HillBenders’ Live Performance of Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry Earns High Praise from Music Critics!

As The HillBenders bluegrass version of The Who’s iconic rock opera readies for release, their live performance at South by Southwest becomes one of the festival’s most talked-about events.

Image635627751564866605A capacity crowd at legendary Austin, TX venue Threadgill’s this past Saturday braved the chilly spring rain to see The HillBenders perform Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry, an all-acoustic rendition of The Who’s classic album performed in its entirety.

As evidenced by the coverage in Rolling Stone, Billboard and Raleigh, NC’s News & Observer, the critically acclaimed bluegrass band’s performance at South by Southwest has been noted as one of the stand-out events at this year’s festival.

"In just one hour on stage during this year’s SXSW, The HillBenders proved that Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry is going to be a major hit," said Tommy producer and co-founder of SXSW, Louis Jay Meyers. "Being referred to as among the 'best of’ in Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the News & Observer is quite an honor."

“You haven't heard 'Acid Queen' until you've seen it sung by a bearded man with a mandolin.  Covering the Who's Tommy in its entirety as a 'bluegrass opry' for an enthusiastic rain-soaked crowd in the backyard of Threadgill's on Saturday was a genius move. They faithfully replicated the songs, even giving short synopses of the plot at key points, but embellished them with banjo, mandolin and dobro to give the music an extra moonshine kick. The HillBenders, a talented five-piece band from Missouri, proved to be the perfect group to execute this 'Whograss' concept.”

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Compass Records will release Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry in the coming weeks, with pre-sale information to be announced shortly.

“More proof that pretty much anything goes at SXSW? How about a reimaging of The Who’s Tommy as A Bluegrass Opry.  (The HillBenders’) ambitiously and audaciously rendered version of Tommy in its entirety was well worth standing in the rain to hear.”

Billboard (Gary Graff, 3-22-15)

To showcase the project, The HillBenders have posted an in-the-studio video of what is arguably one of the best known songs from the album, “Pinball Wizard

Upcoming performances of Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry include Nashville’s famed Station Inn on May 10th  and music festivals Grey Fox (NY) and RockyGrass (CO) in July, with more dates being added. 

For additional details on The HillBenders, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry and all tour dates, visit HillBenders.com or WhoGrass.com.


“Ever since I was a young boy I played the silver ball” 

Maybe not your standard bluegrass lyric, but a line known by all the world from the biggest rock opera of all time, The Who’s Tommy.
45 years after its original release, this classic of classic rock has now been fully realized as a full length bluegrass tribute featuring Springfield, Missouri’s The HillBenders.  Conceived and produced by SXSW co-founder and longtime musician/producer Louis Jay Meyers, this Bluegrass Opry brings a new perspective to Tommy while paying total respect to its creators.
Originally composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera that tells the story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy, including his experiences with life and the relationship with his family. The original album has sold 20 million copies and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant value".  In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Tommy number 96 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Meyers had been looking for the right band to pull off this high wire bluegrass approach for several decades and The HillBenders are the right band.  With a perfect mix of virtuoso musicianship and rock star vocals, The HillBenders bring Pete Townshend’s original vision to life in a new and exciting way.
It’s amazing to hear banjo, dobro, mandolin, bass, and guitar bring the same energy and vision to Tommy as The Who did with a full rock band and orchestra.
The HillBenders are one of the few bluegrass groups that recognize their ability to bridge the gap between the common music consumer and the bluegrass genre, selecting material that defies any hillbilly stigmas. With their widely varied influences, they are trying to bring to bluegrass songs that unify. “We wanted to pair bluegrass with the other music we grew up with —rock and roll!” say HillBender Nolan Lawrence.
The live performance is a full 75 minute show covering the original album from start to finish with special video accompaniment and audience participation.
This recording was originally planned as a co-production with the legendary musician/producer Lou Whitney.  After Lou’s tragic passing in October 2014, plans were revised to record in Lou’s studio in Springfield, Missouri surrounded by those that helped create the Lou Whitney sound and style of making records.  This record is dedicated to the memory of the late great Lou Whitney and the power of The Who.
Jim Rea – Guitar/Arranger
Nolan Lawrence - Mandolin
Chad "Gravy Boat" Graves - Dobro
Mark Cassidy - Banjo
Gary Rea – Bass
All vocals: The HillBenders


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