RIP Paul O’Neill of TSO
“The entire Trans-Siberian Orchestra family, past and present, is heartbroken to share the devastating news that Paul O’Neill has passed away from chronic illness.
He was our friend and our leader — a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul. This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”
With those words posted on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra website, we learned of the passing of Paul O’Neill, the visionary founder of the distinctive progressive rock band. TSO has had their detractors in the rock world over the past two decades, but I was not one of them. I enjoyed their music, was impressed by their over-the-top pyrotechnics and light show, and I loved their generosity – led by Paul O’Neill. This isn’t going to be a beautiful poignant tribute life the one Brian wrote for David Bowie last year, but it’s a tribute nonetheless.
Having attended four TSO shows in my life, I’ve seen O’Neill in action first hand. For our first family visit to TSO, we had nosebleed seats, and we crawled into the upper reaches of the old Amway Center with four kids. Halfway through the show, this long-haired rocker appeared before us out of the shadows. It was Paul O’Neill.
He asked how we liked the show, shook our hands, and then gifted all four kids with tour T-Shirts and other swag. Then he disappeared with a smile and found another lucky family.
When I was there to review the show last Christmas, I saw him doing the same thing, this time in the expensive seats, with his daughter at his side. He loved kids, he appreciated his fans and was overly generous. He posed with every fan who asked for a photo and signed anything thrust in front of him. These days, that generosity is hard to find.
O’Neill also backed up his generosity with hard cash. Every show began with a donation to a local charity or food bank. $1 from every ticket sold, to every show, in every city, every year. Impactful.
He was also a creative visionary. Over the years, he had managed many huge names in the rock world and had dabbled in production and engineering. Taking these experiences, he created the band and the direction for TSO. Progressive rock with an orchestral feel, playing concept rock. It was kind of a collision between the Who and ELP… and it worked… especially with Christmas music.
The band he created monopolized the holiday entertainment industry for the past two decades. The music was compelling, the entertainers excellent, and the theatrics even better. And, it was affordable, which led to many families being able to attend.
The crowd was a melting pot, with three or four generations in every section, and they were all together listening to rock ‘n roll. And, what could be better than that ?
RIP Paul O’Neill and may your memory rock on forever.
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