Free concerts return Friday to Steamboat with The Lil’ Smokies |

Free concerts return Friday to Steamboat with The Lil’ Smokies

The Lil’ Smokies will perform Friday in Steamboat Springs. (Courtesy photo)

Everyone’s favorite summer entertainment is back, just in time to close out the summer with two free concerts at Howelsen Hill. Friday’s concert features The Lil’ Smokies, with special guest Jon Stickley Trio and local favorites Buffalo Commons. Explore Steamboat caught up with Lil’ Smokies lead singer Andy Dunnigan ahead of the show.

Explore Steamboat: Take us back a little bit. … How did you guys get started?

Andy Dunnigan: We met in Missoula, Montana. I went to the University of Montana, and I met some of the guys one night at a party. We stayed up all night playing music. But it was in 2009 that we officially formed as a band, so it’s been over a decade now.

ES: I know you tour all over the country now. Have different places or experiences shaped your sound?

If you go

What: Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Howelsen Hill

How much: Free

While the overall concert experience will be similar to what guests remember from summers past, concert board president Ted Carey said a few changes have been made to make the venue safer. Carey shares a few differences and tips here:

• The venue has been slightly redone to maximize as much space as possible. Bathrooms and food vendors will be relocated to the top of the hill toward the west end of the venue. One bar will serve canned beverages, including beer, seltzer, cocktails and water.

• Guests are asked not to congregate around the bar or food vendors and to keep lines moving.

• Anyone who has had exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19 are required to stay home.

• Guests are encouraged to wear masks when they are in any lines — at the front gate, bathrooms or food and beverage vendors.

• Anyone who wants to wear a mask for the entirety of the concert should feel comfortable to do so.

AD: The mountains and spaciousness and serenity of Montana was definitely the biggest influence for us at the beginning, but as we traveled it became more about the adventure and spontaneity. Touring always appealed to us, and as we did more and more of it, we got a little bit more free and unshackled. … We started to open up more to improvisation then.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

ES: How would you describe your collective style?

AD: Just calling it bluegrass is too simple; we have shards of bluegrass in there, but there is also a lot of pop and folk — it’s melody and lyric driven music while we play bluegrass instruments. It’s a hybrid. I always encourage people to come out and sort of gauge that for themselves — everyone has a different idea of what we sound like.

ES: Tell me a little bit about the new album that you released last year.

AD: We went to Sonic Ranch Studio, which is a pretty prestigious recording studio in the middle of nowhere, in a little town called Tornillo, outside of El Paso, Texas. It’s in the middle of the desert sitting on a couple hundred acres of a pecan orchard. We stayed there for two weeks and lived on the property and were able to get fully immersed in the recording process. There weren’t a lot of distractions out there, and that was our intent when we chose that place. We had an amazing time.

ES: When you’re writing songs, how do you find inspiration and then translate that into music?

AD: As songwriters, and writers in general, you sort of go through your day keeping your heart open a bit. Trying to find inspiration isn’t that hard if you’re open. It can strike at any moment — there’s a lot of songs that just come out of mundane experiences.

ES: You guys are on the road a lot, and I’m sure you had to take a break from that during COVID-19. Are you looking forward to getting back to your normal touring schedule?

AD: When the pandemic hit, we were a little bit burnt out from being on the road constantly for a good chunk of a decade. We all got to unpack our luggage and cook and be with our loved ones. It was really kind of a special time. But yeah, we didn’t know when the gigs would come back. The past few months of getting to play again feels really special, and we’re all really grateful and ready to have our lives back but with a balance. We all got to meditate on what is a more palpable form of touring, and we can find a compromise.

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