THE WIZARDS OF WINTER BIO
Wizards of Winter was originally formed in the winter of 2009 as a way to give back to their hometown community. The local town's food pantry was in severe financial straits and in response, band leader Scott Kelly was looking to hold a holiday concert event to support the cause. Kelly was keenly aware of the success that symphonic-rock monolith Trans-Siberian Orchestra had acquired with their perennial Christmas pageantry. Kelly, a multi-talented keyboardist, took it upon himself to create a TSO tribute project, one that featured world-class musicians to emphasize his deep love for the arena-level prog-rock avatars that inspired him as a player. He approached his wife Sharon Kelly (Lead Vocal/ Flutist) and Bassist, Steve Ratchen regarding the concept, and both liked the idea. With the three of them as a nucleus, they scoured their personal address books and convened a team of stellar musicians from seasoned professionals to well-respected locals whose capability for excellence filled the projects needs. Under the banner Wizards of Winter, the ensemble was able to give back to the community with several performances of holiday music of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra in late 2010.
As expected, the events were a success and the Wizards were able to help the struggling food bank. But in the process, something else happened. “We did a couple of shows that first year and people wanted to buy our album,” says Kelly. “We didn't have one.” The seed was planted. In 2011 the band embarked on writing their own holiday rock opera, “Tales Beneath a Northern Star”.
What was once a tribute group created solely to call attention to a charity in need has now turned into a musical force of its own design. “For many, Christmas rock music is associated with TSO or even Mannheim Steamroller” says founder Scott Kelly. “There is room for something in between the extravagant production of TSO and more reserved presentation of Mannheim.” Kelly continues. “It is “here” that I see the Wizards fit”.
In 2013, Kelly became friends with original TSO member Tommy Farese (“The face of TSO”), who introduced him to several other former members of that ensemble, Guy LeMonnier, Michael Lanning, and Tony Gaynor. Tommy and the others listened to The Wizards original material and really liked what they heard. The Wizards and former TSO members decided to join forces and tour together that holiday season.
The band's decibel-laden philanthropic acts gave back to the community, but maintaining a constant, stable lineup proved difficult in the beginning.
Eventually, the Kelly’s and Ratchen were able to put together a lineup, one Scott describes as “musicians with Masters Degrees to regular self-taught rock guys that can play at the level that is required.” The WOW lineup is now fortified with vocalist Vinny Jiovino, guitarists Fred Gorhau (formerly of heavy-metal outfit Exxplorer) and TW Durfy, drummer Tommy Ference, pianist/vocalist Mary McIntyre, violinist Natalia Nierezka, as well as former TSO members Guy LeMonnier (vocals) and Tony Gaynor (narration).
Wizards of Winter's 2014 self-titled debut was a startling holiday prog-rock throwback that simultaneously conveyed optimism and wonderment (“Just Believe”) and flooring metal crunch (“The Journey”). “It's a Christmas rock opera,” Kelly enthuses. “You travel on a musical journey aboard the metaphysical Arctic Flyer in search of the meaning of Christmas. If you're a science-fiction fan, it's like Doctor Who, where you board his TARDIS and travel anywhere in space and time. Some spaces are happy, some are melancholy; our music encompasses the vast range of feelings people experience during the holidays. We take you on a two-and-a-half-hour emotional roller coaster, from ballads to prog-metal.”
Indeed, the 12-strong Wizards are starting to make heads swivel with their synergy of the symphonic and the serendipitous, touching hearts and raising a psychic goblet to the roots of progressive rock. Co-founder, Lead Vocalist/ Flutist, Sharon Kelly states, “I never anticipated writing and performing our own songs would be so emotional. They are like one of your own children. You create it, nurture it, protect it and then when ready, you let it fly on its own. People in the audience, feeling the same raw emotion that inspired us to write the songs is very moving.”
Sharon adds, “The whole experience of bringing music to people is very rewarding. Especially since we see such a wide range of age in the people that attend our shows. Our music crosses generational boundaries. I personally find our young audience so inspiring. Reaching out their hand to me when I am singing in the audience, seeing them smile, it’s very humbling. I have had countless school age children come up to me after the show, excited to share with me that they play the flute too. ‘It’s not just a concert/marching band instrument’, I joke with them. They usually leave saying they hope to get the opportunity to play flute in a "cool" band like the Wizards some day. Those young people are why this is so meaningful and rewarding to me.”
Says Kelly about his group's creative trajectory, “during a Wizards performance, there are many interesting highlights. We like crowd interaction; members go out into the audience, which really makes for a great performing dynamic. In the early years of TSO when they were playing theaters, there was a very relaxed, touch-the-band atmosphere. When they moved into arenas, they emphasized the light show and the show became so rehearsed and rigid”. He continues, “Our audiences love the interaction that we have with them.”
Lead Guitarist Fred Gorhau explains, “There are moments every night, at every show, where things are really firing on all cylinders. It's like lightning in a bottle. This show is very much about the fans and the audience and we feed off of their reaction that we get - both during & after the show”. Gorhau adds, “For me there is probably no better feeling that I get from the fans as, when they tell me, that we are their "new yearly tradition. That shows me we earned a fan for life.”
Co-Founding Bassist Steve Ratchen notes, “Having a theater full of people on their feet, knowing the lyrics to songs you've written or arranged is quite humbling”. Ratchen adds, “We make it a point to stay as long as necessary after every show until we've met, chatted with and accommodated every person who's kind enough to have waited for us. I believe I speak for the entire organization when I say none of us consider it an obligation, but rather a privilege.”
Co-Founder, Composer, and Music Director Scott Kelly realizes, “To watch the band grow from its humble beginnings to what it has now become today, brings a huge unending smile to my face. WOW has grown beyond our dreams and based upon the audience reaction to our original music, this is only just a start. There is a magical feeling that comes over me when I see and hear the audience sing along to our songs”. Kelly adds, “Throughout my musical career, I have never performed with such a collectively talented team of people than the group of musicians that currently comprises the Wizards. I am proud to share the stage which each and every one of them.”
While Team Wizards has helped make a difference through both charitable gestures and passionate performances, there's also a greater cultural arc at play. Rock music has been through a lot of permutations over five decades: Technological advancements and the internet have allowed fans to interface with all of that musical history. To that end, Wizards Of Winter are simultaneously recalling a heyday of classically tinged rock that's part and parcel of older listeners' mythology, while also amping it up in aggressive ways appealing to young rock fans. Kelly hopes that WOW will continue to bridge generations—and their attendant tastes—for something that is both commercially viable and honest. But more importantly, to make some gesture toward how music should be respected than merely “browsed,” a stance Kelly keeps a hard-line on.
“I do feel that way,” he says. “You can feel it in the audiences that come to our shows. They range from eight to 80. We try to create music that has the pageantry of the late-70s, early-'80s rock shows and present ourselves accordingly. You're not going to find us showing up to play in jeans and a T-shirt. Then again, I don't want to get on the gratuitous prog side of things where you're changing time signatures just for the hell of it and making things prog madness. I want things to be accessible without being a mindless pop band.”
If the next year is any indication, Kelly and his team will be putting new meaning to the term “WOW factor.” Sure, the pun is trite, but it's the best way to describe Wizards of Winter's determined drive. There's the new Christmas program coming later this year, as well as several projects that fall outside the realm of holiday commemoration, from a full-blown rock opera to an album of rock songs free from any narrative. Kelly's primary concern is for WOW to execute good work on terms they can be comfortable with.
“I listen to a lot of things from Metal to Broadway shows to Drum line /Marching music,” says Kelly. “I still have a soft spot in my heart for classic prog-rock, as well. I want our music to reference all those things and reflect both precision and passion.” He starts to laugh. “Now that I'm thinking about it, this is one weird band! “
Additional band quotes:
Guy LeMonnier (original TSO member)
“I am so excited for the band's future. They have gold on their hands, whether they realize it or not and I am thrilled to be a part of the growth. I am in love with the music and really enjoy performing it”
Tony Gaynor (original TSO member)
“Performing with the Wizards has renewed my faith in the spirit of Christmas, and reminded me just how much great music and great musicians, touch the very souls of people…..
Standing on the stage with the Wizards, as the audience erupted in applause, takes me back to my early days with TSO, just before they exploded and became a holiday tradition for family's everywhere…. I'm glad to be doing it again… Here comes the Wizards of Winter "
For press inquiries and additional information, please contact Adrenaline PR and Maria Ferrero at 732-462-4262 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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