Bluegrass sounds of Lil Smokies come to Rifle’s Ute Theater
IF YOU GO…
What: The Lil Smokies with Lonesome Days
Where: The Ute Theater, 132 E Fourth St., Rifle
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 29 (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Tickets: $20-40 available at The Ute Theater Box Office and TicketFly.com
Lil Smokies fiddler Jake Simpson says it was his dream the last few years of high school to hit the road.
“I was like … I want to be on a bus, I want to be playing shows every day,” he said in a recent interview leading up to the band’s appearance at Rifle’s Ute Theater Friday night.
“And now, that’s basically what I’m doing, except we’re in a van.”
Simpson, a native of the Wyandotte, Oklahoma, a small town near the Oklahoma and Missouri state line, now makes his home in Denver.
“When I was a kid, my grandma and parents were big traditional country music fans,” Simpson said.
The 27-year-old musician has been playing the fiddle/violin since he was age 5.
Growing up listening to records by Willie Nelson, Bob Wilson and the Texas Playboys and Bill Monroe with his grandmother, and traveling to country shows with his parents, Simpson said he was hooked from an early age.
With some urging from his mother, his violin instructor also taught him the fiddle as well.
“I would play all the classical exercises and then the last 15-20 minutes of the lesson, my instructor would pull up a fiddle tune and we would work on it,” Simpson added. “My folks were a big part of me learning to play the fiddle.”
JOINING THE BAND
Back in 2016, Simpson was touring with another band when he heard The Lil Smokies were looking for a full-time fiddle player.
The band, which formed in 2009, was founded in Missoula, Montana.
Simpson said he auditioned, and a few weeks later he was a member of the band and has been touring ever since.
“I had always known that I wanted to be a touring musician, but I didn’t understand what that meant until I joined the Smokies,” Simpson said.
“We’re going to play close to 200 shows this year, and that means we are on the road, probably 250 or more days.”
Simpson said it is really exciting and dynamic, and every day is different on the road.
They typically are in the van and on the road for four to six hours, with the occasional eight- to 12-hour trip between gigs.
“Touring this much is hard, but it is also very rewarding. You get off the road, and look back at what you did, and it’s very satisfying,” Simpson added.
“It sounds like a cliché and cheesy, but every day I play music with my best friends,” Simpson added.
PLAYING THE WESTERN SLOPE
This year marks The Lil Smokies’ 10th anniversary as a band. The current lineup includes Scott Parker on bass, Simpson on fiddle, Matt Reiger on guitar, Matt Cornette on banjo and Andy Dunnigan on dobro.
Simpson said the band tours all over Colorado, and they consider the state their second home, playing their last four shows here with four more this week, including 8 p.m. Friday at the Ute Theater in Rifle. Lonesome Days opens the show.
“It’s very similar to Montana. I don’t just mean physically, but the mentality of people in Colorado is similar to that of people in Montana,” Simpson said.
“Everybody loves the great outdoors, they’re open and love live music,” he said.
He added that, with all the time playing in Colorado, getting to know the fans, they are more of a family then a fan base.
Simpson said more people turn out to support them in Colorado than any other state, with the exception of the band’s home state of Montana.
“There’s not one show we will play in Colorado that there won’t be a handful of people screaming the lyrics,” Simpson said. “That makes you feel really good as a musician.”
He said he is looking forward to visiting the Western Slope again, and he looks forward to his first personal appearance at the Ute.
“I like going over there. We get a lot of the Front Range geography, and it seems like the Western Slope is more vast,” Simpson added. “The first time I ever went over to that side of the pass I was blown away by the difference in the mountains.
“It’s a different kind of pretty.”
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