[Update Nov. 19 5:30 p.m. :The Wizards of Winter show on Sunday at Center Stage has been canceled. But in case you want to know more about the band...]
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
The Wizards of Winter might have a few members who formerly played with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And their name might be derived from TSO’s popular tune “Wizards in Winter.” And they might even play a couple of well-known TSO songs during their own live show.
But the Wizards of Winter are not a tribute band.
The outfit is led by keyboardist-composer Scott Kelly, who co-founded the group with his wife, singer-flautist Sharon Kelly, and bassist Steve Ratchen.
Scott Kelly had played for years on the New York-New Jersey circuit, but “got a day job” and went into telecom engineering. A happenstance situation at the local New Jersey high school pulled him back into music.
“They didn’t have anyone to teach percussion, so I volunteered, and then I got a keyboard as a learning tool,” Kelly said last week from his home in Frenchtown, N.J. “There was another progressive rock band in Jersey around that time called Contrarian and they needed a keyboardist, so they found me and I joined them.”
In 2009, Kelly, his wife and Ratchen got together in response to a local food pantry that needed a band to play a Christmas fundraiser. The next year they did a few more shows of TSO music as Wizards of Winter.
“It started as a lark,” Kelly said. “And now it’s taken on a life of its own.”
The group initially played TSO covers around area high schools and churches, and then a funny thing happened: Fans wanted to buy Wizards of Winter’s music — but they didn’t have any yet.
That led to the creation of two albums. The most recent, “Magic of Winter,” was released for this tour, which launched Nov. 19 and will keep the band on the road through the end of December.
“We wanted to fill out our storyline and not perform all TSO material in our show,” Kelly said.
In 2013, Kelly became friends with Tommy Farese, known as “the face of TSO,” who introduced him to former TSO members Guy LeMonnier, Michael Lanning and Tony Gaynor. The guys liked what they heard from Wizards of Winter and decided to become part of the new collaboration.
The Wizards have toured with Farese, LeMonnier, Lanning and Gaynor. In 2014, LeMonnier and Gaynor became official members of the Wizards; Farese is also on tour with the group.
While he’s respectful of the TSO brand, Kelly feels that the grandiose nature of TSO’s shows have turned the focus more toward spectacle than music. The production elements of a Wizards of Winter show include fog and falling “snow,” but Kelly wants concertgoers to immerse themselves in the theatricality of the rock music and a story that he created with his wife and Ratchen.
“Our shows and story are more intimate. Our whole show is about Christmas, whereas (TSO’s) is only half-Christmas. We have 70 percent new music in our show — we only play four TSO songs — so we can change the storyline. But we send people on a journey of the imagination inside a snow globe. The vision that Tony (Gaynor), our narrator, sees inside the snow globe happens to be what we show in the music,” Kelly said.
Attendees span the demographics (“The usual 8-to-80!” Kelly joked), but the most concentrated component seems to be people in their early 40s.
“They like the classic rock thing, where musicianship is important, and we attract people who are interested in Broadway, in the acting out of the songs and the interpretations,” Kelly said.
He and the band also stick around for an hour or so after their concerts to meet fans and sign autographs.
After all, Kelly said, “You paid to see us; you should be able to spend time with us.”