The audience explodes with excitement as the theater
darkens. Lights illuminate the stage as the large ensemble of musicians and
vocalists begin to perform. Assorted video screens come to life and the
awestruck crowd is ushered away on a magical holiday journey that is only
limited by their imaginations. For the next two and a half hours, each audience
member will become a child again, blanketed in the warm, comforting spirit of
Christmas. They will escape the daily doldrums of the real world and find themselves
ensconced inside a magical snow globe, traveling aboard The Arctic Flyer to different
times and distant places in search of the true meaning of the season. Welcome
to The Christmas Dream, The
Wizards of Winter’s current tour and collection of original, holiday-themed
“Screaming guitars, vocal armies, dramatic
original, neo-classical music, and a unique story: It’s a Broadway-flavored
rock opera with strong visuals, snow, and an appearance by Mrs. Claus,” beams
founder, keyboardist, and musical director Scott Kelly.
“We created a libretto [for our vocalists] and
have an awesome narrator [Tony Gaynor],” adds lead guitarist Fred Gorhau.
“We have a storyline,
which is much better than [merely announcing], ‘The next song is called’,”
laughs Scott. “This enables us to draw the audience deep into the story, which
makes a big difference from [typical rock concerts].”
This year marks the New Jersey ensemble’s tenth
anniversary. Yes, It’s been a decade since The Wizards of Winter were formed a
“one-time thing” to raise money for a struggling Frenchtown, New Jersey food
“It was the height of the recession, 2009,”
recalls Scott. “The lines at the food pantry were getting longer, while the
shelves were growing empty. My wife [vocalist/flutist] Sharon and I, along with
another friend, Steve Ratchen, got together for a benefit performance. At the
time, we had no intention of becoming a permanent band. The show was so
successful, however, that one show became two shows, which became five and then
In the beginning, the band covered Trans-Siberian
Orchestra’s music and played traditional Christmas songs. When it was decided
that The Wizards of Winter would become an annual tradition, however, Scott decided
to compose original music. As for why he decided to forgo covering traditional,
time-honored classics, Scott is boldly honest.
“Christmas music is eternal,” he says. “A lot of
the holiday hits have been around since the forties. If you develop a holiday
album and it [contains a couple of] classic tracks, the album is going to enjoy
a long life. The average hard rock or metal album is forgotten soon after its
release. Unless you are a diehard fan, you will never listen to that music
Yes, this band creates original music. Their
songs, however, are not completely devoid of holiday classics. Often, the band
will tease snippets of Christmas favorites.
“I don’t know if anyone has ever used part of the
Handel’s ‘Halleluiah’ chorus during a metal song,” the keyboardist laughs.
“Part of the melody from our song ‘Handel’s Torch’ [was inspired] by [the
holiday favorite] ‘Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.’ I changed the timing of
the [original music] and then mixed it with Handel’s Messiah. Sometimes,
our songs are a mashup of traditional songs that Fred lays all of these guitars
Although Scott remains the band’s musical
director and chief composer, other members often offer suggestions. Fred, who
has been with the band since its second year, has developed a special bond with
the composer. When the progressive rock-meets-Broadway-styled songs requires
something “metallic,” Fred “is there” to infuse that edge.
“Scott and I have developed a weird connection,”
he laughs. “He will play something for me, and I immediately know where he is
going. I’ll offer a few suggestions and then we hash it out. Sometimes, things
come together in less than an hour; sometimes it will take a little longer,
like three or four weeks.”
Although The Christmas Dream debuted during the end of September, the 10-track
album has been in the works for several years, and it must be difficult getting
into a holiday season mindset when it is the middle of June and Northeast
thermometers are topping 90 degrees.
Fred chuckles. “We’re a bunch of elves. Yes,
during my first year with The Wizards of Winter,
I was taken aback working on Christmas music in July. Today, it comes along
much more easily. Once Scott and I lock in, it doesn’t matter what time of year
“When we decided to write our self-titled debut
in June 2014, I pulled out all of these Christmas decorations and put them
around my grand piano,” recalls Scott. “My wife has this little Christmas
village, which we set up on top of the piano, and I began to imagine what [the
residents] were doing. Over the years, however, it has gotten much easier [to get
in the mood].
The Christmas Dream is the 12-piece band’s third effort, following
their 2014 self-titled debut and 2015’s The Magic of Winter. Their growing
library of original music enables them to mix up their songs and tell new,
enchanting stories each year. Another reason why The Wizards of Winter have
been so successful is the atmosphere the season creates.
“There is a Christmas spirit and it overcomes
people,” Scott continues. “People are friendlier to each other; they are will
open up their wallets to donate to charities. Once January rolls around,
however, it seems to end. Why? Are people cheerier and more relaxed until they
have to go back to work? Is that why the attitude changes?
“It is a time for family and friends and there is
nothing [comparable] to it,” adds the latest addition to the Wizards’ family,
lead guitarist Steve Brown. “We’re out their spreading this magical Christmas
music, but it only happens [one season] of the year, which is sad. What would
happen if we could do this year-round?
The Christmas Dream tour, the band’s most ambitious to date, begins
at the furthermost tip of Florida—Key West—then heads West before arriving home
for a trio of performances: the Patchogue Theatre on Long Island on November
29, Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre on November 30, and Englewood’s Bergen PAC
on December 1st. Fred is amazed by how the band has grown.
“From playing local shows and carrying our own staging
and setting up our own equipment to growing into this national touring band….
It has happened organically. We do not have a record label [supporting] us. We
do not receive major radio airplay. And yet, we are attracting a lot of attention.”
The Wizards of Winter are proud that they attract
a mixed audience of children and adults. They are also ecstatic when they
recognize returning families who have made experiencing the band’s shows a
Scott smiles, “It’s incredible watching people
aged eight to 80, singing along with our Christmas songs. It is a cool, often
surreal feeling. We end the show with our own arrangement of ‘Hark! The Herald
Angels Sings.’ The lights go up [in the theater], people stand and start to
sing. It’s an emotional moment even for us and we have been doing this forever.
It hits you right in the throat.”
“We have a lot of repeat offenders,” laughs Fred.
“They tell us that The Wizards of Winter show is their new Christmas tradition.
I’m a huge Kiss fan, but I don’t go to see them every time they tour.”
It is this growing bond between the band and
their loyal fans that continues to energize them during a time of the year when
it is easy to get homesick and miss your family.
“When you are thousands of miles from home and
you look out onto the audience and see people who know your music—your songs—and
they are anxious to see you perform and then meet you, it is an amazing feeling,”
explains Fred. “And, as a musician, it is a feeling you long for when it stops.”
It is not a surprise that though the band is
looking forward to their entire tour, they are most excited for their three
hometown shows. It is a chance for their friends and family to see them
perform. Their Paramount Theatre appearance on November 30th coincides with
Asbury Park’s Christmas festival and tree lighting.
“Asbury Park has made a remarkable comeback,”
says Fred. “They’ve built up the boardwalk and there is a small shopping mall
in the middle of the Convention Center. There was a time when it looked abandoned.
It was a great place for metal bands to do photoshoots. Today, it is beautiful
Unlike Trans-Siberian Orchestra, to which they
are most compared, The Wizards of Winter do not have multiple touring companies
and they do not hold any annual auditions for new members.
“Yes, we have had members who have come in and
out of the band,” admits Scott. “That is often because it is hard to be away
from home during the Christmas season. We’ve had members who had young kids and
began to miss them too much. One vocalist who had been with us for six years,
said, ‘I am missing Christmas with my kids, and they are getting older, so I
need to bow out.’
“Also, we’ve grown as a band and the musical
demands have grown. Some people are just not willing to make the investment; to
play at the level that is now required. It’s one thing if your band is just
knocking around and playing high schools and churches. With what the promoters
are now charging for our tickets, we better be on our game! Thus, this
iteration of the band is, by far, the strongest.”
The current line-up boasts an impressive
pedigree. Gaynor and drummer John O’Reilly were both Trans-Siberian Orchestra
members. Bassist Greg Smith played with Ted Nugent. Singer Karl Scully
performed with Irish Tenors. And Steve Brown, in addition to playing with
Trixter, has toured with Def Leppard. But their shows are more intimate than
those performed by TSO, Manheim Steamroller, and other holiday-themed
ensembles. Steve believes this is partly the result of playing in small,
historic theaters and not large arenas.
“We are playing at some classic, ornate theaters,”
he explains. “Having played everywhere from large arenas to small clubs, I can
say that at these venues, there will be awesome acoustics. You will hear this great
musicianship and great vocals. You will experience a real, 100 percent, warts
and all rock band.
“This is my first tour with the Wizards. The New
Jersey mentality, the family aspect, the friendships: we are like brothers and
sisters. We share the same sense of humor, which is super important, especially
when you are on the road for long periods of time.”
Says Scott, “The Wizards of Winter are the little
New Jersey band that could. We are completely organic. We grew this because we
are passionate about it. We don’t have a record label; we don’t have
management; we don’t have sponsors.
“It has been a family business since its
inception. My wife and I started it and we’ve had one of our daughters singing
and playing saxophone in the band, while our other daughter ran our
merchandizing and was our tour manager for several years. Some of the members even
bring their wives and kids on tour. We are like the Partridge Family on
Be sure to catch The Wizards of Winter at the
Patchogue Theatre on Long Island on November 29, Asbury Park’s Paramount
Theatre on November 30, and Englewood’s Bergen PAC on December 1!