The HillBenders
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The HillBenders

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2008 | INDIE

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2008
Band Americana Bluegrass


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Pete Townshend Meets “Whograss” Originators The HillBenders"

Pete Townshend Meets “Whograss” Originators The HillBenders

published by BMNN on Fri, 05/15/2015 - 00:44

Pete Townshend with The HillBendersOn the heels of their sold-out show Sunday night at Nashville’s famed Station Inn, rising bluegrass stars The HillBenders had the opportunity to meet rock legend Pete Townshend. The HillBenders’ upcoming album, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry (Compass Records, June 2), produced by Louis Jay Meyers, is a bluegrass retelling of The Who’s iconic rock opera.
The band chatted briefly with Townshend after The Who’s performance at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Monday. Townshend said he first heard about The HillBenders’ Tommy project in the UK, where a buzz is starting to build about both the upcoming album and band’s live performances of the project. “Pete said he’s seen the videos from Tommy that we’ve done – and then he asked who sang ‘Acid Queen,’“ said The HillBenders’ Nolan Lawrence, referring to a song that is heavily identified with Tina Turner, the artist who performed it in the 1975 film version of the album. “When I raised my hand, he jokingly jabbed, ‘With a beard like that?!?’”

Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry continues to collect critical praise as a live performance, with Rolling Stone including the band’s Austin show in the magazine’s “50 Best Things We Saw At SXSW 2015” list, and Billboard noting that their “ambitiously and audaciously rendered version of ‘Tommy’ in its entirety was well worth standing in the rain to hear.” Compass Records’ upcoming release of Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry has been one of the most downloaded projects on Airplay Direct’s current Bluegrass/Folk chart since the album’s debut on the chart last month.

“Ever since I was a young boy I played the silver ball.” Maybe this is not your standard bluegrass lyric, but this is certainly a line known by all the world from the biggest rock opera of all time. Tommy is appealing to music fans of all ages. This is truly a classic. 45 years after its original release, this classic of classic rock has now been fully realized as a full length bluegrass tribute featuring yours truly. 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.

Upcoming performances of The HillBenders’ Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry include:

6/11/15 – North Bethesda, MD – AMP by Strathmore
6/12/15 – Smyrna, DE – Smyrna Opera House
6/14/15 – Buffalo, NY – The Sportsmen’s Tavern
6/15/15 – Toronto, ON – Hugh’s Room
6/16/15 – Troy, NY – The Ale House
6/17/15 – Malvern, PA – Valley Creek Park
6/18/15 – New York, NY – Rockwood Music Hall 2
6/21/15 – Worthington, OH – Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza
7/25/15 – Lyons, CO – Wildflower Pavilion
8/15/15 – Schwenksville, PA – Philadelphia Folk Festival
9/26/15 – Sag Harbor, NY – Bay Street Theater
10/1/15 – Greer, SC – The Albino Skunk Bluegrass Festival *One Tommy Set; One HillBenders Set
10/17/15 – Ozark, AR – Phases of the Moon Festival
12/5/15 – Pittsburgh, PA – Carnegie Lecture Hall
- See more at: - Cybergrass

"50 Best Things We Saw at SXSW 2015"

Best Bluegrass Who: The HillBenders

The HillBenders
Nicole Fara Silver
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 (and a much better idea than having Ken Russell direct 1975's Tommy movie). 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 — although their absence of a fiddle player was felt on "Fiddle About. - Rolling Stone

"Exclusive: Watch The HillBenders Put a Bluegrass Spin on The Who's 'Tommy'"

Nothing says bluegrass quite like The Who's Tommy, right?

The Who's 'Tommy': Premiere of 'Overture' Live With an Intro From Pete Townshend

The Folk Alliance's Louis Jay Meyers, the conceptualizer and producer of Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry by Springfield, Mo.'s rock-loving roots troupe The HillBenders -- which comes out June 2 -- admits that the idea is "weird." But it's been it's been stuck in his creative craw for a long time. "I just always heard this record in that context," Meyers, a co-founder of Austin's SXSW conference, tells Billboard. "As a banjo player I would just sit around, playing a lot of those songs. The way (Pete) Townshend writes, it has a lot of that kind of groove in it, and it just dawned on me one day the whole thing could actually work." Watch a video of the group performing two of the albums' songs, which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.

The HillBenders' curiosity was first piqued when Meyers presented the idea during the summer of 2014. "I was taken aback," says singer-mandolinist Nolan Lawrence. "I like that record, but I never would have thought of it like that. I didn't know what to think of it at first." It turned out that HillBenders guitarist Jim Rea "is a fanatical Tommy fan" and was "kinda freaked out at the thought of the idea of us doing that. Everyone else instantly caught on; his excitement was infectious."

The quintet and Meyers spent months woodshedding the piece, sending arrangement ideas back and forth and figuring out how to deploy the group's instrumentation -- and also how to compensate for the lack of key ingredients, such as John Entwistle's French horn and particularly Keith Moon's drumming.

"We've taken to calling Gravyboat (Chad Graves) the Keith Moon of the dobro," Lawrence says. "He's got so much percussion on there, in and around the record. That was the biggest challenge, making sure we had some of the rhythmic sensibility and the intensity of the drums and what they bring to the record.

"The other biggest challenge," Lawrence adds, "was making sure there was enough bluegrass in there to really call it bluegrass. The instrumentation is what really lends itself to that, but we had to be conscious of making sure it's still a bluegrass record, even though it's very much an acoustic rock record."

The group recorded Tommy (sans the "Underture") during December in Springfield, Mo., the first time The HillBenders have recorded in an analog studio. "We started having trouble with the very first song, the 'Overture,' but we got our heads back together and every song after that was one to two takes," Lawrence remembers. The HillBenders debuted Tommy at the Folk Alliance convention during February in Kansas City and previewed it in Dallas and at SXSW -- all to rave reviews. A SirusXM Outlaw Country live show is planned for June, while the HillBenders will celebrate Tommy's release May 8 in Kansas City and the next night in Springfield before a May 10 show at the Station Inn in Nashville -- conveniently (and deliberately) planned around The Who's stop in the city the next night on its "The Who Hits 50!" tour.

"We've kept them in the loop, and as far as we know (Townshend and Roger Daltrey) are aware of this," says Meyers, who also hopes to meet with the Who camp when it plays May 5 in Kansas City. "Hopefully we're going to establish a relationship over the next 30 days. The goal was to be respectful of the original, so they wouldn't go 'Ugh!' So I hope they both get it. What's exciting is this is not a traditional record, so we can tour this off and on, forever, just like The Who did. It's going to be viable pretty much anywhere and everywhere; it's just a matter of people knowing about it. It's already surpassed my widest expectations, from day one. Now it's about getting it out there and turning on the rest of the world, whether they're bluegrass fans or not." - Billboard

"Hillbenders going all Tommy on us"

In 1969, the rock music world was agog when The Who, one of the top grossing acts on the circuit at that time, released a double album called Tommy. Described as a rock opera, the entire album was based on a single concept, the story of a young boy who was deaf, dumb and blind, yet was the best there was at playing pinball.

This was way before anything like a video game existed, and pinball machines were found mostly in bars and pubs – not anyplace where young boys were encouraged to spend their time. There was something of a dark underbelly to the piece, but it was still tame by today’s pop/rock/rap standards.

A film was made of the story in 1975, using the songs from the album which were mostly written by Who guitarist Pete Townsend, and starring their lead singer Roger Daltry along with a who’s who of rock and pop icons. And, of course, an album with the soundtrack was released as well. It has also been staged in the theater and on Broadway with various degrees of success

And now in 2015, The Hillbenders are doing their own tribute, arranging a full bluegrass reimagining of Tommy for release this Spring. The idea originated with Louis Meyers, one of the founders of the massive SXSW music and arts festival in Austin, TX. He had been spinning the concept of grassy remake for quite some time, and when approached the band about working with him on the project, they leapt at the chance.

We had a chance to discuss all this with ‘Benders guitarist/vocalist Jim Rea who said that their version will be an acoustic/grass replication of the Who album, which they will also perform on the road this year in toto.

Jim Rea“We do the album front to back with the exception of the humorously name Underture which is basically an percussion heavy interpretation of the song Sparks. The Underture features 10 minutes of the legendary Keith Moon doing his crazy thing on the drums, timpani, shaker, tambourine, etc. In lieu of faking through a bunch of drum kit driven motives in a bluegrass band, we extended Sparks to let Chad ‘Gravy Boat’ Graves flex on the slide. We refer to him as the Keith Moon of the dobro. His flashy and aggressive style is contagious on stage just as it was with Keith. It’s a wonder his resonator guitar isn’t left in a pile of splintered wood and wires by the end of a show.

All the songs are in their original order on the new record, and that was the whole idea of this project from the start, to present this legendary work of art as a whole. The album will be exactly what you hear live with the exception of a few ‘jam’ opportunities I arranged into the live show for entertainment purposes. Those ‘jamable’ sections were just too good not to let our soloists embellish upon in a bluegrass format, and they also help us stay on our toes during the live show.”

A performance video of Pinball Wizard, one of three songs to chart from Tommy in ’69-70, has been released, demonstrating just how well they have blended rock and bluegrass sensibilities.

Rea said that he and the band are thrilled at the prospect of reworking such a classic work.

“We immediately wanted to work with Louis because of his ability to visualize and materialize. Of course, we were not alive when the record first was released in 1969, but I remember that my initial theater experience was Tommy with my mother and best friend around the age of 13. It was also one of my very first CD purchases after cassettes started phasing out. Like much of the early Rock-n-Roll, it’s just a timeless sound. But the complexity of this piece always personally spoke to me, so I jumped at the idea of being arranger and touring with it.

Only a couple songs gave me trouble in the arranging stage. I basically had to decide if I wanted to flip the song to grass or keep it closer to the original version. I think Louis ‘knew from the start deep down in his heart’ that this record would be perfect for this genre.”

No doubt there will be doubters, if not outrage, over this cross-genre exploration. One can imagine both Who fans and bluegrass lovers being aghast at such a thing, but let’s hope they are in the minority. We’ve seen previous bluegrass takes on rock classics score with audiences of every type, and if it helps people to view our music with fresh ears, more’s the good!

Jim says that he and the guys aren’t worried about backlash – they just want to do what they do.

The Hillbenders“I personally was the biggest fan of Tommy, but it’s not hard for any of us to like the Who or classic rock, I mean, it’s classic for a reason. We are a melting pot of a group. Our sound and influences span from Americana to Zydeco without shame. If you have seen the HillBenders live on stage or when you do, it’s very apparent that we are basically a rock band on bluegrass instruments. We certainly won’t be quietly tucked into a bluegrass corner. Make no mistake, we intend to bring this music to new audiences and demographics at any risk necessary and we think this project and our original music can do that.

We don’t lose members constantly for the next best thing, or name the band after one front man who calls the shots. We’ve had the same 5 guys for almost 7 years. We are a family band that aren’t related, expect by the the music and the feeling it creates.”

A web site for the new album, entitled Tommy – A Bluegrass Opry, has audio for the Overture available for listening, and promises more previews between now and the release. The live performance will debut during the Folk Alliance convention in Kansas City on February 20.

The original Tommy is certified double platinum in the US. Let’s hope The Hillbenders do even a fraction of that with theirs. - Bluegrass Today


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy