Continuing without founder

Mahoning Valley Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans will have to drive a little farther this year for their holiday fix.

The tour is skipping Youngstown’s Covelli Centre this year, but concerts are planned this Friday at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena and the following Friday at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

While a production built around its popular album “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” will be familiar, this year’s tour is the first since the death of TSO founder Paul O’Neill in April. The 60-city, 100-plus performances tour by two TSO ensembles is being billed as a celebration of the art and accomplishments of O’Neill.

Guitar player Al Pitrelli has been quoted comparing the absence of O’Neill this year to “my first Thanksgiving dinner after my father died. Something’s missing, but the family carries on. We’ll celebrate my dad’s life. We’ll celebrate Paul’s life.”

“The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” a 1999 film that ran extensively on PBS stations nationwide, is the work that established TSO as a top-drawing live act and holiday perennial. TSO has sold more than 12 million CDs and has sold more than 14 million concert tickets. Since the band donates a dollar from each ticket to charity, that means more than $14 million in donations since 1999.

“We’ve become to people what ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ was to me when I was a kid,” Pitrelli has said. “This is something that people have latched onto and made part of their holidays. Their families enjoy it and there are multi-generations of families just coming out and watching it. It’s a lot of fun.”

“Ghosts” — which includes such songs as “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” “Good King Joy,” “Christmas Canon,” “Music Box Blues,” “Promises To Keep” and “This Christmas Day” — will make up the first half of the show, and the second half will include favorites from TSO’s other releases.

According to interviews with Pitrelli and vocalist Jon Oliva, O’Neill already designed this year’s stage setup before his death, and it features the extravagant lighting and pyrotechnics for which TSO is known.

The musicians who have worked with O’Neill for decades plan to continue TSO, but nothing is set beyond the current tour.

“We’re going to discuss what we’ll do next year when we get together in January,” Oliva has said. “So this is your chance to see ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.’ We may move on from it. We’re also going to discuss the possibility of a new album.