For those of you who are not quite familiar with the Christmas season sensation Trans-Siberian Orchestra or TSO, let me give you a quick history lesson. The band was founded in 1996 in Tampa, FL by lyricist and composer Paul O’Neill (not to be confused with the former All-Star MLB player) and also consisted of former Savatage members Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli along with keyboard player Robert Kinkel. After a local Tampa radio DJ named Mason Dixon played a track from Savatage called “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”, the track blew up on the charts becoming a nationwide hit and Savatage then became better known and Christended as Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Members have come and gone over the years, but the band’s music was written, composed and produced by O’Neill until his untimely passing in April 2017. Al Pitrelli and company keep O’Neill’s vision alive every Christmas season when they tour as TSO.
So quick story, as a teenager I would frequent a music store in Tampa called Mars Music. Although I wouldn’t actually learn the guitar for real until late 1997, I did go and ‘pretend’ I knew how to play and befriended the store’s manager Steve in the process. Little did I know that the manager was Steve Wacholz, better known in the thrash metal world as “Doc”, who was the longtime drummer of Savatage. I was even lucky enough to meet Paul O’Neil and Savatage’s Jon Oliva when they stopped by the store one day when I happened to be there. I was actually noodling on the guitar and I do remember Jon telling me to “practice, practice, practice kid. That’s what my little brother Criss would have told you.” (Criss, Savatage’s lead guitarist, sadly passed away in a car accident in 1993). This was one of the many occasions in the 1990’s where I wish I had a camera with me as I was in the presence of 2 musical legends and a total composer genius in O’Neill! I still consider myself lucky to have met them all in one place. I would later meet drummers Steve Ferrone (Eric Clapton, many others) and Steve Smith (formerly of Journey) in Mars Music later on. ?
So as far as TSO goes, I was lucky enough to attend the band’s “home” show in Tampa, FL on Sunday, December 18th to a full crowd of adoring fans as well as family members of the band and former member Jon Oliva, who got probably the best seat in the house right in front of the soundboard. Even longtime DJ Mason Dixon was in attendance sitting front row center, getting accolades and waives from Al and the band throughout the show. Mason’s charity “The Mason Dixon Christmas Wish Fund”, which provides Christmas for local Tampa Bay area families in need during the holidays was the recipient of the band’s drive to donate to local charities with each show. $1 of each ticket was donated to Mason’s charity, totaling $23,498 for 2022. Another amazing part of what TSO does with their shows. ❤️
This year’s tour ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More” featured a wide array of hits spanning from their massively popular 1999 made-for-TV film production The Ghosts of Christmas Eve and hits from their other albums released from 1996 to 2015. Some of the songs that were played included “The Lost Christmas Eve”, Savatage cover “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”, “What Child Is This?”, “Music Box Blues”, A Mad Russians Christmas”, “Wizards In Winter” before closing the show with a reprise encore of “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”. The Christmas Spirit was in full display this night with the melodic metal music arrangements, incredible vocalists and musicians (including the local Tampa chapter of TSO’s string orchestra) and the spectacle of lights, lasers and of course pyro and fire that one is accustomed to seeing at a TSO show!
It’s not too late to catch a TSO show in 2022, even though Christmas is this weekend. The tour still has stops in Chicago, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Columbus, Washington DC, Kansas City, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland and Dallas before closing out 2022 in San Antonio, TX on December 30th.
For information on the group, including getting tickets to this amazing one-of-a-kind show, visit www.trans-siberian.com/tour. TSO is a show that should definitely be on your bucket list, so check it out now!