“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. This classic of classic rock has now been fully realized as a full length bluegrass tribute featuring Springfield, Missouri’s The HillBenders. The group will perform as part of the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center’s Cultural Art Series on Friday, November 3. The single show will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Chalberg Theatre.
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.
Series producer Patrick Spradlin calls this one of the more interesting acts he’s brought to the stage. “I heard about this group when I was at an arts conference in Kansas City a couple of years ago,” he says. “As a lifelong fan of The Who and of ‘Tommy’ I thought this couldn’t be for real. I was totally wrong. This is an incredible group and they do an unbelievable job with the music. 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!” says HillBender Nolan Lawrence.
The live performance is a full 75 minute show covering the original album from start to finish with audience participation. A set of original bluegrass tunes follows.
Tickets for the HillBenders are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199, or online at www.clcmn.edu
The show is sponsored by Applebee’s of Baxter. The entire CLCPAC season is funded in part by an operating grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board as part of the Legacy Amendment.