Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year’s Eve. Another Covid Christmas and New Year came to us once again. At least this holiday season, we were able to gather a little bit more than the prior holiday. We were able to enjoy a little time of getting to enjoy entertainment again, with restrictions of course, but for our own safety.
Sadly, as the holidays are a time of celebrating and gathering with family and friends, Thanksgiving may have set us back a bit, causing another variant to spread quickly. Prior to the Omicrom explosion, I was able to cover a couple of shows. It’s been a long time for all of us, but I was thrilled because of the pleasure I receive from live music was back.
I am grateful for being able to attend Shea Arender’s Original Rockabilly Christmas and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). I had passed on a several shows due to health reasons but being able to go to two Christmas shows, it had started to push me closer to that Christmas feeling.
I am not sure if I would have ever actually attended a TSO concert of my own choice but when I heard that guitarist Joel Hoekstra was touring with TSO, I just couldn’t wait to cover it. Not that I don’t enjoy the music, but I don’t usually do Christmas shows, i.e., The Rockettes or the whole New York Christmas thing, etc.
I honestly did not know what to expect from the TSO other than some Christmas songs with a rock twist.
I was totally mistaken.
This show was an extravaganza. It was something more incredible than I have ever seen in a live show before. I was not expecting any of it.
I knew that Hoekstra was a guitarist extraordinaire and he’s played with many well-known artists, particularly White Snake and tours with Cher. The show only ran for one day. There was an afternoon and evening show Dec. 22.
I initially went to enjoy Hoekstra and of course work to prepare for this piece on the show itself, but I found myself in awe at everything. The music, the light show, the special effects, were just phenomenal.
This show was so huge I can see why they only did it one day. The work that must have gone into putting it all together was unfathomable. The special effects? They made it snow inside Newark’s Prudential Center. It was wet and it was cold but mostly, it was unexpected and with the light show, the music was out of this world.
Seeing everyone looking up and smiling, you could not wipe the happiness off the audience’s faces. The feeling at that moment was pure jubilance and it almost felt like a miracle had just taken place. It was beautiful.
The music itself was thunderous. Take classic Christmas songs and mash it together with an orchestra and throw in heavy rock and you have TSO. Imagine, if you will, symphonic classical metal music. That is the best way I can describe it, an energetic performance by all of the musicians and singers. The largest fires that I have ever seen at an indoor event along with the laser light show all synchronized to the music were part of the show. The heat of the flames was felt on our skin as goosebumps would chill our bodies.
To think it all started back in the ‘90s with their hit “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.” The story is about a Christmas Eve in war-torn Bosnia of a cellist playing, “God Rest Ye Merry Men/Gentlemen” and “Scherdryk” with TSO’s style. When it originally came out, it was very popular and it has become a Christmas staple during the holiday season. It was originally released by the band Savatage and then re-released by TSO with both bands having the member, Paul O’Neil. A producer, composer and lyricist, O’Neil joined Jon Oliva an Al Pitrelli of Savatage, but he would also be the genius behind TSO.
Another thing I loved about this show was there were a lot of members from New Jersey in the ensemble. The choir was from Jersey and some of the musicians and vocalists were, too. I would like to believe that this was their last stop for the season, and home for the holidays. Each show they had done across the country, they included locals in the cast.
If you should ever have the opportunity to see TSO and it is right before the holidays, I highly recommend it. It is beyond amazing and will get you into the Christmas spirit. If Hoekstra is touring with them at the time, be sure to enjoy his phenomenal showmanship with his horse mane blonde hair which takes his guitar playing even more over the top.
Hoekstra will be joining me on Applause Radio Show in the near future. After that tour, rest is definitely in the cards for these performers, but when he does join me, I cannot wait to discuss an unforgettable evening and thank him for bringing Christmas to me.
Have a happy, healthy and safe New Year and thank you for listening to APR. We will continue to bring you great guests and hopefully be able to give away concert tickets to our listeners. Check out our calendar at www.applauseradioshow.com.
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JoAnn Barton | Special to The Observer
Jo-Ann Barton is a singer/songwriter and musician for the past 25+ years who contributes entertainment-related stories to The Observer. Her last CD, 'POP and CIRCUMSTANCES,' spawned a number one hit song at college radio stations throughout the United States, including Hawaii, in 2001. She is the host of the Applause Radio Show, a platform JoAnn brings to an ever-growing audience tuning into listen to their favorite celebrities.