Trans-Siberian tradition

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Trans-Siberian Orchestra is not the typical band that plays before packed houses year after year.

TSO, which is coming to the Mohegan Sun this weekend, is not known for a top 40 hit. It is not known for a trendy video. Its members are not known for wedging themselves into the headlines of gossip columns.

They are a group of musicians who pack up the tractor-trailers, hit the road each year around the holidays, and they proceed to sell oodles of tickets—sometimes to recent converts to Trans-Siberian Orchestra and some who make an annual pilgrimage to check out TSO again and again.

Long-time TSO member, music director, and lead guitarist Al Pitrelli spoke to the press recently in a telephone press conference about the group’s upcoming Winter Tour, which features an update of their iconic “Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”

Many acts such as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga get the hoopla and the attention prior to their once in a blue moon sell-out tours. But Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a trusty friend that goes out each and every year – and still keeps selling out.

The group, for many fans, has become a holiday tradition— like visiting grandma’s house in morning to open presents.

“You know as a musician,” said Pitrelli, “I could have never seen this one coming because you just hit it on the head. It’s become something that just exceeded everybody’s expectations.”

“You join a rock band or you do a record, (and) you hope to God… let me sell a bunch of records. If I get a platinum record on my wall, awesome. If you get a couple of platinum records on your wall, well, that’s even more awesome. If you do a tour and people come and you sell out that’s incredible,” said Pitrelli.

“To do this every year for 18 years and it’s only gotten bigger and bigger and bigger on a musical level, on a business level, it’s incredible,” said Pitrelli.

“There’s that little part of it that just turned into something completely different (than just a band selling records and selling out shows) where we became part of people’s holiday tradition,” said Pitrelli.

“I can’t tell you how many times everybody in the organization between Paul (O’Neill, the late creative force of TSO) and his family, the management, everybody, (has someone tell them), ‘It’s really not Christmas until you guys come to town,’ or ‘We play your music from Thanksgiving until New Year’s,’” said Pitrelli.

Fans will tell Pitrelli, he said, “I brought my grandmother last year and we’re bringing our grandchildren.”

“You hear things after the show or whatever, and you just go, ‘Wow, we’re part of something that really just took off much bigger than we ever thought it could,’” said Pitrelli.

“It’s not just a rock band anymore. It’s just become part of the holidays. It’s really incredible,” said Pitrelli.

The concept of TSO was the late Paul O’Neill’s brainchild. However, on stage, TSO is noted for the fact that there are no “stars” who hog the spotlight. It’s a group effort through and through.

“The story is the star,” said Pitrelli of TSO, which this year will be performing “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”

“Paul, when he wrote these stories, he wrote beautiful Frank Capra-esque tales that became the center point of the show,” said Pitrelli. “I’m just proud to be part of it.”

For instance, “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” which is often seen as a holiday special on television, tells “the tale of  the journey of a runaway little girl’s decision to return to her family after she enters a rundown theater for shelter and encounters an old caretaker who guides her on her journey,” according to hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com

“The story is what got everybody’s attention,” Pitrelli said.

“You have to be okay with that (being in the backseat to the story),” he said. “Everybody on that stage, everybody under the stage, everybody behind the stage is really happy with being part of something much bigger than the individual.”

“If you think about some of the greatest stories that were presented on Broadway— or became films like… ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’” said Pitrelli. “Everybody knows the story ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Everybody knows, or most everybody knows it was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber… Maybe not as many people know that Ted Neeley did the movie or Yvonne Elliman was Mary Magdalene.”

It’s like that for TSO, he explained.

“I’ll be downstage center in the spotlight or maybe upstage a little bit more in the shadows,” said Pitrelli, “it doesn’t matter because the story from the opening word to the last note, it’s what people in America and our globe have fallen in love with.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its 2017, with a completely updated presentation of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” to the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville on Sunday, Nov. 26 at 3 and 8 p.m.

Tickets are $64, $54, and $44. For tickets, go to Ticketmaster.com or call 1-800-745-3000.

For more information, go to www.trans-siberian.com.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its tour to the Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday. (PHOTO by JASON MCEACHERN)

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