When a rock act jumps from drawing 3,500 one year to more than 12,000 the next at the same venue, and the act didn’t release a triple-platinum album in the interim, it begs the question: Whassup?
What is up with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and this stunning surge in popularity in Central Arkansas? The show Dec. 21 at Alltel Arena topped Memphis, for gosh sakes. It bettered the turnout for the Dave Matthews Band’s one appearance here, and countless other big-name rock acts (need we even mention Springsteen) who’ve passed through. It was the second-largest crowd at Alltel in 2005, behind Kenny Chesney’s show.
When we took our seats, it looked like people had mistaken the date of the Rolling Stones show; there wasn’t an open seat in the stage viewing area.
Certainly, though TSO creator Paul O’Neill is considered a god by the TSO fans, rumors (which proved true) that he would show up couldn’t have been the reason for the full house. My guess was, besides the show being only four days before Christmas, the 3,500 who attended last year told at least three of their friends that this was not to miss.
You could’ve fooled us during the first half of last week’s, however, in what marked our first TSO experience. My wife, especially, was not getting the whole TSO thing or why the crowd seemed entranced. The first half of the show featured a narrator, Tony Gaynor, detailing a “story” about Christmas Eve, in which TSO had based a trilogy of seasonal albums, the most recent being “The Lost Christmas Eve.” The six-piece band, seven singers and several local string players (including the Arkansas Symphony’s concertmaster Andrew Ervin) performed a variety of Christmas carol-influenced songs with the narration, mostly with a classical rock bent, but one even having an R&B flavor. Though a short, beautiful blonde female singer, Jill Gioia, wowed us with her Celine Dion-like range, one cheesy male singer sounded like Eddie Money meets Neil Diamond. It also seemed to move too slow, and my wife was almost ready to bolt at the break. We held her back. “Let’s see how the rest of it goes,” I said.
For the second half, her reaction was a 180-degree turn, and my thought, for lack of a better phrase, was “that was awesome.” And the pace was twice as fast. Lasers and strobe lights, fire and showers of sparkles enhanced a raucous performance by the musicians, led by guitarist Al Pitrelli, who had played for 1980s hitmakers Asia and recently with Megadeath and now was playing a twist on Beethoven. The terrific keyboard players — Pitrelli’s wife, Jane, and Carmine Giglio — tried to one-up each other, playing anything from Bach to Vince Guaraldi.
O’Neill, in fact, did make his appearance on stage at the break, and spent the second half either autographing souvenir programs or hanging out back at the sound stage. Behind that sound stage, in the encore, two performers were hoisted aloft with more fireworks to “Christmas Eve Sarajevo,” TSO’s most recognizable song. It was very Vegas-like “big show” at a nice price.
If each of the 12,000-plus people there all tell three of their friends … well, you get the picture. Next year, it may be the hottest ticket going, because we now know it will be the hottest show at the coldest time of the year.

The Arkansas Times will not publish as regular issue for Jan. 5, so our return on Jan. 12 will coincide with the deadline for the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase entries. We’ve already received entries from as far away at Fayetteville (where the last two winners have been based) and Monticello, and entry forms are available in this issue, or by clicking on our website, or by calling my at 501-375-2985 and giving you the details. We also have entry forms available through Sticky Fingerz, the host site, and its website. You’ll be hearing about the Showcase regularly for the next several weeks via KKPT-FM, 94.1 “The Point.”
When we reach the deadline, we’ll be narrowing the entries to 16 semifinalists who will compete in four Showcases at Sticky Fingerz Jan. 26-Feb. 16, with those four nightly winners moving on to the March 3 final. All that’s required of bands is that they reside in Arkansas and send us a demo CD along with the entry form. There’s no registration fee, and the selected bands will be paid for performing.
But don’t miss the deadline.