- Lisa Siciliano
- Matthew "Rev" Rieger (far left) and the rest of The Lil Smokies satisfy your bluegrass cravings at the Domino Room 4/10.
When you hear someone say they love Lil Smokies, they're not always talking about the delightful little sausages covered in BBQ sauce, sometimes wrapped in a crescent roll. In the music world, a love of The Lil Smokies means you're down with bluegrass. The Lil Smokies, hailing primarily from Missoula, Mont., bring their fun energy and quality jams to the Domino Room this week.
"I can't speak for the rest of the group, but the communal and sharing nature of the music—that's what first got me into it," guitarist Matthew "Rev" Rieger says of his love of bluegrass music. Before joining the group two years ago, he discovered his love for the genre at the WinterGrass Festival in Bellevue, Wash.
"I was walking around listening to all of these folks, who didn't know each other, who didn't speak the same language, but were able to sit down and play together for hours because they knew the old tunes. I love the passing of the melody. I just saw how much fun everyone was having—that's what drew me to it."
On their latest album, "Changing Shades," the band takes a more experimental direction, blending bluegrass with different genres and shying away from the traditional sound they embraced in the past. While the music continues to evolve, the band members still share a soft spot for traditional bluegrass music and those who came before them.
"We all come from different backgrounds—musical backgrounds, and one of the common denominators for us is our love for traditional bluegrass," Rieger says.
The Lil Smokies have their work cut out for them in the coming year. Rieger says their year is basically full, working a lot—but that's exactly what he wants to do.
"We're always working on new music, but it's a slow roll," Rieger says. "Seldom do we have the time and creative space. We rely on our vacation time to do that, but vacation time this year has been sparse. Finding creative space in the midst of a dense tour schedule is difficult. We have new material we're playing now, some we're saving for a new record."
With a jam-packed touring schedule, it helps to love what you do. For Rieger, he loves the people he meets on the road.
"Aside from getting to see the wonderful places they live, you share experiences with people you wouldn't have met if not for the music," Rieger says. "Thanks to this, I have lifelong friends just because of the job. Building camaraderie with the band and other musicians you meet on the road. That's the gift that music gives us, is to meet folks all over the country."
After wrapping up their spring tour, The Lil Smokies continue on the road for festival season. They'll be at bluegrass festivals all across the country and then back to Oregon for Northwest String Summit and a spot on the Sisters Folk Festival lineup.
"The people that go to the festivals are a special kind of music lover," Rieger says. "All of these festivals are physically demanding, way out in the country, you have to travel for hours and hours to get there. That sort of fosters a really dedicated group of people who are there for the music. They've made sacrifices for music like we have when we play. I appreciate the people who come out to the festivals. It's my favorite part of the year."