Local fans were excited for the return of The Wizards of Winter, who took their show a bit further north this time at The Strand Theater in Zelienople.
The up close and personal show required two performances as the venue simply couldn’t house everyone who wanted to see the band. In fact, they sold out both well in advance, and likely could have stayed for a third day if they weren’t already scheduled to head to The Palace in Canton, Ohio on Friday, where they could fully showcase their stage show complete with risers and ramps.
But, there was something special about these two shows as fans were literally close enough to touch the band, and were able to fully engage in the magic throughout their two-set performance.
Originally formed for a charity show as a way to give back to the band’s hometown community food pantry, The Wizards of Winter ensemble grew when composer and keyboardist Scott Kelly joined forces with former members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) a decade ago following a social media connection with vocalist Tommy Farese.
The ensemble which blends progressive and theatrical orchestrations with rock and metal influences from Scott’s writing partner and lead guitarist Fred Gorhau (Ted Poley, Dark Sky Choir, Exxplorer) has now hit the road regularly each holiday season. Composer and keyboardist Scott Kelly is joined by his wife Sharon Kelly on flute and lead vocals, and their daughter Shawna Marie on backup vocals and percussion instruments.
The Wizards of Winter compositions are introduced by story teller Tony Gaynor who some will recognize as the first narrator for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and the Hallmark movie special The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Other TSO alumni in the current ensemble include vocalist Guy LeMonnier and drummer John O. Reilly. Additional vocals are provided by Alexis Smith, who takes on the Mrs. Claus persona with lots of smiles and personality, in addition to playing auxiliary keyboards, and Manny Cabo, who many will recognize as a finalist from the reality TV show The Voice.
The band has had just one line-up change since they had last visited the Pittsburgh area in 2021 at Irwin’s Lamp Theater, a new violinist Michelle Winters, who by name alone seems the perfect fit…but then the wow really sets in as you watch her back-bending, twirling, and charismatic performances.
Bringing together melodies from classic Christmas carols like “Carol of the Bells,” choir favorites like “Ave Marie,” and theater pleasers like “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music, the progressive rock band aims to please a crowd of all ages, even if they have never heard of the band before.
And, with guitarist Steve Brown (Trixter, Eric Martin Band, Def Leppard), who just finished work on Ace Frehley’s new studio album 10,000 Volts, and bassist Greg Smith who has performed with a growing list of legends that include The Guess Who, Ted Nugent, The Turtles, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, and many more, they continue to win over more fans each year through organic growth, which is nothing short of amazing. In fact, their song “The Christmas Dream (Salzburg Carol)” just received an award from Pandora for a million streams.
The band continues to support charities through their efforts including the Wounded Warrior foundation and Tunnels to Towers, and they will be shooting a two hour PBS special this evening at The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia. If you haven’t had the pleasure of taking in the magic or listening to crowd pleasers like “The Four Kings,” “Ebenezzer” or the “Spirit of Christmas,” we encourage you to check out The Wizards of Winter on the road this month or in the New Year when they return to Tampa, Florida’s Busch Gardens. You can learn more on their socials or visit www.wizardsofwinter.com.
Live Photos by Editor and founder Kara Marie Uhrlen and intern Juliana Uhrlen for The Pure Rock Shop. Posted on 12/1/2023.