Oh my, where do I start? I guess I start with recognizing the fact that it has been several months since the last time that I really sat down to write something, to create, to formulate frames, thoughts, and ideas through the use of words.
Then I suppose I should include the fact that I went to see The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, The Best of TSO and More Tour 2017 on Saturday, November 25th in Manchester, NH. As often happens with me when I listen to these folks, even while I was sitting there at the venue, watching both the afternoon and evening shows, I had words, ideas, lyrics, and emotions I wanted to capture, all swirling in my head.
I brought my oldest son, and a longtime friend (TSO first-timer), to the afternoon show. I told myself that I was going to sit back and relax and just watch the show. I figured I wouldn’t take many if any, pictures either. Well that lasted for about 75 seconds, as the new stage set up, and the scene in front of me just blew me away, and all previous thought seemed like a waste of time. Like a little kid with a huge Christmas smile, I moved forward as if the experience was completely new and there was not a thing preconceived.
Well, the afternoon show played on, and ultimately finished with my friend beaming from ear to ear, and saying, “I don’t know how I would explain all of that to somebody!” You are correct sir. To see and to hear them is to believe, and even then, I don’t know that you could see and hear all of it. I dropped my guests off after the show, grabbed a coffee and a small snack before returning for the evening show.
The electricity and showmanship of the evening show still haven’t fully settled in my feeble mind enough to even put into words. At the end of it all, I was exhausted, I was in awesome wonder, I was happy, I was content, and I was thankful. I did not expect to be so encouraged though. That very night and in the days since, I have been contacted by several folks from all over North America who intimated in conversation, message, or in one way or another that they were looking forward to the sharing of my words regarding the experience this year. I am humbled and hope that this fits the bill.
For an uneducated home-maker, caretaker, coach, writer, photographer, woodworker, generally big guy who has been dreaming and romanticizing all that could be since I started my 12 years of schooling at age 5, I have been completely overwhelmed by folks from places I’ve never even been to during the last 6 years of writing. I am thankful and humbled. It feels good to be here again.
There is this incredibly talented band, orchestra, vocalists, and storyteller, and they are now known throughout the land. They are the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
In 1999, they started touring, covering seven venues (I believe) that first year. I have written about this before, but it all started for me with one song. In December of 1999, I heard Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 on WAAF Radio out of Boston, for the first time. I don’t know that I remember the year, or certainly the month, of any other song I have ever first heard in my life. This song was like no other Christmas song I had ever heard. My interest was forever piqued. I remember the DJ mentioning Dead Winter Dead by Savatage. I was not a Savatage fan at the time, or I should say, I didn’t really know who they were. I am usually a little slow on the uptake. But I started calling the radio station over and over to request the song. Then I heard more about Trans-Siberian Orchestra on the radio, and I knew I had to go check them out. That, I did.
Then, of course, I just assume that we all have someplace we came from and were passing through life at one place or another along our personal timeline when we first saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra play live. Perhaps, it was a ‘one and done’ performance for whatever the reason. Maybe it’s been multiple shows now or even become an annual event. For those of us who have seen TSO play live over a period time, and maybe it’s just me, we personally have traveled along life’s road over that passage of time from show to show, and tour to tour as well. I will never forget my first show, for a number of reasons. For me, there was (and it’s only grown over the years) such a “shake me to my emotional core” connection with the band and the live performance that I am lucky I didn’t shake right over the railing and out of the balcony in Albany, NY that very first time. When I think of that show, that time in my life, and where I have been since, right up to where I find myself now, it would be impossible for me to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert without getting emotional numerous times. But I count that as real, I count that as true and transparent, and I am thankful for it. Then to know that God somehow saw fit to allow me to find my way again, is “bring me to my knees” humbling. God has blessed me and my family more times and in more ways, than I could ever begin to calculate. Thank you, Lord. I am just a man, no more deserving than any other. I weep, and humbly accept my place in a picture that is so much larger than anything I could ever even conceptualize.
Sometimes I wish that my memory was better than it is, but then other times, I am glad I have no recollection of certain times. I do know for certain that I have been seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert every year since the year 2000. I don’t know how many shows I have seen but it has to be 50 anyways. Numerous years, I have seen them 3-4 times on the same tour. I know there other fans out there who dwarf these numbers, but I have a hard enough time remembering the ones I have seen. Which brings me to my friend Brad Parmerter who has seen TSO 113 times (that number will climb before this tour ends. It may have climbed since I started writing this).
I will get too more about Brad a little bit later but suffice it to say that I can usually count on Brad to remember something that I saw or heard for me.
I guess it all adds up to the fact that I know more than some, and less than many others, about the band, and the people that make up the show year after year. So, even with my limited background look into these folks lives and experiences through my own observations, I certainly tap into a certain set of emotions at each show just based on having a mild acquaintance with many of the band members over the years. I consider them my friends, and I certainly feel the ups and downs of life with them both in and out of the tour season. If nothing else, it provides a tremendous perspective to me, to cut through any glitz, glamour, and stardom, and just feel the raw emotion of a real person, vulnerable and human just like me, performing at outer worldly standards show after show after show.
If you know me, you know that other than covering high school hockey in southern NH the last couple of seasons, that I have written more posts about TSO than about anything else, save my family. And honestly, the more I know of the band members and many fans, it seems that my family is growing.
When I walk into the bowl that is the arena, and I see the curtain, yes, that familiar curtain, I feel like I am home for Christmas.
I am completely comfortable and at ease in this setting. Then, Chris Caffery comes out with a band member/vocalist or two and a local radio personality. They give a donation in the form of a giant check totaling one dollar from every ticket sold to that show to local charities. Chris said this year, that through this program, TSO is approaching $15 million in donations to local charities over 19 years of touring. I don’t know about you, but I love that.
Over the last several years the TSO shows in NH have been right after Thanksgiving. Now, I spend Thanksgiving with family and then spend an afternoon and evening with TSO and the TSO family. Storyteller extraordinaire, Bryan Hicks with his velvet smooth voice, in perfect booming Christmas cadence declares Merry Christmas! And to me that’s it; it’s officially Christmas time! What better way to get into the season, and to let the Christmas spirit wash over me than with TSO.
The year 2017 has been immeasurably tough on every member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And even that is an understatement, and I say that with complete and utter respect. Friends and loved ones across the TSO family were lost this year. None more missed and respected than the exceptional bassist, David Z, who brightened the life of everyone he touched, even if it was four sections away with a smile and a nod. Certainly, there would be no TSO, nor the legends that surround them, and the legend of TSO founder himself, Paul O’Neill. Mr. Paul O’Neill passed away earlier this year and despite being widely known for his acts of kindness and never-ending generosity, I don’t think it ended with his passing. All you have to do is look into the eyes of any one of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra members and tell me that he didn’t leave a gift that will be given back over and over for a long time to come. His legacy of excellence, creativity, generosity, and genius will live on, and we are better for it.
So, when I saw Chris Caffery absolutely shredding on his guitar with a sense of urgency like his hair was on fire, I wonder if he was channeling a greater inspiration. Or when Russell Allen’s presence on stage made SNHU Arena feel as intimate a space as an old living room where we first heard a performance that left us smiling, shaking our heads, and wondering if we’d ever seen something so spectacular. Does it all come totally from within, or is there a force bigger than ourselves that coaxes us to step closer to greatness, like when the magnificent Lisa Lavie during For The Sake Of Our Brother has people explode to their feet in adoration and applause before the song even finishes. Sometimes a performance goes right to the soul. Ya, it’s been 18 years for me, and people ask me: Why have I gone so many times? or Why keep going to see them every year? Well in the lyrics of What Child Is This? I come up with this response, “…Tell me how many times can this story be told, After all of these years it should all sound so old, But it somehow rings true in the back of my mind, As I search for a dream that words can no longer define…”. Add the incomparable Rob Evan to the mix, as he belts out these lyrics like a perfect sound that couldn’t possibly get any better, but somehow always does, in total control, as he pulls off a crescendo that would make Grace Slick proud. Every time he sings his voice practically lifts me out of my seat, and I even know what is coming. Straight powerful! Hopefully, you get the idea. I get this fired up and inspired by the performances each year, for 18 straight years! Where else in life does this happen?
As I said earlier, I didn’t snap a photo for at least a full minute. The stage this year is the best set I have ever seen, and it’s not even close. Incredible! By the time they played Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 during the first half of the show, I found myself completely blown away and was wondering if God might for a moment, grant me an extra sense or two just so that I could capture the immenseness that was unfolding before my wide eyes. Wow! I have only seen that song performed some 100 times live, and it had me leaping from my seat as if that would help me enjoy it even more. Unreal. Some 350+ pictures later, I have some sorting to do.
I am a fortunate man, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra play live so many times. As you may, or may not, know, the band does a quick autograph signing session after the evening shows. I have been fortunate enough to attend several of these now. Getting to shake hands with these folks, and to talk to them for a moment or two, is tremendous. They are a pleasure to visit with, and it’s just another of the many things that TSO gets right.
Some of the vocalists and band members have changed over the years, as have the set lists, and I suppose they always will. Zak Stevens (vocals), Joel Hoekstra (guitar), Jeff Plate (drums), Natalya Rose-Piette (vocals), Robin Borneman (vocals), Derek Wieland (musical director, keyboards), Mee-Eun Kim (keyboards), Kayla Reeves (vocals, guitar), Ava Davis (vocals), Georgia Napolitano (vocals), Roddy Chong (strings), Tony Dickinson (bass), and Dustin Brayley (vocals, guitar) round out this year’s amazing band. Year after year though, I have never left a show disappointed. If anything, I have left feeling inspired, invigorated, and maybe even spiritually refreshed. So, show after show, year after year, I sit in my seat and sing along quietly to most of the words. I smile a lot, like a kid whose Christmas just keeps getting better and better. My eyes tear up, often, as the message, the passion of the performance, or at least my emotional connection to the music and the band pulls at my heartstrings. It’s as if, all that is right, all that is pure, is demanding of me internally that all debts, inequalities, untruths, and any other misguided thought that my imperfect humanness harbors be exposed, accounted for, and reconciled immediately. Yes, maybe I get more out of these shows than some others, because it is more than words, notes, and lyrics to me. There is no doubt that I believe, and seeing TSO certainly helps me kick off my Christmas every year, my favorite time of the year. There are two excerpts (among many to choose from) from lyrics that help define my outlook during every show, and beyond. One: “…The angels were singing, In their angel style, How all of our hopes, Had come down to this Child.” There is always hope. Two: “…If our kindness, This day is just pretending, If we pretend long enough, Never giving up, It just might be who we are.”
Certainly, many folks could have excused the Trans-Siberian Orchestra this year if they hadn’t toured at all, or shortened the tour, or some other form of alterations, but they didn’t. As the page dedicated to Paul O’Neill’s memory, on the band’s’ website says, Paul’s vision was a huge one, as in “ever-changing” and “everlasting”. That is why the show must go on.
Hopefully, as you read through all of this, you noticed links (that you can click on) integrated into the text. Many of these links will take you directly to videos of TSO performing songs from live performances this year. This is where we tie Brad Parmerter back into this. The videos are products of Brad’s dedication to the band, the songs, the performances, and all of the people that make each show come to life, and his commitment to excellence. You can check out Brad’s channel on YouTube right here. If you are a TSO fan, and even if you aren’t, you really need to spend some time on his channel. Maybe just subscribe.
Brad has also done some interviews with various members of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and others, which you can find through this link. In a way that shows us that the world is smaller than we think, and certainly in an example of how forces are work long before we are aware of them, Brad and I have unknowingly been TSO friends since 2000. I have followed his work for many years, and we’ve messaged through certain platforms over the years. I even had seen him at a distance several times in the past. Then last year in Manchester we met. We chatted a fair amount and found out that for each of us, our first ever TSO show was December 8, 2000, in Albany, NY. I find this mildly ironic given he lives in that area, and I live in NH. But somehow the genius of Paul O’Neill put us, and many, many others together. Thank you, Brad, for your contributions to this piece, and to all of us who fancy ourselves as fans of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.