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A Tribute to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, coming Saturday to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, is designed to play venues too small to hold the real thing without sacrificing the requisite TSO bells and whistles — from lasers to falling snow. (Courtesy photo)

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra phenomenon is now big enough to have spawned a tribute band subculture, just like Elvis, the Beatles and Jacko.

Thanks to the heavy lifting involved, especially in the realm of complex production bells and whistles, it remains a relatively small subculture.

“There is a handful … probably no more than five,” estimates Thomas Rudebeck, founder of one-fifth of that exclusive club, the one clearly labeled A Tribute to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The St. Louis-based group is headed our way for its first-ever Central Illinois performance Saturday at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

As any TSO fan knows, the Trans-Siberian experience is predicated on an elaborately woven tapestry of audio-visual immersion.

Music is only part of an equation that includes lasers beaming every which-way, falling snow at key junctures and assorted pyrotechnics.

“What we do,” says Rudebeck, “is do what TSO does, but on a smaller scale, which allows us to bring the experience to smaller venues like the one in Bloomington.”

Traditionally, the real TSO has made the Peoria Civic Center Arena its Central Illinois destination of choice, performing annually to sold-out audiences, usually around Christmas, but not always (they made a rare off-season, non-Peoria appearance at the U of I Assembly Hall in Champaign in March 2012).

Helping justify the A Tribute to TSO’s seasonal Central Illinois pass: There is no Peoria stopover for the real thing this holiday — a first after nearly a decade of annual visits.

“Everything else is there: the lights, the snow effects, the music, the tuxes … just on a smaller scale. Actually, it’s not so much smaller as just toned down,” Rudebeck notes.

The group is well-versed in what Rudebeck brands as the “generally skeptical” greeting news of their arrival first generated when the tributes began seven years ago.

“There is a very real reluctance to come,” he admits of any new market presenting the group, especially a market such as this, where the real TSO has left such a deep imprint over repeated appearances.

As a testament to the tribute group’s fidelity, Rudebeck says a spokesman for the real McCoy made a point of contacting the band with kudos.

“I was kind of scared,” laughs Rudebec. “Are we doing something wrong?”

Au contraire.

“They called us after seeing something on YouTube, and said thanks for getting our music out there, and doing us justice on a smaller scale.”

Shortly thereafter, a token of appreciation arrived in the mail, direct from TSO, overflowing with CDs, T-shirts and other goodies.

The emulation triggering the kudos began back around 1996, when Rudebeck first encountered the trademark TSO sound, and was duly floored.

His preconception was “Christmas music and rock … how dumb, stupid, you don’t mess with Christmas music … it’ll never fly.”

His post-conception was “OK, these guys are onto something.”

The big turning point came several years later, when the orchestra played its first-ever St. Louis date.

By 2006, Rudebeck was good to go with his homage, but found few takers. “The first year we only did four shows. No one was willing to bring us in. It wasn’t a flop, but more of an experimental thing.”

The key to their success today, he says, was persistence, and a willingness to return to venues, “year after year, building our fan base.”

For Saturday’s BCPA show, there will be eight bodies on stage, three of whom will sing in addition to perform on instruments (the real TSO employs 5 singers).

All that will go missing is the six string performers TSO usually recruits from the local musician pools in the markets it plays.

Throughout the evening, lasers will beam every which way, and the classic TSO effect of snow falling on the audience will have folks dreaming of a white you-know.

“We’ve really fine-tuned everything to create the best effects possible,” Rudebeck says. “People really do seem to love them.”

At a Glance

What: A Tribute to Trans-Siberian Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St.

Tickets: $16 to $26

Box office: 866-686-9541


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