“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 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.
Tommy is appealing to music fans of all ages. This is truly a classic.
Jim Rea – Guitar/Arranger
Nolan Lawrence - Mandolin
Chad "Gravy Boat" Graves - Dobro
Mark Cassidy - Banjo
Gary Rea – Bass
All vocals: The HillBenders
Recorded at The Studio, Springfield MO
Ellis Dyson & the Shambles
Ellis Dyson & the Shambles expertly blends old-time influences ranging from Piedmont murder ballads, to traditional jazz, to big band swing. The result: whiskey-soaked, foot-stompin’ songs that bring party music of departed eras to crowds both young and old. The Shambles have made waves with their theatrical and explosive live shows and masterful musicianship that electrifies every audience. Bursting with exuberance and effortless expertise, this playfully hootin’ and hollerin’ act is guaranteed to bring the ruckus.
Ellis Dyson & the Shambles consists of Ellis Dyson (banjo, vocals), Eli Whitman (acoustic guitar), Butler Knowles (upright bass) Danny Abrams (soprano/alto/baritone saxophones, vocals), and Danny Grewen (trombone, vocals). The band has come together through a series of fortuitous meetings in Chapel Hill, N.C. Beginning as a saxophone and banjo duo, the band has grown into a driving, freight train string band with a flashy horn section.