How Trans-Siberian Orchestra Created the Biggest Rock Show in the World

Dec 23, 2015 at 1:00 am
Year after year, TSO dominates the holiday soundscape.
Year after year, TSO dominates the holiday soundscape. Jason McEachern

As head of Night Castle Management, the firm that handles all of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "artistic endeavors," Adam Lind is the self-proclaimed "guy who's responsible for everything that goes wrong." He's walking through the cluttered hallways of Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a small town just across a bridge from Omaha where the prog-rock band rehearses each year in preparation for its annual winter tour. To say TSO has taken over the venue would be an understatement. "We have stuff everywhere," he says.

At the arena's entrance there's a table full of old, brightly colored crew T-shirts from nearly two decades of touring. They're spread out on a table, free for the taking. One bright orange T-shirt displays the logo for 2012's "Beethoven's Last Night" tour — a drawing of Beethoven with disheveled hair — and a purple shirt features an image of a fire-breathing dragon and an electric guitar. A plastic gargoyle stands watch in a hallway as members of the crew whirr by on Segways and electric scooters.

You can hear wailing guitars and operatic vocals emanating from behind the closed arena doors as the band practices tunes such as "What Child is This?" and "Music Box Blues." Inside those doors, roadies walk the empty arena floor while carrying open laptops. A giant pyramid-like contraption sits under a black tarp as if it's a modern-day Batmobile, ready to shock and awe once the tarp comes off.

On the back loading dock, forklifts bring in the heavy equipment, and somewhere in the arena's bowels, a crew works at cutting sheet metal and drilling the gigantic metallic structures that hold the array of lights and pyrotechnical gear together. A rehearsal stage for the East Coast version of the tour sits on one side of the arena floor, while a stage for the West Coast version of the tour has been erected on the other end of the arena floor. The reason for the two stages is simple: TSO's concerts have become so gigantic that they require two incarnations.

"The rehearsal process is the hardest part of the whole tour," admits raspy-voiced backing singer Kayla Reeves, who joined the group six years when she was only seventeen. "Once we're on the road, it's like Groundhog Day, and everything is second nature."

She adds, "Picture an iceberg. The top of it is just barely sticking out. Underneath it you have this huge chunk of ice. That's like rehearsal. The show is the little top above the water. Every year, [show creator] Paul [O'Neill] keeps putting more and more chips on the table. I remember how overwhelmed I was the first year I came into the arena and saw the two stages. I've never seen anything like it. Every year, I'm just blown away. Paul never ceases to turn it up a notch."

For the past seven years, the group has rehearsed in this small, centrally located town that puts the East and West Coast versions of the tour in prime launching position. A fleet of trucks and tour buses are already positioned in the arena's parking lot. Soon, they'll roll out and haul crew and gear across the country for the next eight weeks to bring the biggest, baddest, most over-the-top and extravagant Christmas rock show you'll ever see to an arena near you.