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Wizards of Winter at Flagstar Strand, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, December 6, 2019

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If Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the king of the holiday touring market, Wizards of Winter is happy to be part of the royal court.

The ensemble was founded 10 years ago by former TSO keyboardist Scott Kelly, named after the TSO song "Wizards in Winter." The troupe has since released three albums and staged annual tours, mixing theatrical productions with a combination of original material and rocking arrangements of seasonal songs.

The roster has shifted over time, but Wizards' mission to spread comfort and joy — and maybe disrupt the peace of the season just a little bit — has not changed.

• Kelly, 64, says by phone that 10 years of Wizards has snuck up on him. "It started out really small, to do one show for a local food pantry in our town. Then one (show) became five or six that first year, just playing popular music and some TSO tunes. We said, 'Well, if we're gonna do this seriously, let's start writing.' It's just taken on a life of its own. It gets bigger and bigger every year."

• And Kelly says he's not surprised by the appetite for what Wizards does. "There's space in the market, if you will. TSO was the first one that sort of set the mark in the field. So there's them on the high, the big arena extravaganza side, and there's the more sedate Mannheim Steamroller on the other and there never was really a slot in between. We always knew there would be a place for us. We don't have a regular label or corporate sponsors or any of those things. It's just been a lot of hard work that's gotten us to here."

• Kelly adds that TSO also dictates when and where Wizards plays — and is part of the reason his group has not performed in metro Detroit until now. "TSO, they're a juggernaut. They buy up all the advertising space, suck all the air out of the room ’cause they have Live Nation and Hallmark behind them. So we can't really go directly into a Detroit or a Boston. We have to stay on the edges, and we do well by doing that. The idea is let's not compete head to head with them. Let's go where they're not."

• This year's Wizards' roster features several new players — most notably guitarist Steve Brown from Trixter, who's also worked with Def Leppard and Dennis DeYoung and was part of the Broadway band for "Rock of Ages." "It becomes tough for people to be away from home every year. Every spring we sort of test the waters and say, 'All right, who thinks they're gonna be able to come back?' By June I try to get the whole lineup finalized and the music and set lists around so people can start boning up on it, and we get together and start rehearsing in October."

• This year also sees the release of a new Wizards album, "The Christmas Dream," which Kelly says adds material to the overarching story the group tries to present on stage each year. "The concept is a journey inside a snow globe on Christmas Eve in search of the true meaning of Christmas. There are holes in the story line of the show, so we wrote a lot of this material to fill those slots. And we also wanted to do a couple of tunes that might be more radio friendly. I think it came out great. We've definitely been getting a good response."

Wizards of Winter makes its first metro Detroit-area appearance at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at the Flagstar Strand Theatre, 12 N. Saginaw St, Pontiac. Tickets are $20-$45. Visit flagstarstrandtheatrepontiac.com.

Web Site: www.flagstarstrandtheatrepontiac.com

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