Tommy, can you hear me? Playing the Who's music on a mandolin and banjo?
The Springfield, Missouri-based band, the HillBenders, will visit the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center on Friday, May 12th to perform "Tommy: A Bluegass Opry" based on the Who's 1969 rock opera, Tommy.
Asked what reaction he gets when he tells people his band performs a bluegrass Tommy, HillBenders guitarist Jim Rea says, "You get a blank stare."
But, he says, "The people who grew up with the record really seem to get it more than the people who grew up on Bill Monroe or any sort of traditional bluegrass."
- The HillBenders
The late Louis Meyers, one of the founders of the South by Southwest festival, came up with the idea, Rea says. "He said, 'You are the band. Your band has enough of the rock-and-roll chops and the bluegrass chops to pull it off without making it hokey.'"
Rea took on the arranging position and worked up a few songs, including "Pinball Wizard" and "1921." He sent some "rough scratches" to Meyers, who approved. "His main goal was to be true to the record. And it not be hay bales, overalls, and straw hats."
The HillBenders released the album in the winter of 2014 and into 2015.
Pete Townshend of the Who "caught wind" of the album, Rea says. "He loved it."
Townshend's positive response was "an early big feather in the hat" for the HillBenders.