If it’s Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Al Pitrelli must be in Spokane.
The veteran Trans Siberian Orchestra music director and lead guitarist looks forward to the holidays at his home away from home each year.
“I’m so comfortable in Spokane,” Pitrelli said. “I think that has to do with performing there at one of the greatest times of year.”
Pitrelli, 60, and his bandmates annually have Thanksgiving dinner at the Davenport Hotel. “That’s the way it’s been for over 20 years,” Pitrelli said. “I know where I’ll be every Black Friday. I go to the movies at the AMC. I buy the biggest bucket of popcorn and grab a soda and relax before our show.”
TSO, which will return Friday to the Spokane Arena, is dusting off its “Ghosts of Christmas Eve” show for the first time since 2018.
“It’s time to switch some things up,” Pitrelli said while calling from his Mannheim, Pennsylvania home. “It’s a beautiful story,” Pitrelli said. “Those songs make people smile.”
“The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” is the tale of a runaway teen – frightened, freezing and lonely – who slips into an abandoned theater on Christmas Eve. Apparitions appear and the story of the theater’s past unfolds as Trans Siberian Orchestra delivers its muscular rock, which is complemented with flames, pyrotechnics and lasers.
“It’s a show everyone can relate to,” Pitrelli said. “There are some ups and some downs. In life everyone experiences adversity and loss. As time passes, there’s always an empty seat at the dining room table at Thanksgiving.”
Pitrelli will have a few seats open at the Davenport. One chair is for the late Paul O’Neill, who didn’t just launch TSO but was behind many of the group’s concepts. TSO went from a one-off to an unlikely cottage industry.
“I never would have experienced any of this magic without Paul,” Pitrelli said. “I owe him so much. I always think about him, particularly at this time of year.”
Pitrelli dedicates every show to O’Neill, who died five years ago.
“Paul was one of a kind,” Pitrelli said. “He was such a talented person who was one of the nicest people I ever met. You just don’t run into people like Paul. There’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled since he’s gone. I miss him every day and will miss him for the rest of my life. Paul is impossible to forget.”
On Thanksgiving Eve, Pitrelli drinks to O’Neill and his late father at the Davenport. “I’ll have a 25-year old Macallan. My dad was a teacher and he thought Johnny Walker Red was a good scotch but I like Macallan. He and Paul were very similar. I have a quiet conversation with Paul and my dad when I come to Spokane. It’s an annual event. It can be a solemn time for me but ultimately it’s celebratory. How could it not be because of the songs we play?”
A number of tunes will be played from TSO’s “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.” The rock opera includes such fan favorites as “This Christmas Day,” “Good King Joy,” “Ornament,” “Old City Bar” and the smash “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.”
“The songs from ‘Christmas Eve’ mean more and more to me every year,” Pitrelli said. “I was 35 when I recorded those songs. My children were babies and the characters from the songs have taken on a deeper meaning to me. When I play a song like ‘Ornament,’ I get emotional. I still can’t believe the songs and the album have such mass appeal. We didn’t expect that.”
There is nothing quite like TSO with its spectacle and larger than life performance.
“We don’t want to lose that,” Pitrelli said. “This show brings me back to the style of music I enjoyed so much when I was a kid. People miss all of the bells and whistles that were part of live shows from yesteryear. But we always bring that little something extra.”
Pitrelli still has a difficult time believing that TSO is a staple in arenas every November and December. “I never expected this,” Pitrelli said. “I know Paul saw it. It’s unbelievable.”
In the age of dynamic pricing, TSO is a rare arena act that doesn’t sell a ticket in triple figures.
“We don’t go any higher than double digits for admission,” Pitrelli said. “We’re aware of how expensive entertainment is. It’s gotten ridiculous. We try to make it so that a family can actually come out and experience our music, our story and the gift of what Paul created. Paul was always about family entertainment. We try to make the price of tickets reasonable and on top of that we play a lengthy set. We try to give you some bang for your buck. We want you to come down and forget about everything and enjoy a great holiday show.”
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