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The Lil Smokies Create Punchy, Soulful Bluegrass

Bill Reynolds

Watching The Lil Smokies set up their acoustic instruments before a show, you'd expect some gentle front-porch picking to follow. In fact, a Smokies extravaganza carries the punch of arena rock filtered through bluegrass. The five-member group from Missoula captured their live-wire onstage act in the recording studio with the recent album Tornillo, melding soulful songwriting and well-honed bluegrass chops into a uniquely sweet, cohesive sound.

The group's genesis came in 2009 with pick-up busking around Missoula.  Their 2020 lineup is Scott Parker, bass; Jake Simpson, fiddle; Matt Rieger, guitar; Matt Cornette, banjo and Andy Dunnigan, dobro. The band won the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass Band competition and the 2016 IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award. They’ve also wowed fans at High Sierra, Telluride Bluegrass, DelFest & FloydFests.

(Broadcast: Musician's Spotlight,  2/25/20 and 6/30/20. Listen on the radio Tuesdays, 7 p.m., or via podcast.)

John Floridis, the host and producer of Musician's Spotlight, has been with Montana Public Radio since 1997. He has interviewed over 200 musicians during that time. He is also an independent recording and performing artist in his own right and a former registered music therapist.
Beth Anne Austein has been spinning tunes on the air (The Folk Show, Dancing With Tradition, Freeforms), as well as recording, editing and mixing audio for Montana Public Radio and Montana PBS, since the Clinton Administration. She’s jockeyed faders or "fixed it in post” for The Plant Detective; Listeners Bookstall; Fieldnotes; Musicians Spotlight; The Write Question; Storycorps; Selected Shorts; Bill Raoul’s music series; orchestral and chamber concerts; lecture series; news interviews; and outside producers’ programs about topics ranging from philosophy to ticks.
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