Bill’s Best Bets: TSO comes ‘home’ to USA, Idalou’s Kirk at Cactus, ‘The Irishman’ streaming, ‘Sounds of West Texas,’ Jenni Dale Lord

Face it. Thanksgiving weekend is not over. That means the focus remains primarily on turkey, family, football, napping, more football and then convincing oneself to get a jump on Christmas shopping. Which, let’s face it, very few actually will accomplish.

This may have been my toughest week lining up Best Bets. But a big concert just days away already has been described as a pyro-palooza by another critic. Tickets remain available.

Read on for more best bets.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans-Siberian Orchestra includes “a string section, light show, multiple lasers, enough pyro for outdoor shows to be visible from the International Space Station, moving trusses, video screens and special visual effects synchronized to the music being played.”

That description is only partially why no one ever forgets seeing and hearing their first TSO concert, with many more first-timers expected in just days.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra headlines at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the United Supermarkets Arena with no opening act.

Tickets have been on sale for three months. Remaining reserved seats are on sale at all Select-A-Seat outlets in Lubbock. Ticket availability can be checked by calling 770-2000.

Remaining floor and lower bowl tickets are $79.50.

Tickets for other seats in the lower bowl and balcony are $69.50. Seats located higher in the balcony are $59.50 and $49.50. Prices include service charges.

There was a period in the late 1990s when, if Lubbock’s rock opera fans hoped to catch Trans-Siberian Orchestra (aka TSO), they made a semi-annual drive to Amarillo.

At least until the United Spirit Arena opened in 1999 on the Texas Tech campus.

The arena’s introductory event was a basketball game pitting Texas Tech’s Red Raiders vs. the visiting Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight raved about Lubbock’s arena, and later would coach Texas Tech after He left Indiana.

Yet while the building was conceived and financed as a sports venue, music fans were thrilled to discover that Tech’s new arena also provided excellent sight lines, surprisingly good acoustics – and a capacity needed to lure major entertainers.

As it turned out, several of those entertainers were both impressed by the building, and appreciative of gracious treatment by the USA’s courteous staff. Word-of-mouth publicity is just as  powerful within the music industry.

The first concerts at the United Spirit Arena found Elton John performing solo for 15,000 fans –- and KISS throwing everything from platform heels to Kabuki makeup and flames at its own following.

The arena continued booking varied entertainment. The only ones grumbling about the USA might have been a few of Amarillo’s TSO fans.

Sound technicians with Trans-Siberian Orchestra visited the Lubbock arena and recognized that TSO could stage even more exciting shows in the larger facility. Oh, and sell a lot more tickets.

Those in charge of the band’s next holiday visit to West Texas decided to skip Amarillo’s Coliseum. Rather, TSO’s West Texas home became the arena at 1701 Indiana Ave. in Lubbock.

Twenty years after the opening of Lubbock’s impressive multi-purpose arena – its name since changed to United Supermarkets Arena for marketing reasons – the facility continues to please Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Producer, composer and lyricist Paul O’Neill founded TSO with Savatage members Jon Olica and Al Pitrelli in 1996.

Within a decade, the Washington Post labeled the band “an arena rock juggernaut,” describing its sound as “Pink Floyd meets Yes and The Who.”

The band’s rock operas include “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” ”The Christmas Attic,” “Beethoven’s Last Night” and “The Lost Christmas Eve.”

Also noteworthy: Trans-Siberian Orchestra was the first group to go straight to theaters and arenas … never playing at a club, never having an opening act and never working as an opening act.

O’Neill died in April 2017.

According to John Moser, longtime music columnist in Allentown, Pa., the band had featured “Ghosts of Christmas Eve” three consecutive years. This season, TSO tours with earlier rock opera “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” which includes popular instrumental “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.”

The latter song can pass as a TSO trademark.

Moser called this “a symbolic return to the start for the orchestral progressive rock group” after O’Neill’s death.

Even so, he wrote the show’s best songs remained more familiar ones.

Few other bands combine rock ‘n’ roll and the Christmas spirit with such power. The audience also should expect to hear “rocking and lovely” versions of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night,” Moser pointed out.

He would add that, together, the band and featured vocalist Caleb Johnson, a past “American Idol” winner, made “Good King Joy” sound “funkier and fresher” than ever before.

Doug Fox told Salt Lake City readers the band’s performance is “stunning.”

He added that TSO, “with its massive lights and special effects-laden production, not only turned in an electrifying ode to the holidays … but it set the seasonal fires burning with a dazzling ‘Christmas Eve and Other Stories’ production that left no over-the-top stone unturned.”

The writer called the show a “pyro-palooza,” also praising TSO’s marriage of classical, Christmas and rock music.

A bit of trivia – kudos to the staff of the United Supermarkets Arena. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is bound to offer challenges on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Following a performance approximately two-and-one-half hours in length, arena staff will follow the load-out by welcoming country music headliner Luke Combs at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6.

Back-to-back events may be a first – at least, musical events – at this arena.

Jordan Robert Kirk

I stumbled upon Jordan Robert Kirk by accident.

Kirk and his band will headline at 11:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Blue Light Live, 1806 Buddy Holly Ave. Joe Savage opens both nights at 10:15 p.m.

There is a $7 cover charge.

At the least, Kirk strikes me as a terrific young songwriter and promising entertainer … even though I haven’t seen him play live.

Yet I have been politely asking “Alexa” to repeatedly play Kirk’s entire album, “Listening for the Sound,” for almost an hour.

I should explain. It was past midnight late on the night before Thanksgiving.  My computer had given me fits for most of the preceding day. When I regained “control,” so to speak, I began scanning nightclub websites, looking for local entertainers who might fit the bill as a possible Best Bet for this story.

I tend to trust Dustin Six, who booked Kirk at the Blue Light. But the first biographical comments regarding Kirk tended to lean toward the silly side. I did not learn much about him until I found a video of Kirk and his band playing “Pine Box.”

That one song made me want to hear more. And learn more.

When I asked my streaming device to play a song by Kirk, and I ended up hearing his band’s tight version of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” I was almost hooked.

I will get to his own songwriting in a moment.

I gradually learned more about this musician, who at times speaks for generations of the land and the farmers who worked it.

Kirk, an Idalou native, said he was born in Lubbock in 1990, the son of a teacher and a cotton farmer.

He graduated from Texas Tech and eventually married, although he tells a fun story about pawning his guitar because he was focusing on classes. After buying his girlfriend Hartlee a ring, he realized he now was too broke to buy her a Christmas gift. He indicated he got his guitar back just long enough for him to give her the gift of an original song.

Come on, I can’t be the only sucker or romantic who falls for a story like that.

Kirk’s biography later states: “With a deep conviction and belief in God, coupled with a heritage that goes back to the pioneer Hank Smith who first settled Crosby County, where his family farms to this day, and an ever-increasing knowledge of the history of country music and its roots, he has finally started to hit his stride In paying homage to his own history and the traditional nature of country music, while innovating for a modern audience’s palate, he has begun to build a foundation that will stand the test of time.”

There is an honesty within his songs. The proof lies in occasional moving lyrics.

For example, the chorus within this song “Wishing Well” includes the following imagery: “Tell me what part of your soul you’d sell, when there ain’t no water in your wishing well? Papa run off and we had a dry spell. I hope we make it but I just can’t tell. This land is your land and this land is my land. But now the highway’s coming through thanks to Uncle Sam. Work done by God and my two hands, now it’s pavement on the map and I don’t understand.”

He cites an inspiration for each song on his album. Kirk introduces “Wishing Well” with: “This is based on a true story in my family, centered around my grandpa, who quit school in 8th grade to take over the family farm because his dad left the family, never to return.”

“Bible on the Dash” may be the saddest song I’ve heard this month. On the other hand, I imagine a few listeners may smile when “That’s Just Life” finds Kirk singing, “Well I don’t know too much about your sister, other than the fact that my best friend kissed her, and said she puts out like pie on a window sill.”

That made me remember telephoning Reba McIntire and asking her questions while she stayed busy baking pies in an Oklahoma kitchen. Obviously, a story for another day.

For now, I look forward to other musical discoveries in which Kirk is inspired by family, farms and/or his hard honest history.

‘The Irishman’

There must be some who love movies, but, for one reason or another, prefer avoiding public cinemas and multiplexes.

Or, let’s face it, they may prefer the silence and comfort of their own homes … or they like fixing their own snacks … or prefer having the ability to pause each movie whenever nature calls.

That may be a natural fear when the movie being watched is more than three and one-half hours long.

I mention this because director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “The Irishman” began streaming this weekend on Netflix, a pay-cable network.

Scorsese, 77, is guiding another American story about the mob and murders, this time surrounding the rise to power of Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa.

Also touched upon: organized crime exploring power wielded by those sitting in the oval office at the White House.

“The Irishman” does not even try to equal the violence of past Scorsese epics, yet ranks with his finest cinematic efforts. Despite the controversial nature of its television distribution, the film could be nominated for a number of Academy Awards.

Robert De Niro shines as the title character, a military veteran willing to do anything, pull any trigger, to make enough money to help his family. Al Pacino’s acting is, as expected, beautifully over the top as Hoffa … providing a credible follow-up to Jack Nicholson’s performance in 1992’s “Hoffa,” directed by Danny De Vito.

Absolutely impossible to forget, however, is the amazing work by costar Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement and expresses the incredible subtlety and power of a decision-making crime boss.

The on-screen title is “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the title of the book adapted into “The Irishman” … referring to a phrase for someone who commits murder and remains loyal.

Sounds of West Texas

Producer Betty Smith worked for weeks to stage a testament to talented West Texas musicians, planning the concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Cactus Theater – just two days after Thanksgiving.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Door prizes will be given away at 6:50 p.m., and again during intermissions.

Floor and balcony seating is $20, with special reserved balcony box seats $40. Those seated in the balcony box also receive free concessions all night, provided they show their ticket stubs before ordering snacks and drinks.

Take note: Listed Cactus ticket prices are “base prices;” varied fees and tax always will be added to base prices at time of purchase. Tickets also can be purchased in advance by using a link at cactustheater.com.

All sales are final. The Cactus Theater does not permit exchanges, refunds or credit for future shows in exchange for unused tickets. The theater’s box office is staffed at 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, unless Monday is a major holiday.

Call the Cactus at 762-3233, or visit online site cactustheater.com for more information.

Featured performers include Larry Allen, Jerry Brownlow, Steve Burrus, Leah Bynum, Megan Bynum, Danny Dukatnik, Jimmy Henderson, Mike Huffman, Kassidy King, Donnetta Lippe, Donnie Martin, Spencer Morgan, Kaci Sallee, Riley Solberg, Betty Smith, Keith Smith, Mark Wallney, Terry Westbrook and Steve Williams.

Billy Don Hampton is the show’s emcee and Betty Smith was still hoping to add more entertainers before the show begins.

With a theme of “Home for the Holidays,” the show promises songs about love, family, home and Christmas. Musical genres are country, folk, gospel, pop and nostalgic pop and soft rock.

Songs are aimed at families and out-of-town guests.

Expected to be played are such hits as “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” “Whispered Prayer,” “Put a Little Love In Your Heart,” “Oh Holy Night,” “Church on Cumberland Road,” “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Mary Did You Know,” to name but a few.

The show is expected to continue from 7-9:30 p.m.

Jenni Dale Lord

Local award-winning singer-songwriter Jenni Dale Lord is putting the finishing touches on her fourth studio album, set for release in 2020.

Closer at hand, see her live in concert, performing Americana tunes from 7-9 p.m. Friday at Mi Taco Village, 220 Regis Street.

There is no cover charge.

Lord initially leaned specifically toward country music, but altered her approach upon recognizing that the Americana medium would allow her to also shine writing blues, folk and rock.

That said, she said she’s since perfected a style all her own.

After making a name for herself in Austin, Lord opted to answer her roots and strive to succeed as part of the West Texas music culture.

The Jenni Dale Lord Band combines acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums and additional percussion.

The recording ensemble has charted several radio singles, including the duet shared by Lord and recording artist Joe Ely.