Christmas rock band The Wizards of Winter to play Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center Nov. 27
WILKES-BARRE — The Wizards of Winter’s live show in Wilkes-Barre on Nov. 27 aims to take the F.M. Kirby Center audience on a musical journey in search of the meaning of Christmas, but the mere existence of Wizards of Winter is itself a testament to the holiday spirit.
It was late 2009 and keyboardist Scott Kelly’s local food pantry wasn’t doing well financially. He decided to use his musical background to help raise funds and, since the holiday season was around the corner, a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute seemed like a logical choice to Kelly. He enlisted some of his musician friends and they played the TSO-inspired benefit show, but the crowd didn’t just enjoy their set because the songs were familiar—they enjoyed it because they liked The Wizards of Winter.
“After that first year we played a couple of schools and churches and things around the area and people wanted to buy our album,” Kelly said. “There was no album, so we set about writing our own music and things just grew from there.”
What started as a tribute became a full-fledged band that, as of Nov. 12, has released two full-length albums of original material. The first, self-titled CD was created to line up with the band’s conceived live show: a trip through space and time aboard a magical train called The Arctic Flyer that allowed passengers to peer into various people’s lives on Christmas Eve to deduce the true meaning of Christmas. The Wizards of Winter’s second album, “The Magic of Winter,” expands on that concept.
“One thing I’ve always noticed when I go see bands is you don’t usually get a storyline that goes along with it, so our live performance and the songs on the two albums kind of paint a picture of the story that’s going on,” said lead guitarist Fred Gorhau. “This year I think it’s a little more about peering into a snow globe as opposed to the mythical train we were originally on, but I think it’s combining the two.”
Gorhau described a Wizards of Winter live show as equal parts rock opera and Broadway. These aspects, coupled with the band’s decision to address the flip side of Christmas for people going through things like breakups or mourning periods, has added emotional weight to the show according to Gorhau. He learned just how heavy that weight was first-hand when he met a fan after a Wizards of Winter performance in Boston, Massachusetts.
“He was a photographer,” Gorhau said. “A super nice guy—we met with him and talked with him for awhile. He was going through a tough time because he had stage 3 cancer. We became friends with him and stayed in contact but by February of the following year he had passed away. It hit home to me because this was somebody that I made friends with through this. That was when I kind of grasped what other people were seeing in this band. That’s part of the reason why I love it so much.”
Gorhau and Kelly have used the emotion from the bands they saw something in—Deep Purple, Scorpions and KISS for Gorhau while Kelly leans towards Kansas, Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake and Palmer—to create two album’s worth of rock ‘n’ roll Christmas carols. The band that inspired Wizard’s of Winter’s formation, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, could be added to that list, but founding members of TSO have forged friendships and mutual respect between themselves and the Wizards—in some cases, they’ve even collaborated.
“We made a connection through a weird way and ended up becoming very good friends with these guys and they really do love our music,” Kelly said. “We’ve had five original members of TSO on tour with us over the years and I think every one of them would also say that we have a great experience together.”
Wizards of Winter still play a handful of TSO songs during live performances, but they only choose compositions that make sense within their greater story. The tribute-turned-standalone has come full-circle, and on Nov. 27 the show that won over benefit goers, Bostonian photographers and TSO members will take the F.M. Kirby Center crowd on a journey through trains, snow globes and rock ‘n’ roll to find the true meaning of Christmas.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts