‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve’
Tribute band to perform popular holiday show
Ornament, an 11-piece rock orchestra returns to Altoona Dec. 8 for a third sold-out performance at the Mishler Theatre and brings its interpretation of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”
Presented by Altitude Entertainment, the current sellout is impressive.
“Even though this band sold out the Mishler twice in 2016, selling out one show this year is a pretty amazing feat for two reasons,” Ray Eckenrode, general manager of the Altoona Mirror and Altitude Entertainment, said. “First, they also played a November date in Johnstown. And second, the actual Trans-Siberian Orchestra played in State College two weeks before this show. We thought we could sell out again, but it’s nice to see the ticket-buying public agree.”
Chris Nunes and Michael Barber, both music teachers, founded Ornament in the early 2000s as a project with their students. The endeavor proved successful and enjoyable.
“Since we have so many musicians who are friends, we put it together and it snowballed from there,” Nunes said. “Initially, we did shows as fundraisers for high school music programs as a way to give back. We still do two to three fundraisers per year for music programs and churches. It then turned into a touring ensemble that’s gotten way bigger than any of us thought it would ever get,” Nunes said.
Over the years, the line up has varied and Barber left to teach at a private school in Texas. The group tours seasonally from Thanksgiving to New Year’s and already has bookings for next year.
“This band is phenomenal,” said Will Jones of Altitude Entertainment. “They blew everyone away two years ago — including me! I would bet most of the ticket holders for this show were people who saw them last time. It’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten them for a second show this year. But if you have tickets, prepare to be wowed!”
Eckenrode explains the band’s popularity.
“Part of the reason this band is popular is that they have a vibe and musicianship that stands alone. Their show really is a tribute to TSO rather than a note-for-note, gesture-for-gesture copy. These are accomplished musicians who are in other bands who really have chops,” Eckenrode said.
Ornament makes it a point to see TSO perform each year and follows them on YouTube.
“They (TSO) know of us and that we exist,” Nunes said in a phone interview. “We go to see them and go through (the) signing line and they recognize us.”
Nunes, who plays bass and produces the show, has corresponded with TSO members on different occasions to ask how they do something.
“They are usually good at getting back to us about how they do it. They don’t give us the cold shoulder,” he said. “Some bands aren’t happy about a tribute band doing their material, but we aren’t pretending to be them. The way we look at it there are three types of tribute bands. One kind likes to play the music of one certain band; the second — and the category that I think we fall into — is a tribute band who likes to play music in an authentic way. That’s why we perform in tuxedos and do a spectacular light production. And, the third kind is a tribute group that goes off the rails and thinks they are the band they are paying tribute to and they get a little too big for their britches.
“We go out and present an authentic show. We take it back to when they started when (TSO) were in the 2-to-3,000 seat theaters. We go back to before they became an arena spectacular. We bring back the same intimacy that you may miss in a big arena show,” he said.
Nunes begins work on next year’s show in early February. Musical selections, vocals, lighting production and audio take time to put together as all the musicians have other careers. Some members play in other bands and most have day jobs outside of music.
“We have Christmas music playing year round at our house,” Nunes said, “except in January. My wife jokes that she demands a ban (on Christmas music) during January so I take it off and then start work again
Ornament is delighted to return to the historic Mishler.
“(The first time) we walked in we looked at it and went ‘Wow, this place is beautiful,’ he recalled. “We are excited to come down. It’s beautiful and in all honestly among the top three or four theaters that we’ve played. It’s right up there. It looks beautiful and sounds amazing. The crowds were awesome. It’s one of those theaters where I’d sometime like to do an all-acoustic show because the acoustics are so good.”
In addition to the 11 musicians who do double duty as roadies, they are joined by three crew members who all work together during a nearly five-hour set up, light and audio checks.
Informed only single-seat tickets were available, Nunes said, “It makes that eight-plus hour drive down and the eight-plus hour drive back more bearable and not nearly as long knowing you are walking in to a very large or sell-out crowd.”
As he and several others are music teachers, Nunes said, he believes he and the others are a positive example to their students as they demonstrate music can be a lifelong pursuit.
“(We show) you can do it on the side as well. We’re electricians, carpenters, teachers, a college professor … we run the gamut of jobs out there. We do it for the love of playing and being on stage and doing it together. … We practice what we preach. It’s important for the kids to know we are performing musicians as well as teachers. It gives us an extra level of credibility.”
Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030