Steve Martin Fame to Rub Off on a Talented Missoula Band Friday Night


Steve Martin and the Lil’ Smokies have a few things in common.

Both work other jobs while pursuing a passion for Bluegrass music, both are band contest winners, and both will play on stage at Osprey Stadium this Friday night.

I spoke briefly with Lil’ Smokies guitar player and vocalist Pete Barrett on his lunch break from his carpentry job site this week.

He said the Smokies are totally psyched and ready to open the show for Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. While the band carries with them the Missoula bluegrass community’s dreams of a local band making it big, Pete sees the show this way. “We really feel a responsibility to put on a great show as a way to thank our supporters who got us here.”

The Smokies got to this point by building a reputation as solid, driving bluegrass band that knows how to fill local dance floors and wow the crowd at Missoula’s bigger venues, including the River City Roots Festival. While the band recognizes the acclaim of being the opening act for Friday’s show, they had to keep up their hard-working ways and win a promotional contest to make it a reality.

Twelve local bands entered the contest, submitting music clips to be voted for online. The top three vote gatherers (Britchy, a band that I’m in, Zach Williams and the River City Ramblers, and the Lil Smokies) played in a very fun live “Battle of the Bands” contest last Saturday Night at Monk’s Bar. The Smokies came out as the winner, earning the opening act slot for the Osprey Stadium show.

Pete and his bandmates were gracious in victory that night, although I’ll have to rescind my comment if I discover they were only following Steve Martin’s advice for contest winners: “The losers can feel very sad, so when you are back stage with them pat their backs, then shake your head sadly. It’s a blast!!”

Speaking of band contests, Pete described several interesting connection between Missoula and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Turns out that he and Smokies banjo player Matt Corrette saw the Rangers win the Rocky Grass Band Competition in Lyons, Colorado a few years back. He says, “Matt I saw them beat out none other than a Missoula Band – The Rank Strangers! Mason Tuttle (now living in Bozeman), Larry Ganges (Jr.), Thomas Kelly, Fred Kelner, and, Adam Sherba, I believe? So cool how things come around.”

Smokies mandolin player Cameron Wilson will be on familiar territory Friday night. Before coming to Missoula, he lived in the Carolinas and played in the band Boss Hogg. During his tenure with the band, he opened the Steep Canyon Rangers several times.

Steve Martin has lent his considerable celebrity to bluegrass music with his nationwide appearances with the Steep Canyon Rangers. His shows are funny, but they bring attention to some seriously good bluegrass music. This is a style and caliber of music that many folks in Steve’s audience may have never heard otherwise.

If you haven’t already discovered Missoula’s own Lil Smokies, come early and be ready for real treat Friday night! It’s gonna a Missoula summer bluegrass night to remember.

The Lil Smokies are:

  • Pete Barrett, guitar/vocals
  • Matt Cornette, banjo/vocals
  • Cameron Wilson, mandolin/fiddle/vocal
  • Jesse Brown, fiddle/ vocals
  • Scott Parker, bass/vocals
  • Grace Decker (Broken Valley Road Show) will play fiddle in place of Jesse who is unavailable for the show.

Check out their ReverbNation and Facebook pages.





Get another dose of the Missoula music scene in these posts: Bluegrass Music Growing in the Garden CityA Marriage of Music, and Missoula’s Own David Boone.


Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan who has lived in Missoula for 26 years. He’s worked as chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He started playing mandolin and attending bluegrass jams a few years and has just started performing with local bands: The Black Mountain Boys, Alley Cats Bluegrass Band, and The Flaming Wheelbarrows.