Founded in 1996, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is part hard rock band, part classical ensemble, and all entertainment. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Sure, we need Santa Claus, but what would the holiday season be without a visit from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, too? Their annual concert tour is coming back to Charlotte for two shows (3:00 pm, 7:30 pm) at Spectrum Center on Saturday, December 9, 2023. If you’ve never experienced one of their hard-rocking Christmas arena extravaganzas in person, get yourself a ticket immediately. This may be our most festive Throwback Threesome yet!

Part hard rock band, part classical ensemble, TSO is all entertainment. The group was founded in 1996 by producer, composer, and lyricist Paul O’Neill. His music industry experience included managing and producing the likes of Aerosmith, AC/DC, Joan Jett, and Scorpions. O’Neill recruited Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli of the heavy metal band Savatage, as well as keyboardist and co-producer Robert Kinkel to form the creative nucleus of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. According Songfacts, Kinkel wrote TV ad jingles in the ’80s, including one for Hefty trash bags. Remember “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty – Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy?” That was his.

After completing their second album, The Christmas Attic, in 1998, Trans-Siberian Orchestra began touring the following year. That’s when their popularity really began to build. TSO’s elaborate concerts have always had more to offer than the typical rock shows. Their productions included a string section, a light show, lasers, video screens, and various effects synchronized to music. Fans were hooked.

Paul O’Neill died in 2017, at the age of 61, but his creation lives on. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has released numerous albums and sold out venues across North America. TSO is actually two groups that tour simultaneously, which is how they manage to perform so many shows each year. They also give back to the communities they visit by donating at least $1 of every ticket sold to local and national charities.

Throwback Threesome: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

  • Christmas Eve / Sarajevo (1996)

    “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” was originally recorded by the heavy metal band Savatage in 1995. The song was re-released on Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 1996 debut album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. It’s a powerful instrumental medley of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells.” According to Songfacts, the song was inspired by the story of Bosnian cellist Vedran Smailović. During the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, Smailović defiantly played his cello in the bombed ruins of buildings and at funerals. The video gives you a sense of the energy and theatrical production qualities that TSO brings to their concerts.

  • Christmas Canon (2005)

    Set to the tune of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major with new lyrics added, “Christmas Canon” was released as a single from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 1998 album, The Christmas Attic. The children’s choir is a departure from the group’s usual rock arrangements. TSO later recorded an edgier version entitled “Christmas Canon Rock,” for their 2004 album, The Lost Christmas Eve.

  • Wizards in Winter (2005)

    This rapid-fire instrumental track was released on TSO’s 2004 album, The Lost Christmas Eve. The song got a boost in popularity from an online video. In 2004, electrical engineer Carson Williams spent two months setting up a Christmas light show at his home in Mason, Ohio. He used 16,000 lights and synchronized it to “Wizards in Winter.” The display stopped traffic and 30 seconds of it was later used for a 2005 Miller Lite commercial with the tagline, “Enjoy The Lites.” The full-length version is the song’s official music video.

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