All over the country this fall, bluegrass fans have been buzzing about The Campfire Caravan. This is a one-of-a-kind tour with Mipso, The Lil Smokies and The Brothers Comatose all on the road together, bringing an acoustic circus that sees the bands revolving time slots each night, and often all coming together for what have been epic encore performances.
The Caravan swings through the South for one final weekend, hitting Terminal West in Atlanta tonight, The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh on Friday, and the tour wraps up Saturday in Asheville, at The Orange Peel. Tickets for all three shows can be found here.
We had the chance to speak with “The Rev,” Matt Reiger, guitarist for The Lil Smokies, about the tour so far and their new record, Changing Shades.
The Campfire Caravan tour has been in full swing for a while now. How has it been, with three bands from different regions, with different playing styles, all meshing together?
Someone described it as “the same same range, different peaks.” So it’s similar enough where it doesn’t feel strange and forced, but at the same time each band offers something totally different and it’s a special treat to get to play with them every night.
Keeping up with the tour, I’ve been loving videos of the encore jams at the end of the night, with all three bands on stage. How much fun, and how difficult has it been to work out some of those tunes?
They’re fun! Well generally, someone gets a spark and they say ‘Alright everyone, let’s do this tune.’ And sometimes, it just ends there and the entire group says no. Sometimes the ideas make it through, and we’ve been having a lot of fun working out arrangements. Sometimes they’re a little sloppy, but we get through them and we have a lot of fun, and I think the whole point of that jam is to get everyone together and let everyone see the giant family, and see us having fun together. That’s the whole point of the tour to begin with is having a big circus family, so the encore is a chance to see all that come together.
So the Caravan comes to Raleigh next weekend, and y’all are playing the “Land Jam,” with Mipso, in an effort to raise awareness for public land protection, taking place at Great Outdoor Provisions Co. As The Lil’ Smokies earn a larger platform, how does that feel to be able to draw attention to causes that you all care about?
Well it’s an honor to be able to do that and to let people know about things that we care about, and to be able to use our music to, I don’t know, do what we can to make the world a better place. It’s modest, but we do what we can. It’s really something I didn’t ever imagine would happen, but it is happening where we’re getting a lot of momentum and a lot of support from all over the country that we couldn’t be happier to have. I’m hoping that in the future we’ll continue to be able to speak about the things that we support, and do our best to make this world a better place.
Moving forward to the new album, Changing Shades… A few of the tracks have been in your regular live rotation for quite some time, and then there are some new ones as well. How does the combination of the two translate to the studio?
Well it’s always a challenge. I would say for an example, “Need a Minute” was more or less written and recorded all at once. That was a brand new tune coming into the studio, but they continue to evolve. Almost every night there’s something that happens that’s spontaneous, and so the tunes are constantly evolving, whether we’re in the studio whether we’re playing them live, they’re always changing a little bit. Some things stick some things don’t. What we did in the studio that I think was most helpful, was that we recorded all in one room, at the same time, and we tried to capture a moment instead of create a product.
One of the tunes on the new record, “Miss Marie” has been around for quite a bit, and we definitely produced that, and made it ready for a larger demographic, made it very accessible, and concise, but still did it the way I like to see it.
The heart of the record, I think, is that we distilled them and got them where we thought they were exactly what we wanted to say and nothing more, and then did it all live in one room, you know, the best we could. Like we said, to capture a moment.
This current incarnation of The Lil Smokies has been going strong for almost two years now. Is it starting to feel like you’re locking in together, bringing your collective sound to realization?
Yeah, it is coming together, we’re getting more and more comfortable every day, and just like the tunes evolve, we evolve as humans. Everything is transitionary, we try never to be a stationary thing, but we have settled into a comfortable dynamic within the group that I enjoy greatly, and I hope it translates on stage. We enjoy playing together and we enjoy getting along together.
Come find the Campfire Caravan, we’re in Asheville, Raleigh, Atlanta. Come see it! It’s a really fun show, all the musicians are class acts and great performers. Everyone does their job, everyone’s humble. It’s a treat, and I think we’ve got something for everyone.
Written by Richard Oakley
Video: “Miss Marie” by The Lil Smokies