After being limited to a single virtual show last year, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is "just like a caged animal, chomping at the bit" to return to the road for another live in-person tour this year according to guitarist and musical director Al Pitrelli.

The perennial top-grosser kicks off their Winter Tour on Nov. 17, its two companies playing in Green Bay, Wisc., and Council Bluffs, Iowa after rehearsals in Lincoln, Neb. The tour, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the triple-platinum Christmas Eve and Other Stories album, will play 99 shows in 59 cities, wrapping up Dec. 30.

Pitrelli, who's part of TSO's West company, tells UCR during a conference call that there was never a question about whether to embark on a 2021 tour after 2020 was nullified by the pandemic.

"When we were doing the virtual thing last year, our management team and the [Paul] O'Neill family were planning on touring in 2021, until somebody tells us that we can't," the rocker explains. "Right now they're looking at 2022, so it's always an overlapping kind of situation."

And, Pitrelli adds, he and the rest of the TSO touring crew can't wait to put the pyrotechnic-filled spectacle back on the boards after atypically spending the holidays at home last year.

"I just want to put a guitar around my shoulders, stand out at center stage and go, 'Let's go!'" notes Pitrelli, who worked with TSO founder Paul O'Neill as part of the band Savatage before it morphed into TSO 25 years ago. "To not do what we've been doing for 20-something years, to have that taken away from us last year... once you have it back in your hands you love and cherish and protect it that much more. Everybody wants to come back and do a great job."

Jeff Plate, drummer for the East company and another Savatage veteran, adds that, "You don't realize how important something is until it doesn't happen. We don't want to go through that again. Everybody who's on board is going to be as careful as they can possibly be so we can get through this without any problem."

Protocols and safety procedures are still being determined, both men said, and will follow any local guidelines at the time TSO plays.

"We're a month and a half away from the first downbeat, so God willing, maybe this thing'll just disappear in the rearview mirror completely by then," Pitrelli admits. "It's going to be kind of a call as we get closer to it, but we will do whatever is necessary just to ensure the safety of everybody. We'll show up in Hazmat suits. Other bands are out there having great success. The NFL's back in action. Other bands are canceling shows. We don't have the opportunity to reschedule... We cannot miss a show and we will not miss a show. So whatever we're told to do, we're gonna follow the rules and the protocols."

"I just want to play," Pitrelli continues. "I know Jeff does, too, and everybody in the organization. We all want to get back to doing what we love the most."

Pitrelli and Plate say TSO has also bulked up its corps of auxiliary musicians and singers available to fill in if any of the principal members has to step away from the tour for any reason. "We're pretty thick right now with folks at almost every position," confirms the guitarist, who broke his leg while jumping during a guitar solo back in 2008. "Heaven forbid this (COVID) thing wreaks havoc on us, we're as prepared as much as we can be. People want their tradition back; I'm not gonna let anything happen to it this year."

TSO was not entirely idle in 2020. The group's livestream sold some 250,000 views, according to Pitrelli, with likely multiple viewers in each household. Meanwhile, TSO also continued working on new recording projects -- most notably Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper, a rock opera about the 1917 Russian Revolution that was one of several O'Neill was working on at the time of his death in 2017. The group was actually working on "Romanov" during March of 2020 when the TSO studio in Florida was shut down by the pandemic, but Pitrelli says TSO returned to it earlier this year, though progress is limited to some degree by safety protocols.

"It's been a little bit more daunting," he explains. "There was a lot of quarantining, a lot of testing. Wearing a mask and trying to be creative is something new, so there's a learning curve to that. But Romanov is still there. We're still working on it. It's gonna come out at some point, and there's a couple other projects we're talking about doing. If we can get back to a more familiar normal, I think the work process will go a lot quicker, but at least we got something accomplished this year."

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