The Lights, The Sound, The Magic
Remaking Christmas with a Cinematic Stage Show
by Todd K Smith

For the legions of the loyal fans that pack the arenas around the country, Christmas really doesn’t start until the Trans Siberian Orchestra comes to town. Their metal-meets-orchestra-meets-holiday cheer is fast becoming the most celebrated seasonal tour in the history of rock. The power-packed show exudes the sprit of the season with a masterful tale taking up the first hour followed by a second filled with classical “Greatest Hits” and the occasional rock riff thrown in. Recently the band has been adding feature artists who step out under the spotlight and the full band/orchestra to deliver FM favorites. Artists this year included Geoff Tate (Queensryche), Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) to name a few. As many will attest, it’s not just the music - it’s the light, laser and pyrotechnics that go into making the whole thing an EVENT on par with KISS, Rush or Brooks & Dunn.

Standing in line to greet the band after the show, I heard this from one punter,This has to be the raddest display of Christmas songs I have ever seen. Timing the lights and lasers with columns of fire and confetti cannons put to cool music is my highlight of the year. Perfect to get you in the mood for the holidays.” Another said, “This Christmas light show may just be the coolest thing I have ever seen. I heard a tune on the radio that captured my attention. I knew this was a Christmas tune and just like most all radio stations do, they never said the name of the group. I was bound to find out who the group was. My girlfriend finally tracked it down and now we come every year.” An older lady with her Grandson spoke up, “It's not rock... even though there is some guitar playing, and it's not really classical and it's certainly not the Charlotte symphony orchestra. It is the Trans Siberian Orchestra.”

The best testimonial of the night came from a 40-something couple who said, “We headed out to the old coliseum on Hwy 74 and waited for the group to come alive. Let me tell you something... after that night, I thought to myself that every living soul needs to see this show. It was amazing; breathtaking… we were sitting there with our jaws about to hit the floor. The whole show is so awesome. Out of all the concerts I've been to, and I’ve been to a lot, this one is the greatest by a long shot. The light show itself will blow you away. I can't even begin to tell you how it will blow your mind.” With all those positive vibes we had to find out more about the TSO light and sound show.

It all starts with staging. SGPS the world leading staging consultants were contacted by TSO manager David Krebbs (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS) because they have over 30 years of experience providing innovative concepts and creative stage designs for live entertainment, touring bands, trade shows and conventions. They even cater to the motion picture industry. Due to the increased demands on technicians and designers, SGPS created ShowRig eight years ago to specifically service the rigging needs of the production industry while applying the engineering, design and fabrication experience gained in these markets.

SGPS states on their website that, “ShowRig analyzes the project's requirements, allowing the company to design systems using components from our extensive off the shelf inventory or to fabricate specific equipment to meet these needs of the client.” The staging takes a full day to set up, so the band tours with two stages advancing one to the next tour date while the other is in use. The trusses are significant competing with heavy weights in the industry. An entire design team is brought in just to handle the weight and custom design work for each individual venue. After the staging is sorted laser specialist Doug Adams and Lasers Design Production are brought in for creative crafting and mood enhancing laser feed to be fired at key tempo changes in the set. Over a dozen computers are used to create the visual majesty that springs to life once the band kicks into gear.

Adams also oversees the crescendo of pyrotechnics that catapults the show from a mere copycat act to an original display of fire and explosion. Confetti, snow falling in the form of bubble and blinding fire towers that heat the building in one volcanic burst are all signature elements that make a TSO show a true extravaganza. “Rock operas aren’t that big anymore,” guitarist Al Pitrelli, told us prior to their show in Boise, Idaho.” We wanted to create a light show that captured the imagination and magic of Christmas whether you’re 7 or 70. We wanted it to become a tradition like the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Plaza. Fortunately for us, it crosses every genre and every age demographic. Between the large number of musicians, the immense staging, state-of-the-art light show with extensive pyrotechnics and lasers…it’s all part of getting that message of love, loss and redemption across. Christmas runs the emotional gamut, some of it is uplifting; some of it is dark, some of it is sad," he continues. "And we're not afraid to bring attention to that, saying, 'You know what? It's okay to laugh, and it's okay to cry.'"

Websites: Trans Siberian Orchestra, Laser Design Productions, Pyrotekfx, SGPS, Synocrolites