by Jake Checani
The Missoula, Mont., band has accumulated a sizable following in the Northwest with their newgrass style of music.
The band’s momentum is partly because of a performance at last year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, an annual event set in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains that is stocked with bluegrass greats. There, they edged out 11 other hopefuls during a band competition for a “pinnacle” 2016 mainstage slot, Lil’ Smokies dobro player Andy Dunnigan said.
Dunnigan was born and raised in Whitefish, Mont. Fellow pickers Scott Parker (upright bass), Matt Cornette (banjo), Cameron Wilson (mandolin) and Matt Rieger (guitar) have called the Missoula area home for around a decade, Dunnigan said.
The band is no stranger to winning competitions: In 2012, a Lil’ Smokies installment, sans Dunnigan, won a band battle to open up for Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Without that attention-grabbing win, Dunnigan may never have returned to the band after an ill-fated sabbatical.
“That’s kind of what made me want to move back,” Dunnigan said. He had left the band to chase a relationship and ended up behind a California deli counter instead of strapped to his resonator on stage. “I was working at a deli slicing roast beef at the time, so I had to get the hell out of there.”
“California,” an original Lil’ Smokies tune, was one of three songs the band performed during the Telluride final. Dunnigan said the song is the “nuts and bolts” about his time away from the band.
The Telluride competition mandated the band whittle down long-winded original tunes to less than three minutes each. But Dunnigan said the band has not abandoned length and taking musical risks.
“That’s part of what sets us apart,” he said.
The Lil’ Smokies will also perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at John’s Alley Tavern in Moscow.
If You Go
What: Moscow Renaissance Fair
When: 10 a.m. to dusk Saturday and Sunday
Where: East City Park, Moscow
Of Note: A beer and wine garden will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.