20:20 — 20 questions, 20 answers

Published October 9, 2020

In Part 7 of our series, Andy Dunnigan—frontman for The Lil Smokies, out of Missoula, Montana, answers queries from inquiring minds.

Join us as the resonator-guitar master, singer-songwriter, and hiker of mountainous trails describes his weirdest shows and venues. Tells us about an unscheduled night on the tour bus with Greensky Bluegrass—the Rolling Stones of jamgrass. And shares how COVID announced a change in his life within the duration of a set on the road.


Andy Dunnigan | Photo by Jeffrey Neubauer

Photo by Jeffrey Neubauer | Photos courtesy of Andy Dunnigan

20:20 with Andy Dunnigan

NWM 1: How do you express your creativity other than through music?
Andy: During the pandemic, along with millions of folks, surely, I finally “got” the trance and appeal of cooking; it surprised me how well this catered to my creative side and the similarities there were to how I write music. Journaling is another outlet for my creativity. I’ve found it’s a good way to keep the writing muscles tight and also a beneficial and often hilarious way to keep tabs on all the different versions of myself throughout the years.

I finally “got” the trance and appeal of cooking.

NWM 2: What was your first concert as a fan?
Andy: Gov’t Mule in 2005 at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana, was what set everything in motion for me. It was unfathomably loud and the coolest thing I had ever witnessed.

NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
Andy: Reaching the summit of a monstrous mountain peak and biting down on a pastrami sandwich; my lovely girlfriend makes me smile daily; and wholly locking into a three-part harmony live on stage to an attentive crowd.

NWM 4: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Andy: I go through phases of listening to dangerous amounts of pop music. I’d say right now The Killers’ new album has been on repeat in my headphones—that may surprise some folks.

The Lil Smokies | Photo by Glenn Ross

The Lil Smokies at Red Rocks AmphitheatreDenver’s iconic venue | Photo by Glenn Ross

NWM 5: Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin?
Andy: Beatles. No contest. Melodies always win.

NWM 6: We know you had a new album, Tornillo, your third, which was being well received and reviewed early this year. Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Andy: Everything really came unhinged during the duration of a set we did in Boston on the night of March 11. I’ll never forget coming off stage to news of The NBA being cancelled, Tom Hanks having the virus, and a billion texts telling me to come home. We sat in the green room for a long time, silently processing what we all knew was to come.

Everything really came unhinged during the duration of a set we did in Boston on the night of March 11.

NWM 7: Strangest road story?
Andy: On a support tour with Greensky Bluegrass, Jake Simpson (our fiddle player) and I got into some after show shenanigans with our headlining friends and ended up on their bus for quite some time. … After a while, we realized the bus was actually in motion and in route to our next destination. The rest of the band was quite confused the next morning when we called from L.A. and told them we were already there and wouldn’t be making van-call.

NWM 8: What are your non-musical gifts/talents?
Andy: Enduring long periods of homelessness, intermittent poverty, and sleep deprivation are all gifts and talents that nobody mentions when embarking on one’s journey into a career in the arts. I’ve definitely got those dialed. I’ve always had an ability to converse and find the heart of the matter with folks. Perhaps the ability to empathize might be my greatest gift.

Tornillo album cover

NWM 9: What is a favorite concert or show you have attended?
Andy: Watching Béla Fleck and the Flecktones play the sunset set at Telluride Bluegrass in 06′ was a really important moment in my life. They split the sky open like a sheet and everything changed for me.

They split the sky open like a sheet and everything changed for me.

NWM 10: What are your before-you-go-on-stage rituals?
Andy: After sound check, I’ve always been religious about getting some exercise in—and a sauna! Nationwide, YMCAs have saved my mental capacity on the road. Right before I go on, though, I like to have a drink or two, do a vocal warm up and pace around asking my bandmates, again, what the first song of the set is.

NWM 11: What is the weirdest show/venue/bill you have been a part of?
Andy: We played during a literal dog show once and also an arm wrestling tournament. We never knew what to expect in those early days playing around Montana.

NWM 12: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Andy: An impossible question, but I think solo Dylan 1965 or Doc Watson would be up there.

The Lil Smokies | Photo by Bill Reynolds

The Lil Smokies | Photo by Bill Reynolds

NWM 13: What song/album could you play on repeat?
Andy: There’s an instrumental, finger-style guitar song by Bill Mize, called “The Road Scholar” I could probably listen to on repeat forever. There’s a haunting and nostalgic sorcery within its melody.

There’s a haunting and nostalgic sorcery within its melody.

NWM 14: What in particular fuels your inspiration? Tell us about your space or what is most necessary for your writing.
Andy: There’s always inspiration in the well for me to use. The challenge is really always about finding the space and solitude that inspires me to do the work. I think a lot about Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” which describes one’s conditions for great work to be produced. I agree with him.

NWM 15: What’s a favorite Andy Dunnigan song?
Andy: At the moment, I’d say I’m most fond of my song “Carry Me” off of our new album Tornillo. It was a good lesson in songwriting persistence; I had melodic fragments of this song written for years, but never could tie it altogether. Finally, out of nowhere one day the chorus appeared and it all made sense. It ended a pretty good stretch of draught, in regards to songwriting, so it felt extra galvanizing.

NWM 16: What are your special interests beyond music?
Andy: I’m a pretty avid hiker and backpacker; I spend a lot of my free time during the summers climbing mountains in Glacier National Park and as of recent years British Columbia. I find exercise to help immensely in creativity and keeping a good perspective on and off the road.

The Lil Smokies | Photo by Neubauer Media

The Lil Smokies | Photo by Neubauer Media

NWM 17: Pet peeve?
Andy: My pet peeve is people who talk stridently about their pet peeves. Just the words “pet peeve” spoken out loud gives me a guttural response.

NWM 18: We see you on Facebook atop of a lot of mountains; has anything positive come out of the COVID shut-down for you personally?
Andy: As soon as I came to the realization that I was going to have the summer off, my girlfriend and I started planning a ton of road trips and hiking adventures. I did more hiking, swimming, rafting and summer recreating than I’ve probably done in the last 6 years combined. It was one of my favorite summers of all time. I missed the festivals, the late night hangs and the music intensely at times, but I quickly realized how much I existentially needed this break.

I quickly realized how much I existentially needed this break.

NWM 19: Stevie Nicks or Stevie Ray Vaughan?
Andy: Younger me would be confused at how I could possibly answer this—today I’ll go with Stevie Nicks.

NWM 20: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about which we might not know to ask?
Andy: At the moment, my band, The Lil Smokies have a handful of, very safe and distanced, gigs this month in October around Montana. Also, I’ve been teaching dobro lessons, and hosting private concerts all over zoom via my living room; these can be purchased through The Lil Smokies website or shoot me a message on Instagram: @dobrohobo.

The Lil Smokies “Decades” (Live at the Bluebird)

Andy Dunnigan

Andy Dunnigan

Andy Dunnigan is a singer-songwriter, dobro wiz, and frontman for The Lil Smokies. Drawing on the energy of a rock band and the Laurel Canyon songwriting of the 70s, The Lil Smokies are reimagining their approach to roots music on Tornillo—named for the remote Texas town where the album was recorded. Produced by Bill Reynolds (The Avett Brothers, Band of Horses), Tornillo is the band’s third studio album. Formed in Missoula, Montana, Smokies have built a national following through constant touring, performing at Red Rocks, LOCKN’, High Sierra, Telluride, Bourbon & Beyond and more.

To learn more and buy stuff visit: http://www.thelilsmokies.com/

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