The Lil’ Smokies play Schmiggity’s Friday, set to return for WinterWonderGrass | SteamboatToday.com

The Lil’ Smokies play Schmiggity’s Friday, set to return for WinterWonderGrass

Julia Ben-Asher/For Steamboat Today

A progressive bluegrass quintet The Lil’ Smokies play at Schmiggity’s Friday and will return to town in February to play WinterWonderGrass Festival.





A progressive bluegrass quintet The Lil' Smokies play at Schmiggity's Friday and will return to town in February to play WinterWonderGrass Festival.
Kirsten Cohen/courtesy

— Prepare yourself for hours of chills rolling down your spine and for weeks of melodies haunting your brain; prepare your dancing muscles with some thorough stretching. Progressive bluegrass quintet The Lil' Smokies is back in Steamboat Springs for the first of two not-to-miss shows.

If you go:

What: The Lil' Smokies

When: 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28

Where: Schmiggity's, 821 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: $10

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The Lil' Smokies play at Schmiggity's Friday and will return to town in February to play WinterWonderGrass Festival. The band is known for its acoustic bluegrass/newgrass sound with methodically written, soulful lyrics and complex, warm melodies.

This past week, the group put the finishing touches on an upcoming album in its native Missoula, Montana just in time to pack up and head south for this leg of the tour.

"We're excited to get this record finished and off our minds for a little bit," banjo player Matt Cornette said. "We have lots of new material, and all we've been doing is playing it. This is the tightest you'll ever see us."

The next stop on the tour is Denver, where the band will be playing with The Infamous Stringdusters and Keller Williams' Grateful Grass. Several more Colorado shows follow before the group heads to California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington through mid-November.

When the band returns to Steamboat for the first local appearance of hit bluegrass festival WinterWonderGrass, they'll be playing alongside Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band and more.

"In the Northwest, you never really get to play many festivals in the winter; fingers would freeze off," dobro player Andy Dunnigan said. "In WinterWonderGrass, the season is kind of part of the spectacle of it. There are heaters on stage, snow's coming down, everyone's bundled up — it's a unique experience."

The band formed in Missoula in the late 2000s. They won 2013's Northwest String Summit Band Competition, 2015's Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Band Contest and this year's International Bluegrass Music Association Momentum Award for Best Band.

The Lil' Smokies has played in Steamboat twice and at previous Wonder Grass festivals in Tahoe and Vail Valley. Since the last time the group took over a Steamboat stage a year ago, a mandolinist and a fiddle player moved on, and a guitarist and a new fiddle player have joined in.

"Instead of getting a new mandolin, we embraced the space,” Cornette said. “It's given people room to grow into new rhythmic parts and new melodic parts.”

New guitarist Matt Rieger and the new fiddle player Jake Simpson were discovered by chance.

“We were waiting for the right person to come to our door, and that's what happened. We just let it happen organically," Cornette said.

Veteran Smokies Dunnigan, Cornette and upright bassist Scott Parker met both new members serendipitously at music festivals, and in Dunnigan's words, "swooped them up."

The team has been touring most of the summer and fall, finding its groove.

"The songs start to evolve when you play them live," Dunnigan said, "So it was a blessing in disguise to record now instead of a couple months ago. We're stoked."

"We've been through a lot of change," he continued. "But we kind of came out on top, and we're the best band we've ever been, so that's kind of been cool to see unfold."

If you go:

What: The Lil’ Smokies

When: 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28

Where: Schmiggity’s, 821 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: $10