Hillbenders bring fresh perspective to ‘The Who’s Tommy’ with Bluegrass opry performance 

Published 11:30 am Monday, February 5, 2018

The who?


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The Hillbendersbring their genre-bending performance of “The Who’s Tommy” to the Norton Center February 16. The full-length bluegrass tribute was 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. With a perfect mix of virtuoso musicianship and rock star vocals, audiences can expect to hear banjo, dobro, mandolin, bass and guitar played with the same energy and vision as The Who did with a full rock band and orchestra.

Originally composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera, Tommy tells the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy, including his experiences with life and the relationship with his family. Forty-five years after its original release, 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.

“Categorizing great music is like trying to pick the best chocolates from a sampler box. There are too many, and besides, why choose — just eat them all!” said Norton Center Executive Director Steve Hoffman.  “The HillBenders are incredible musicians who don’t care about labels.  So much so, that they are going to take the entire Who’s Tommy album and re-envision it with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.  But this is not just “bluegrass” music. And they are not a cover band. They own their interpretation 100 percent and they also play original tunes.  Forget everything you know about labeling music and just come out to have a fun and entertaining experience.”

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 Hillbenders will be performing at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts 8 p.m. Feb. 16.  Tickets, priced at $28, and $38, and are available at www.NortonCenter.com or by calling the box office at (859) 236-4692.