Plate grew up in Horseheads and moved away to pursue a drumming career.
The talent and dedication he showed while working in Boston landed him a spot with the band Savatage whose hit Christmas Eve Sarajevo gave birth to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Though TSO tours the globe, Plate decided to move back to his family’s farm in Horseheads where he now happily lives with his wife, dog and cats.
Plate interviewed with Adam Chodak to talk about his success along with his latest personal project Alta Reign.
Adam Chodak: Here we are in holiday season, you’re at it again. Do you ever get tired of it?
Jeff Plate: Not at all, I mean, this is one of the most successful touring acts in the country and I also take a lot of pride in the fact that I’ve been here since the very beginning. I was with Paul O’Neill back in 1995 when we first recorded Christmas Eve Sarajevo. And this show, it goes without saying, it is a great show but it just gets better every year and it’s amazing that the fans just keep coming back in droves every year. Between the two touring groups that we have East and West we do close to a million people a year and there seems to be no end in sight and the fan base just gets bigger and stronger every year.
AC: Tell me how Christmas Eve Sarejevo became TSO?
JP: Oddly enough Paul O’Neill had been dreaming of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra-like project for years prior to this. And then Christmas Eve Sarejevo was released on the Savatage record Dead Winter Dead. The song just took on a life of its own. All of the sudden it just became this holiday hit. It became a contemporary hit and it really took off in its own direction. This was the vehicle for Paul to create TSO. And Trans-Siberian Orchestra was his dream band. He wanted to create something that was covering all musical genres, a number of different vocalists, a number of different characters with seemingly no boundaries and lo and behold, that song got the whole thing started and it’s still the driving force behind what we do today. But Paul O’Neill at the time when we first recorded this, we weren’t quite sure what he was thinking and he was obviously seeing further down the road than we were because it’s just been a huge success ever since and much credit to the man, he made this all happen.
AC: When did you know you were there, you made it?
JP: We released Christmas Eve and other stories in 1996 and that became an instant hit so obviously we knew we had something musically that was working. The Christmas Attic, the second album, was also very successful. We did the Ghost of Christmas Eve TV special in 1999 and that was also well received, but once we started touring there was a lot of question marks as to how well this was going to translate on the stage and from the first show until now it’s just been magic and it has been so well received. But I would say probably in like 2004 or 2005. We had began touring in theaters in 1999, slowly graduated to small arenas and then all of the sudden in ’04-’05 we were playing major arenas twice a day and selling them out twice a day and I remember walking on stage, I believe it was in Cleveland, I just shook my head and I was like, I can’t believe this is happening, this is unbelievable, and it hasn’t slowed down since, it’s been an amazing run.
AC: And you haven’t slowed down either. You have a new project that began in 2020…
JP: Yes, it’s called Alta Reign. It’s a bucket list project of mine that I’ve been dreaming of doing something like this for years where I was the lead lyricist, song writer, producer and I hooked up with a lot of local people in the Horseheads area. And we released an album last year called Mother’s Day, which was actually well received. We just finished the second one up, hopefully to be released in the spring and hopefully there will be more information on that coming soon.
AC: How come you’re not living in NYC or LA?
JP: You know, when I graduated high school, in order to do what I wanted to do, I had to go somewhere else. I went to Florida for a while, that didn’t work out. I went to Boston for 10 years and in Boston I met with the people who hooked me up with the band Savatage which led to where I am right now. But once I began touring and seeing the world and seeing the country, there really is not prettier place than upstate New York. I am a fan of the four seasons. I love winter. I love everything about it. My family has an 85-acre farm which I own now. It’s been in family for over 150 years. So I just have a beautiful piece of property and there’s no place like home. It sounds cliché but it’s true. But honestly since I’ve been able to see a lot of other places in the world really isn’t any place I’d rather be. So it’s great to be back home and doing what I do, it’s home base. I have a great group of guys in my band. My wife, my dog and my cats, we’ve got a great property so I’m all hooked up, it’s all good.
AC: Is it true that you give drum lessons?
JP: Yes, I’ve been teaching locally for a good 10 or 12 years and obviously when COVID hit in 2020 everything went online which is interesting because it really opened things up. I have students now in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, other states around the country, so that whole part of teaching, I wasn’t sure how the online thing was going to work, but I figured it out and it actually works quite well. But I have a number of students from 7 years old to 67 years old and everybody in between. All different styles, I love doing it, it really keeps me grounded and helps me revisit some of the stuff that I had learned and forgotten over the years, but there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a young kid start to get music.
AC: Do you still get a thrill playing in your hometown of sorts?
JP: You know, it’s interesting. We’ve been doing this a long time and there’s still a lot of people who haven’t seen us. Most everyone has heard us, but a lot of people have not been able to get out to a show and that goes for a lot of people back at home, but there’s always somebody new that has never seen that show that comes to see it and I love it because I know they’re going to be blown away by this, they have no idea what they’re going to get when they sit down in that seat. A lot of family, a lot of friends, a lot of my peers I’ve worked with over the years come out and check out the show and it is the closest show to home and it’s always good to have family and friends out there.
AC: What a ride you’ve had…
JP: A lot of work, a lot of frustration, but when I was in Boston, I really worked hard and I met the right people and I knew this was something that I wanted to do since I was 13 years old. That was my mission, that was my plan, that was my goal and oddly enough, I left Boston in 1993 moved back home thinking, well, I gave it a shot and maybe I should think about something else and then the phone rang. And lo and behold I had the job joining with Savatage and the dream has come true so hey, you know, getting into music is something you have to do because you love music. If something great happens along the way then fine, but if you want to make that happen, you’ve got to be dedicated, you’ve got to be very good, there’s so many musicians, there’s so much competition but do it for the love of music and good things will happen. So just be on time, know your parts, do your job and things will work out for you.
The show is 7 p.m. Thursday at Blue Cross Arena. Tickets are available here.