VD: Why did you guys decide to return to Colorado so soon?
PB: You have to strike while the iron is hot. We hadn’t been here before January and you kind of want to make an impression the first time around and then stay in people’s minds. Last night we played in Cervantes’, at The Other Side. On Thursday nights they do a thing called Grass For That Ass and usually have three or four bands. We had a great turnout and crowd when we played there in January so we wanted to remind people we were around. We’ll be coming back down for Campout For the Cause as well.