Deeper Digs in Rock: Tommy - A Bluegrass Opry by The Hillbenders

This show features Christian & Peter chatting with Nolan Lawrence of The Hillbenders - Mandolin player and vocalist. This is a special interview at Slim's San Francisco for a live performance of their 'Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry' album.

Please purchase this album or stream it wherever you listen to music! If you are in the Bay Area- check out The Hillbenders perform 'Tommy'at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Sunday October 2.

The 'Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry' project notes below are taken from

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 special video accompaniment and 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 and the power of The Who.


  • Jim Rea – Guitar/Arranger
  • Nolan Lawrence - Mandolin
  • Chad "Gravy Boat" Graves - Dobro
  • Mark Cassidy - Banjo
  • Gary Rea – Bass

All vocals: The HillBenders

Produced by Louis Jay Meyers

Recorded fully analog at The Studio, Springfield Missouri

Engineered by Mike Stewart & Louis Jay Meyers

Studio assistant engineers: Eric Schuchmann & Mark Bilyeu

Mastered at The Cutting Room, Stockholm Sweden by Björn Engelmann & Michael Blair

Artwork by A Man Called Wrycraft

Photos by Galadriel Thompson

Record Label: Compass Records 

Booking Agency: KCA Artists (615-615-327-4646)


  1. Overture (3:49)
  2. Captain Walker (1:41)
  3. 1921 (2:20)
  4. Amazing Journey (3:00)
  5. Sparks (2:50)
  6. Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker) (2:05)
  7. Christmas (4:10)
  8. Cousin Kevin (3:41)
  9. The Acid Queen (3:15)
  10. Do You Think It’s Alright? (0:26)
  11. Fiddle About (1:18)
  12. Pinball Wizard (3:44)
  13. There’s A Doctor (0:21)
  14. Go To The Mirror (2:58)
  15. Tommy, Can You Hear Me? (0:56)
  16. Smash The Mirror (1:21)
  17. Sensation (2:19)
  18. Miracle Cure (0:13)
  19. Sally Simpson (3:35)
  20. I’m Free (1:58)
  21. Welcome (3:39)
  22. Tommy’s Holiday Camp (0:48)
  23. We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me (5:34)

Total run time: 56 minutes

Songs written by Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon & Sonny Boy Williamson