The Hillbenders to perform bluegrass version of The Who’s ‘Tommy’ in Scranton
Source: Pinball SessionsThe Hillbenders - Pinball Wizard
SCRANTON — Bringing together a myriad of influences and abilities, a bluegrass quintet with Missouri roots is set to visit Northeastern Pennsylvania to perform one of the most recognized and celebrated rock operas of all time.
The Hillbenders will perform “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry,” their musical adaptation of The Who’s “Tommy,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Theater at North.
Hillbenders guitarist, Jim Rea, said the band took on the project at the urging of late South by Southwest and Folk Alliance founder Louis Meyers.
“We become friends with the guy, and he laid on us one day that he was retiring from Folk Alliance, and he wanted to do this project,’A Bluegrass Opry’ with The Who’s ‘Tommy’ in an all acoustic/bluegrass version,” Rea said.
Rea said Meyers had been holding on to the project until he found a band with “enough rock ‘n’ roll in their bluegrass” and the right amount of vocal power to pull it off.
“He said, ‘I think you guys are it,’” Rea said.
Born out of another band called the Arkamo Rangers, members of The Hillbenders have been playing together for nearly 15 years, although they took their current form roughly nine years ago.
Coming from backgrounds as diverse as the spectrum from opera to hip-hop, The Hillbenders bring five distinct musical personalities into their expression of bluegrass.
“It helped bring variety,” Rea said. “It helped bring a cool stage show with everybody having their own persona, but it also makes creation a little more difficult. You’re constantly tugging at each other.”
The band released two critically acclaimed albums of original music in 2010’s “Down To My Last Dollar” and 2012’s “Can You Hear Me?” before the relocation of band members slowed output.
“We were just hanging around for about a year at about the six year marker,” Rea said. “That’s when Louis came to us with this idea, and it kind of helped rejuvenate us.”
Touring with “Tommy,” which The Hillbenders plan to play in it’s entirety in Scranton, has been special, Rea said, because the album is steeped in tradition and mystique.
Nostalgic even for him, Rea remembers his mother taking him to a production of the rock opera in his hometown when he was 13 years old.
“For the people coming out to the show, the nostalgia is there for them too,” Rea said. “The thing you hear most is, ‘I remember when that album came out.’ When you hear a 65-year-old man telling you that, and he’s taken back to being 13 or 15 years old … there’s a twinkle in peoples’ eyes.”
Rea said The Hillbenders dynamic on stage is akin to a long-standing marriage.
“We are all so comfortable with each other,” Rea said. “There are things that get under your skin about each other, but it’s the game of acceptance. You love it for what it is and give it the best you can. It’s our old common ground. We love to perform.”
Rea said the band has enjoyed touring with “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry,” and the consistent time together is promoting new creation.
“We’re finding time on the road to practice new songs,” Rea said. “It’s good to get those juices flowing again.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO:
What: The Hillbenders perform ‘Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry’
Where: The Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 10
Ticket information: Tickest cost $25 in advance and are available at thetheateratnorth.com.