Missoula's Lil Smokies caravan to Ivywild with Brothers Comatose, Mipso

By Michelle Karas Updated: October 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm • Published: October 11, 2017 0
photo - The Lil Smokies, an Americana band originally from Montana, are playing Ivywild School on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, as part of the Campfire Caravan tour. The Brothers Comatose and Mipso are also performing.
The Lil Smokies, an Americana band originally from Montana, are playing Ivywild School on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, as part of the Campfire Caravan tour. The Brothers Comatose and Mipso are also performing.

It'll be Friday the 13th when The Lil Smokies take the stage at Ivywild School. Good thing they're not superstitious.

They're not spooked at all and look forward to performing for the first time in Colorado Springs, said Andy Dunnigan, who plays Dobro guitar and sings in the bluegrass/folk/rock band that originated in Missoula, Mont.

"We're not a typical bluegrass unit, though we get classified as bluegrass a lot. It's almost like a rock band playing with bluegrass instruments," he said.

The Lil Smokies are coming to town as part of the Campfire Caravan - a touring show meant to evoke the tradition of playing music informally around a fire or at a party. Also on the tour are San Francisco bluegrass band The Brothers Comatose and Mipso, a traditional string band from Chapel Hill, N.C. None of the three is the designated headliner. The bands rotate in the lineup.

Named after the Hillshire Farms meat treats that were a green room appetizer when they started playing, The Lil Smokies spent 200-plus days on the road last year, playing more than 175 shows.

"We're gone so much, calling anyplace home is kind of a weird thing," Dunnigan said. "But it's paying off. In the last year, we've really been spreading the music around to a lot of different markets. Getting on the road, honing our craft. We're as tight as we have ever been. It's really exciting."

The band has earned wins at the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association with the Momentum Award for Best Band and at the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Their latest album, "Changing Shades," dropped Sept. 15. Those at Friday's concert can expect to hear songs from it, including "Ms. Marie" - Dunnigan's favorite to play live. He wrote most of the album's songs.

"We're definitely a live band. We kind of put it all out on the line. Being on stage is our favorite place in the world. Come to our show; you'll see us in our element," he said.

As with any band, their ranks have changed over the years.

"The current amalgamation is a year and a half old. I think it's a great group," Dunnigan said. "We got Jake (Simpson) on fiddle and 'Rev' (Matthew Rieger) on guitar and lost a mandolin player. And now, I don't think anyone's going anywhere for a long time. It's hard to recover" from turnover.

Like Dunnigan, bass player Scott Parker and banjo player Matt Cornette have stuck with the band.

"Thank God we all get along. These guys are truly my best friends in the world," Dunnigan said.

To stay sharp on the road, they like to stop in at the local YMCA and play some basketball, "go run around, and have a steam room," he said. "It keeps everyone mentally fresh."

What music inspires him? "Dawes. I'm obsessed with them. Their new album is really good. Also the new Josh Ritter. I keep taps on (the Infamous) Stringdusters, the Punch Brothers. I try to listen to a lot of stuff. Also, My Morning Jacket and Blake Mills."

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