After the April death of Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill, many questioned whether the yuletide rock theater juggernaut would be able to overcome such a crippling loss on its first winter tour without its creative leader.
The answer was a resounding yes. The two TSO touring companies sold more than 1 million tickets during their six-week 2017 holiday outing, and grossed more than $60 million from 103 performances, according to TSO’s Night Castle Management. (The 15 shows reported so far to Billboard Boxscore tallied more than $8 million from attendance of 124,957).
According to Night Castle Management’s Adam Lind, there was never a question of if TSO would continue after the death of O’Neill, only when it would return to the road. “He was someone who endlessly [said], ‘Hey, I want this to live on,’” says Lind, who began working with O’Neill in 1995. “From an artistic point of view and from a friend point of view, we knew his wishes.”
Night Castle and TSO’s cast and crew chose to follow the lead of O’Neill’s widow, Desiree, and their 20-year-old daughter, Ireland Wilde. “It was the family’s decision [to move forward this year], and we all looked at it that way,” Lind explains. “They were always a little more involved [with TSO] than anybody knew. [Initially,] everybody had to do what we had to do for our friend and the family, and then when everybody came up for air, the family said, ‘This is something we want to do.’”
From there, Lind says that TSO — booked by longtime agent Marc Geiger of WME — experienced few obstacles as they planned their 2017 tour, which included two troupes, each often playing two shows a day. “I think everybody involved across the board – from the fans, to the artists, to the family, to us, to the promoters, to the buildings — wanted the same thing,” Lind says.
When tickets went on sale in September, Lind says he was no more nervous than usual. “We always have that trepidation every year. This is the entertainment business — there’s no guarantees,” he says. “We tried verified ticketing, which by its nature pushes sales down because you’re trying to knock out scalpers, so it really didn’t make itself apparent until a couple weeks after the on-sale that [the tour] was going to do this well.”
TSO’s cast and crew and O’Neill’s family embraced work that he normally would have shouldered. “Everybody added a little more,” Lind says. “Every single person stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this for this guy. We all wouldn’t be here without him.’”
The 2017 tour included an understated tribute to O’Neill during “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow,” when his trademark sunglasses and motorcycle gloves were projected onto a video screen behind the stage during the song. “We felt it was proper that the family drive that part of the show, and I really give them the credit for that,” Lind explains. “The one thing we all knew we didn’t want was an Oscar moment with pictures of someone who’s no longer with us. We wanted it to be an artistic statement, since that’s what Paul always strove for.”
With their first tour without O’Neill now behind them, Lind says that TSO’s next task is to sift through the numerous projects he was working on at the time of his death, including the long-gestating rock operas Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper and Gutter Ballet. “There were so many plans and ideas that he had on the table,” Lind says, “and the team and the family will sort through it and figure out how to get this stuff that he left behind to the people.”
Night Castle and the O’Neills are also discussing which direction TSO’s 2018 tour should take. Lind is coy on whether TSO will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the group’s sophomore album, The Christmas Attic, or their 20th year as a touring entity. “We’re having those conversations, but the answer hasn’t come yet,” he says.
Regardless, Lind believes the success of TSO’s 2017 tour validates O’Neill’s vision, which Lind admits even he wasn’t initially sold on. “It grew into something that is so much more than at least I thought in 1996,” he says. “We see notes from fans all the time if we have to skip a city, ‘Hey, you can’t do this — this is part of my Christmas tradition.’ It grew into the fabric of people’s lives for this part of the year, and there was never any thought of taking that away from them.”