—– What were your favorite bands in high school and how do you rank them today?  I was into The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, David Bromberg, Poco. New Riders of the Purple Sage in high school, but when I would listen to The Allmans I would say “Who is this Robert Johnson?”, and look him up. I was heading towards roots music as a teenager. When The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” it had a major impact on me and my friends. That is how we discovered Doc Watson,  Vassar Clements, and Merle Travis. Doc became my sign post to all that followed. He had such great taste and style. From blues, bluegrass, swing, Doc had it all. Then Garcia, Grisman and Vassar released Old and in the Way, which also led us towards Bluegrass. New York radio had great non-commercial radio that featured bluegrass, Irish, jazz and blues. That was my education.

—– You started out as a drummer – what’s your first recollection of the mandolin and when/how/why did you pick it up?  I started playing mandolin because there was one in my house. My Dad played violin and mandolin (all by ear). Mandolin seemed like a good idea because everyone played guitar.
I played drums from 4th grade through high school.

—– What do playing drums and playing Mando have in common for you?  I think it helps inform my mandolin playing because mando is percussive and plays on 2 and 4 in bluegrass.

—– Did you take Mando lessons or are you self-taught?  I taught myself mandolin at first, but eventually studied with Barry Mitterhoff. (Skyline, Hot Tuna). I still study and take lessons from various people via skype.

—– I assume there are go-to guys that Mandolin players hopes to emulate – who were they for you initially and who are you in to today?   To discuss influences, any bluegrass mandolin player must mention Bill Monroe. I love Sam Bush, David Grisman, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, Jethro Burns and the list goes on. Although I am sure I am influenced by many people, I don’t think I emulate anyone because mostly I learn from other instruments, like guitar (Django) fiddle and even piano or horns. I have recently become obsessed with the music of Django Reinhardt sometimes called Gypsy Jazz. I released a CD called Mandology and lead a band of the same name.

—– What is your Mando of choice and how did you settle on that as your ‘ace’ of choice?  I play an instrument made for me by the great builder A. Lawrence Smart. It is modeled after an F-5 Gibson.

—– How did Blue Plate Special come together and how would you describe the bands dynamics on stage, and off?  Blue Plate Special started in 2001 after Tom Wise (Bass)  and I were playing together for a bit. After kicking around a few band configurations, Tom’s wife Jay Friedman began playing fiddle and man can she sing! (Who Knew?) The three of us started learning some tunes and we all began to write. We added some musicians who have come and gone. Fortunately, about 7 or 8 years ago, we hooked up with some amazing young musicians James Hempfling (guitar) and Dan Whitener (banjo).
At this point we are all best friends.


—— Do you guys feel you part of the Nu-Grass movement or are you more traditional?  I wouldn’t say Blue Plate Special is a traditional bluegrass band. Bluegrass is an ever evolving and growing genre with some bands keeping it really traditional and others taking liberties. This has been true now for decades. I feel like we do what feels right, what the song tells us to do.  Sometimes that means keeping it traditional, sometimes not. We play swing, blues and some rock covers. What ever feels like fun and sounds good. What characterizes our band I think, are the arraignments. I really don’t like to cover a tune without making it our own. We work very hard to find a sound for each song often with three part harmony.

—— How does the writing process work in BPS?  When someone comes in with an original song idea, we arrange very carefully. It is really fun to see a song evolve in that fashion. When I write a tune, I sometimes hear the music almost fully formed. Maybe with a word or two or a concept. The lyrics usually follow.

—– Blue Plate Special are to perform at the CMAs in the ‘honorable mention; Bluegrass” category, what tune do you guys do, what do you wear, and how would the choreography work?  If we were to perform at the CMAs we would dress up in our finest clothes(I would have to go shopping) and try to smile a lot.



How would you describe the inner-band dynamics of The Lil Smokies?  Does it work the similarly off stage as on or do roles change some between the two? I’ve always firmly believed that one plays his instrument like he lives his life. This is certainly true for our band. That said, as much as it is a collaborative effort on stage, it is off of the stage, as well. Between interviews, conference calls, long drives, and loading up the van, we all try to do our share. I would like to tip my hat to our bass player, Scott Parker, and our banjo player, Matt Cornette, for being the primary drivers. Thank you, gents.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys this year?  I think there are some secrets better left on the road. Talk to me after the show, in the alley in hushed tones.

How do you think being from Montana inform your music and vibe?  Indicative of Montana is space and serenity; my favorite of the vast catalogue of its great attributes. I think we’re able to appreciate that space and let that permeate into our music. Bluegrass, at times, can be incredibly fast and frantic. I think incorporating space can slow the song or set down and be quite effective.

How do songs come about for you and The Lil Smokies?  It definitely varies song to song. For myself, it’s the constant battle between perspiration and inspiration. Usually, I tend to think there needs to be inspiration before the perspiration, but lately I’m trying to find the inspiration inside the perspiration. Once a song is ready to bring to the band, it can take a couple rehearsals to arrange it or months of coming back to. It really varies from tune to tune.

Did you grow up with music in your family?  Yeah, my father is a musician for a living. He’s a singer-songwriter, guitar player, and multi-instrumentalist. I definitely grew up inundated with the music of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Chet Atkins, Earl Scruggs and the Beatles. Over time, even as much as I rebelled against it, there was no escaping the power of osmosis.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  In high school, I went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and was completely floored by the enormity of the festival. I think seeing Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ set that year (2005) was a really monumental moment in my musical career.

What was your first personal public performance?  My first public performance was playing guitar with a jazz pianist at a fancy restaurant, my freshman year in college in 2006. It was all simple instrumental jazz standards. My jazz knowledge is incredibly poor. We got through it somehow. I was, personally, yelled at for playing my stratocaster too loud though. Victory.

How do you feel about playing covers? any personal fail-safe campfire goto’s?  I love playing covers. We try to do at least one cover a night. I think it’s important to have a thread of familiarity with audience members that aren’t versed in your own original material. I think as long as the cover is special and authentic, you can make it your own. The Punch Brothers are an incredible example of embracing cover tunes, even with an extensive archive of their own originals.

What singers / songwriters are on your Mt. Rushmore?  In no particular order: Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Taylor Goldsmith, Chris Thile.

What advice do you give to a young musicians & artists seeking their path?  Play because you want to play and because it’s fun. That is the golden rule, which can be applied to writing and performing and touring and all the other subsections of the music industry. Also, be authentic and humble. People will really resonate with humility and authenticity.

The Lil Smokies are granted a wish by a NASA Genie in which you can time travel back to open for any show / band / concert in history — what are your coordinates?  I’m not a Deadhead at all. Neither is the rest of this band, but I would think opening for The Grateful Dead in Egypt in 1978 would be one hell of a night. Plus, it’s on my bucket list to see the pyramids.