How They Handle Their Epic Vacation Haul – Billboard


For the reason that enterprise of Christmas music is rising so quick – it occupies 5 of the highest 10 locations on the Billboard Scorching 100 this week – we’re re-presenting a few of our tales from Christmas previous. This piece, the touring success of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, initially ran in 2019. Since then, TSO’s touring success has continued. In 2019, the group’s 109-date tour bought 1,016,000 tickets for a $66.8 million gross. In 2021, it bought 767,000 tickets to 98 exhibits for $54.6 million. And, this 12 months, as of the top of November, TSO bought 223,000 tickets to 27 exhibits for $15.6 million.

To this point, TSO has grossed $683.2 million and bought 13.5 million tickets.

The Mid-America Middle in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is positioned in an industrial park down the road from the Cresline Plastic Pipe Firm, appears to be like from the skin like another 8,000-capacity enviornment. Subsequent week, the Council Bluffs Kennel Canine Present will happen there, adopted by a charity bubble-soccer face-off between firefighters and cops from the state and neighboring Nebraska. However yearly for 3 weeks or so in late October and early November, Trans-Siberian Orchestra administration turns the venue right into a high-tech meeting line and launch pad for the act’s perennial tour.

In a single room, storage buckets maintain parts of the stage; in a bigger house stocked with forklifts and work benches, carpenters weld these parts collectively. A big mixing board sits inexplicably in one of many enviornment’s loos, and in separate rehearsal suites, two iterations of the 18-piece orchestra — one that can play dates east of this central U.S. location and one that can head west — go over, and over, this 12 months’s set. 

In the primary enviornment house, two rehearsal phases are set finish to finish. On a Thursday night time, one stage sits dormant whereas the East group runs by way of its practically two-and-a-half-hour set, full with dozens of fiery explosions, webs of crisscrossing inexperienced and crimson lasers, floating video screens, dueling long-haired steel guitarists and elaborate classical and progressive-rock songs engineered from, amongst many different issues, Beethoven riffs, Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” At one level, a 24-foot metallic contraption on the facet of the stage spews out tiny lightning bolts timed to steer guitarist Joel Hoekstra’s solos. It’s the present’s newest improve: a double-Tesla coil. “Effectively,” says Al Pitrelli, 57, the tour’s musical director and lead guitarist for the West group, as he stands close to the soundboard. “That doesn’t suck.”

For years, the 2 orchestras performed barely totally different preparations of the identical songs — the deviations so high quality that they have been obvious solely to the musicians — however that proved unnecessarily difficult for such a big enterprise, particularly for the backup drummer who needed to be taught each variations. Now, each comply with the identical script and sheet music, roughly. “Every band has a special persona,” says longtime drummer Jeff Plate. “So there are some spots which have a special vibe.”



Jason McEachern

Not that there’s any sort of East-West rivarly. About 85 p.c of the crew labored on the earlier TSO tour, as have many of the musicians. “We now have an expanded household out right here,” says Plate of the group that has gathered in Council Bluffs — not stunning for a gaggle that has spent years celebrating the Christmas holidays on the highway. Though many of the forged, crew and musicians return dwelling when the tour breaks briefly for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, on work days they bond over meals catered by topline servers, many custom-made in line with household vacation traditions. For good measure, Pitrelli years in the past taught the catering division’s head chef the recipe for his grandmother’s “Sunday sauce.” The musicians spend hours after each night live performance  — there are often two performances a day — greeting followers. “I wouldn’t know what to do with out it, truthfully,” says Joel Hoekstra, who has toured with the orchestra for 10 years and likewise performs with Cher and Whitesnake.

The tour — which is slated to hit 66 cities in seven weeks for a complete of 109 exhibits — kicked off on Wednesday. The West orchestra performs its first present in Council Bluffs, whereas the East contingent debuts in Inexperienced Bay, Wis., ushering within the twentieth 12 months of an unlikely live-music idea that, regardless of such a compact itinerary, persistently ranks among the many prime reside outings of the 12 months. Based on Billboard Boxscore knowledge, up to now, TSO has grossed $546.1 million and bought 11.5 million tickets over 1,484 exhibits. It’s one among solely 32 acts within the historical past of the database to gross greater than $500 million as a solo headliner — the orchestras don’t co-headline with different acts and even use openers — and one among solely 15 solo headliners to promote in extra of 10 million tickets. And for an act that isn’t a radio staple — even throughout the holidays — TSO has charted 9 albums on the Billboard 200, 4 of them reaching the highest 10; bought 10.1 million albums and 4.9 million downloads; and generated 273.5 million on-demand audio and 177.5 million on-demand video streams, in line with Nielsen Music.

Inexperienced Bay Press Gazette reviewer Kendra Meinert describes the East orchestra’s opening night time as “somewhat like a household reunion” making a “heat and welcome return.” Noting that the concertgoers in her row included “two teenagers, a Harley rider and senior residents speaking about their bus journey to Branson, Missouri,” she writes: “That’s the way you  get to be a top-grossing touring act 12 months after 12 months by touring just for a number of weeks.” A loyal fanbase can be an enormous a part of TSO’s perennial success: Administration says that 60 p.c of this 12 months’s ticket-holders are repeat clients.

In April 2017, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s prolonged household was rocked — and the way forward for the household enterprise all of a sudden put doubtful — when the orchestra’s founder Paul O’Neill, a driving, dreaming perfectionist who had as soon as performed guitar in a touring manufacturing of Jesus Christ Famous person and later labored as a promoter and a supervisor for AC/DC and Def Leppard, died unexpectedly on the age of 61 from a response to prescription medication he was taking. O’Neill’s household made the choice that the present would go on, and when the touring firm hit the highway once more that November, it rapidly dispelled any doubts that Trans-SIberian Orchestra had misplaced its luster with out its creator and chief cheerleader on the helm. In 2017 and 2018, TSO went on to attain the 2 largest Boxscore grosses of its historical past: $50.2 million and $56.7 million, respectively. (The latter determine additionally displays, partially, the very best ticket costs of the act’s historical past.) The orchestra additionally completed at No. 20 on Billboard‘s Cash Makers rating of the top-earning acts of 2018, with $18.5 million in collective gross sales, streaming, publishing and touring revenue. 

Primarily based on ticketing developments for the act, Billboard estimates that TSO’s 2019 field workplace might method $60 million this 12 months, thanks, partially, to the choice to revisit in its entirety the orchestra’s debut album, Christmas Eve and Different Tales — and that continued success has the group already considering how one can prime itself subsequent 12 months. 

Within the early ‘90s, O’Neill started to plot a holiday-themed reside spectacle that mixed progressive rock, heavy steel and classical music with elaborate stage productions. He had been producing a struggling Tarpon Springs, Fla., steel and prog rock band referred to as Savatage when its label, Atlantic Data, inspired him to pursue his thought of a holiday-themed rock opera with a Pink Floyd-style mild present. The Queens, N.Y., native mined Savatage for expertise, together with Pitrelli, who has performed with Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult and Megadeth and auditioned after O’Neill rejected what the axman calls “nice guitar gamers everywhere in the planet.” O’Neill requested Pitrelli to play excerpts from Mozart’s Symphony No. 24, and when the guitarist transposed the advanced piece into a special key on the spot, he employed him.

Collectively, O’Neill, Pitrelli and Savatage composer Jon Oliva — who stays a continuing presence at TSO rehearsals, clapping and snapping from a chair beneath the stage and bantering with the musicians about key modifications and fantasy soccer — labored out preparations for authentic compositions like “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.” The instrumental turned the center of Christmas Eve and Different Tales, which informed the story of an angel who responds to a father’s prayer to see his daughter for the primary time in years. Launched in 1996, the album ultimately went triple-platinum.

In 1999, O’Neill took his imaginative and prescient on the highway, and in 2004, Trans-Siberian Orchestra turned the nineteenth highest-grossing tour of the 12 months, in line with Boxscore. It could end among the many prime 25 for eight of the subsequent 14 years.  

Success didn’t fulfill O’Neill. “Paul needed increasingly more and extra,” Plate says of TSO’s shaggy-haired, bearded founder, who wore a leather-based jacket and sun shades just about all over the place. “He could be nearly unrealistic and so adamant.” O’Neill pushed everyone, from musicians to pyro wizards, and through rehearsals may very well be discovered “operating across the ground” like a rock ‘n’ roll Bob Fosse, Plate provides, “stopping the tune within the center as a result of anyone’s not in the fitting spot or the singer didn’t have the fitting inflection on a sure phrase or the lighting cue was off.” Though he died greater than two years in the past, managers and musicians nonetheless converse of O’Neill within the current tense. 

O’Neill’s model of ambition did not come low-cost then — and doesn’t now. Though touring and manufacturing director Elliot Saltzman declines to disclose the price of placing two touring firms — consisting of 120 individuals and 20 vehicles every — on the highway (a apply O’Neill initiated in 2000 to fulfill demand for bookings), he does enable that he budgets $1 million for pyrotechnics alone. (“It’s like being in Iwo Jima [onstage],” Pitrelli says. “But it surely works.”) “Our startup prices are greater than The Rolling Stones — and now we have to recoup in seven weeks,” Saltzman says of the double-tour, which runs by way of Dec. 30 this 12 months. 

When O’Neill was alive, he would demand extra pyro, lasers and particular results for every successive tour, whereas Saltzman, Adam Lind and Kenny Kaplan, who oversee the band as companions of Fort Administration, performed the finances scolds. Since his dying, the trio has reversed roles. “Now now we have to push somewhat,” Lind says. Ten years in the past, Pitrelli may need attended rehearsal and thought, “It’s fairly good.” Now he “appears to be like for stuff to repair.” Provides the guitarist: “He was my large brother. I’m conserving myself on my toes now. At the back of my thoughts, I hear Paul at all times pushing me, however I’ve discovered to do it myself.”   

At one level, strolling by way of the sector, Saltzman, Lind and Kaplan encounter pyro specialist Doug Adams, who guarantees imminent Cryo-Jet fog-machine performance. Pitrelli says Adams regularly tells him, “Wait until you see what I designed this 12 months!” and, anticipating being barbecued onstage, thinks to himself, “Oh, kill me.” Provides Saltzman, who additionally manages Joan Jett and consults with different excursions: “We now have fireplace popping out of the whole lot. We’ve bought a number of mad scientists right here.” Kaplan, although, says the managers are skilled sufficient to know when a bit requires simply 15 explosions reasonably than, say, the pyro workforce’s most popular 30. “They’re simply considering ‘large is large,’ however we’re making an attempt to measure the place it’s spent finest,” he says. 



Jason McEachern

TSO’s first tour in 1999 performed seven exhibits in 5 cities and drew 12,000 concertgoers. By 2004, its itinerary had expanded to 100 exhibits — usually two a day — that attracted 1 million ticket-holders. (From 2010 by way of 2012, TSO took its solely non-holiday album, 2000’s Beethoven’s Final Evening, on the highway within the spring and reps say the orchestra is contemplating related excursions sooner or later.) The exhibits are family-friendly and celeb attendees embody Eddie Van Halen, Child Rock, the New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and The Band Perry, who as soon as drove from Nashville to Knoxville to see the present, mother and father and grandparents in tow.

When the information broke of O’Neill’s dying, the group was surprised. O’Neill’s creativeness and drive to innovate had stored TSO evolving for 20 years. “Paul at all times had a knack for being one step past what anyone might envision,” says Hoekstra. “He would whip everyone right into a frenzy.”

“He would come into our dressing room and discuss goals and mystical concepts and fantasies,” remembers Mee Eun Kim, a keyboardist since 2000. “By the point he leaves the room” — there’s the current tense once more — “the women would all whisper to one another: ‘That’s by no means going to occur.’” However, Mee Eun provides, “After our first enviornment present, we checked out one another like, ‘Oh my God, he did it.’ From then on, any time he mentioned something loopy, we mentioned, ‘OK, Paul!’” 

With O’Neill gone, the doubts arrived. “There was a second once I was like, ‘Oh, what’s going to occur?’” says Mee Eun. Plate and Hoekstra referred to as one another to debate what a future with out the Trans-SIberian Orchestra would appear like. They didn’t should marvel for very lengthy. O’Neill’s spouse, Desiree, and his daughter, Eire — who, as a younger woman, used to shadow her father throughout rehearsals — rapidly determined the present would proceed. They declined to remark for this story, and whereas Lind calls the primary tour after O’Neill’s dying “very troublesome,” he provides, “Paul talked lengthy earlier than his passing of TSO outlasting us all.”

For Trans-Siberian Orchestra to stay related to future generations, new music will nearly definitely should be composed for coming excursions. Conceivably Oliva and Pitrelli, who have been there at first, might carry the torch not less than a part of the way in which, and Saltzman, Lind and Kaplan say are at all times considering forward — however proper now, they’ve a tour to do. “That sort of resolution comes somewhat later,” says Kaplan. “We get by way of this one, then we take a look at how this performed out, what we appreciated about it, the way it will change, what we discovered alongside the way in which.”

The O’Neill household’s resolution to revisit Christmas Eve and Different Tales for this 12 months’s tour has ratcheted up the emotional quotient once more for the musicians who date again to the early days of TSO. Pitrelli, whose shoulder-length mane is streaked with grey, says he has a tough time “conserving it straight” whereas enjoying songs from the album.

There’s one more reason performing TSO’s first album and its story of a father praying for the secure return of his baby resonates with the guitarist. Pitrelli’s oldest son, Jesse, is a Coast Guard sniper and his youngest, Zach, a nuclear-submarine engineer “someplace beneath the Indian Ocean.” “After I recorded these [songs] for Paul again then, I used to be in a special head,” Pitrelli provides. “Listening to those songs at this level in my life, I’ve turn out to be the older character. I can’t assist inserting my identify into that story: The place are my boys now? I miss them.”

O’Neill used to inform the musicians and crew the music ought to final not a long time however for hundreds of years, and, for his or her half, they’re decided to satisfy that prophecy. “I’m pretty constructive he’s watching it, going, ‘You’re doing good, man, preserve going’” Pitrelli says. “He used to inform me each tour: ‘Simply get me by way of January.’ I’m gonna get him by way of one other January.”

Further reporting by Eric Frankenberg.


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