Gearing up for the most wonderful time of the year, we can’t wait to get back to the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia, for none other than FloydFest! To get everyone ready for this one-of-a-kind event, we’re interviewing some of our favorite FloydFest artists on the road to FloydFest 17 ~ Freedom (July 26-30).
Andy Dunnigan of The Lil’ Smokies took some time to talk with The Poke Around for this fifth installment of our FloydFest ~ Freedom Bound Q&A Series. The Lil’ Smokies have been heralded far and wide as one of the fastest rising progressive bluegrass groups in the nation, with an impressive collection of recent awards and a new record due out this fall.
The Poke Around: So the last time we talked was at Festy in October, on your first tour through the southeast and right after The Lil’ Smokies won the IBMA Momentum Award for Best Band. Since then you’ve been on tour with Yonder Mountain String Band this spring, how was that?
Andy Dunnigan: Yeah, that was incredible. We were on the road with them for almost four and a half weeks or something, and it was an incredible experience hanging out with those guys and playing some of the cooler venues and rooms in the country, for sure, and seeing how their operation works. You know, they’ve been kind of heroes of ours for a lot of years, so it was cool to get to meet them and play with them every night. We just learned so much.
Let’s talk about the new album you’ve announced that’s coming out on vinyl this fall. What can you tell me about that?
Yeah, we finished recording it. It’s going to be out in the fall. We just got the final test pressings, and we haven’t announced what it’s going to be called yet so I can’t say too much. We’re going to have a big tour around the release in September, though. But we’re really excited; it turned out just spectacular. We recorded it up in Whitefish, Montana, where I’m from, my home town, at this studio called SnowGhost. We had a pretty amazing experience up there, so we’re just so excited to finally get it out.
Cool! Have you been working on the tracklist for a while?
It’s kind of a compilation of a lot of songs. We haven’t put out an album in a few years now, so these are songs that we’ve been playing a lot live that have kind of evolved over time, and it was time to get them down, finally. We’ve made a lot of changes, also, with the band you know, with people leaving and new members. So that’s kind of how it was pushed back a little bit. The Reverend [Matt Rieger], our guitar player, and our fiddle player, Jake [Simpson], joined…it’s been about a year and a half. So we want to do an album with those guys on it, for sure.
Aside from FloydFest and Red Wing, you guys aren’t doing much in the Southeast region this summer. Are you saving up something special for these two fests?
We’re really excited to get back to that area. We had a blast, especially at Festy. That was an incredible experience. It’s just a different feel around a lot of people being excited about the stuff we’re doing. So, yeah we’ve got those two festivals that you mentioned and then we’ll be returning there in the fall again, with the announcement we’ll be making soon with the CD release tour, which will be pretty extensive. We’ll definitely be making our way back to that area.
So this is your first FloydFest, and you guys are actually kicking off the Main Stage at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday.
Oh are we? Nice! I didn’t even know that.
And then you have a very special set on the Workshop Stage, or at least I call it very special because I’ve seen some amazing sets there in the past. It’s set up like someone’s Grandpa’s front porch with the backdrop of the Appalachian mountains. It’s a very small stage, and what’s amazing about it is that it’s as if the crowd and the musicians are transported back to a time when bluegrass and roots music was exactly that – playing with family and neighbors on a summer night.
I think I’ve seen videos of that, maybe Chris Thile. Awesome. I love doing those really intimate kind of small, not impromptu, but they almost curate a different atmosphere. Seeing a live show on the main stage is obviously incredible, but there’s something else that happens when you’re kind of more laid back and the pressure is a little bit off. It’s a more relaxed vibe and you get to play a little differently. You get to interact with the crowd, and people can request songs or ask questions, especially at a workshop, where your personality gets to come out a little more.
So I have to ask, what kind of music is inspiring you these days?
I’ve been listening to a lot of this band called Dawes, kind of a rock band fronted by the lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith. He’s a very incredible songwriter and lyricist. And then the new Bon Iver album. I’ve kind of been delving into the non-bluegrass stuff a lot, but the Stringdusters had a new album come out this year that I’ve been listening to…and so those would be kind of it. And then Jason Isbell put out an album that I listened to yesterday for the first time that was pretty incredible. I’ve been focusing on a lot of folk stuff, like Joe Pug. Singer/songwriter stuff is kind of what I gravitate more to these days as I’m focusing on writing and lyrics.
Article by Meredith Warfield
Cover photo by Marisa Muldoon