You have to admit, the Wizards of Winter is quite the catchy name for a holiday band. The Wizards, a mix of musicians and singers from the world of pop, heavy metal, opera, and classical music, conjures up images of sitting by a warm fire as the snowfall accumulates outside.
Let’s just hope that snow doesn’t accumulate outside when the band plays the Levoy Theater in Millville on December 16, bringing their distinctive blend of original bombastic Christmas music and a few covers.
The original Wizards of Winter, most hailing from Hunterdon County and surrounding areas, formed in 2010 as a way to help the local food pantry in their hometown.
“What started as just a group of friends looking to do one benefit show has turned into a touring band that crosses the U.S. and Canada every holiday season since then,” said Scott Kelly, a keyboardist and composer, in addition to sharing the Wizards co-founder status with wife Sharon Kelly.
And they still raise money. The band played two benefits in Morehead City, North Carolina and raised some $20,000 for BackPackfriends, which provides nutritional meals and snacks to children who may need a boost come the weekend.
In 2011, the band went from being an all covers group to writing original material aimed at creating a Tommy-like rock opera. Over time, most of the covers were replaced. The band now performs “The Christmas Dream,” a holiday rock opera based on music from their three original albums.
The core band—guitar, bass, drums, keys, and flute—has performed together for many years.
“In general, once people join the ensemble they tend to stay,” Kelly said. “Openings develop every few years if someone’s schedule doesn’t allow them to make the large commitment required during the holiday season.”
Kelly, along with his co-founder, flutist and lead singer, Sharon Kelly, are joined this year by John O’Reilly a drummer who played with Blue Oyster Cult and Rainbow; Guy LeMonnier, a Broadway tenor; Tony Gaynor, the narrator; Fred Gorhau, lead guitar and Scott’s primary co-writer.
Steve Brown, of Trixter and Def Leppard fame, is the second lead guitarist; Greg Smith, bass guitar, toured with Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Rainbow, Alice Cooper Band, Tommy James and The Shondells, and Billy Joel to name a few.
The band’s violinist is Kornelia Rad, who toured the world with the Shen Yuen Symphony Orchestra. Joining for the first time this year is Manny Cabo.
“Many people will recognize Manny from his time as one of the finalists on NBC’s The Voice.”
Completing the lineup is Alexis Smith on lead vocals and auxiliary keyboards. Alex comes to the band after touring the world for several years on Norwegian Cruise Lines.
“Most of the band is local to the NJ/PA/NY area but we’ve had members that come from other parts of the country…from Florida to Oregon,” Scott Kelly said. “Over the years we have had members join us from the U.K., Ireland, Poland and Ukraine as well.
The particular songs vary since there is so much material to choose from. Regardless, the story line is the same. The band takes the audience on a musical journey of the imagination aboard the metaphysical ‘Arctic Flyer,’ in search of the true meaning of Christmas told through their songs. The Artic Flyer makes different stops along the way depending on the songs in the set list on any given night.”
“The whole experience of bringing our original 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 truly crosses generational boundaries,” Sharon Kelly said.
The 2021 tour has been confined to the East and Midwest as a result of the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. But Scott anticipates a full touring schedule again in 2022, crossing the country, playing Canada, performing in more than 30 cities, and spreading Christmas spirit along the way.
“The band also plans on working on new songs in 2022 as well,” he said.
For this year, the band incorporates snippets of Christmas classics mixed in with the original songs, in this case “Jingle Bells.”
The lead vocals in “Polar Eve” and the staccato rhythms are loaded with drama. With “The Four Kings” the sound is more blues and jazz while “Christmas Dream (Salzburg Carol)” is a heavier instrumental.
“I’m really excited to be joining the Wizards of Winter this season,” said guitarist Steve Brown. “They are a great bunch of talented musicians, and the chemistry is excellent.”
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If you go:
The Wizards of Winter
Levoy Theatre, 126-130 N High St., Millville, NJ
Showtime: 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $31-$45 plus fees
Premium prices include a $20 non-refundable donation to the Levoy Theatre.
Visit: levoy.net/event/the-wizards-of-winter for tickets