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Echo Park presents 'Tommy' Dec. 4

Article Published: Nov. 25, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Echo Park presents 'Tommy' Dec. 4

Echo Park and friends will reprise their performance of The Who's Tommy on Dec. 4 in Boone.

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The Acid Queen, Pinball Wizard and Cousin Kevin are going to church.

Area rock outfit Echo Park is bringing The Who's Tommy back to Boone for a Dec. 4 performance at Living Water Christian Fellowship's new performance hall, Harvest House.

A reprise of May's performance for the benefit of the Watauga Arts Council, the Dec. 4 show will feature the same cast of musicians, including Echo Park, Melissa Reaves, Becca Eggers-Gryder and Billy Ralph Winkler, inspired by The Who's live performance of Tommy in 1989, in which guest artists performed the rock opera's various roles.

The 1969 concept album, composed primarily by Who guitarist Pete Townshend, is considered the first rock opera, telling the story of Tommy, a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy, and the tragic, cruel and ultimately enlightening encounters that fill his life.

"The music is fun," said Rusty Blanton, guitarist and backup vocalist for Echo Park. "It's just fun to play as a whole work. It wears us out, but it was just so much fun being able to take people like Bill and Becca and let them do something that's not necessarily in their genre."

Echo Park lead vocalist and keyboardist Bob Rochelle plays Tommy, while Eggers-Gryder again plays Tommy's mother. Winkler, county commissioner and former high school band teacher, reprises his role as Tommy's mother's lover, and Melissa Reaves returns as the Acid Queen.

When Echo Park performed Tommy this May, Blanton said it was very well-received, but, "I was amazed at how many people said, 'Gee, I wish I could've been there.' And that's why we want to do it again."

Tommy seemed a natural fit for Echo Park, Blanton said, and much of the staging and acting was improvised at the last minute, resulting in a surprisingly more natural feel. "It's more of a concert than your actual stage performance," he said.

Rounding out Echo Park are bassist Bill Fisher, keyboardist Steve Roark and drummer Jamie Blanton. Namesake of a Blowing Rock neighborhood, Echo Park was established in the fall of 1979, with Blanton, guitarist Kyle Graham, drummer Mark Williams and Fisher, the local television personality known commonly as Fish. Rochelle joined the band in 1988, after Graham and Williams moved to pursue different careers, leaving a core trio to carry Echo Park into the 1990s.

Easily likened to the progressive rock sounds of Yes and Rush, Echo Park also combines the harder edge of bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. In the '90s, and short a drummer, the band ventured into acoustic territory, until Blanton found a suitable performer in his own family tree - his son, Jamie. The band has since returned to its progressive roots.

The foursome played with various keyboardists until 2007, when Roark, who had played with Echo Park in the '90s, returned to Boone.

"We fell right back into it like we didn't miss a beat - or measure," Rochelle said in a previous interview. "The older I get, the more I appreciate the band, the type of music we play and the camaraderie we have among us."

Naturally, it's with a heavy heart that Echo Park bids farewell to Fisher, who's leaving the High Country for Florida in December. On Dec. 4, just before the performance of Tommy, the band will host a reception for Fisher that's free and open to the public.

"It's a chance to say 'howdy' and 'thank you' to Fish for all the years of service he's given to this community," Blanton said. "It's a chance to see him in his last concert up here, as well as to see us and everybody else. It's just going to be an evening of great music.

The reception starts at 5 p.m., and the band Harvest House will open for Echo Park at 6:30 p.m. Tommy begins at 7 p.m.

"After Tommy, we'll probably want to play a few things afterwards, since it's our last time with Fish - some Echo Park originals, and maybe just a couple other covers that are near and dear to our hearts," Blanton said.

Tickets cost $10 and will be available at the door.

Living Water Christian Fellowship is located at 247 Boone Heights Drive, next to the Boone Bowling Center. For more information, call (828) 264-4070.

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