12/22/09 — Shagging around the Christmas tree

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Shagging around the Christmas tree

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on December 22, 2009 1:46 PM

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Embers lead singer Wayne Free belts out a holiday tune.

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Embers drummer and band leader Bobby Tomlinson drives the beat to one of the group's numbers during its Christmas concert at the Paramount Theatre. The beach music band, which Tomlinson started more than a half-century ago, performed Monday night to a near sellout crowd, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit the Empty Stocking Fund.

Santa brought his shagging shoes to the Paramount Theatre on Monday night as The Embers ushered in Christmas to downtown Goldsboro.

From the opening number, "I Love Christmas Music," a twist on their signature tune, "I Love Beach Music," the legendary group captivated the audience, made up mostly of longtime fans.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Empty Stocking Fund, which has been helping provide Christmas cheer to local children in need for nearly a century.

For Bobby Tomlinson, who started the band in 1958, it was a chance to play before family and friends. Tomlinson grew up in Goldsboro, just a few blocks from the theater, and recalled spending many afternoons there watching westerns and horror movies.

"This is a homecoming for me," he said as he greeted old friends before the show.

His cohorts in the band, most of them much younger, said they recognized the chance to play in Tomlinson's hometown as something special.

"It makes us want to do a really good job for him," lead singer Wayne Free said before the show. "I've heard him tell so many stories about Goldsboro."

Free said the series of Christmas shows the band does during the holidays "really caps off the year for us."

Guitarist and singer David Dixon, who hails from Greenville, said a recent show planned for his hometown was canceled because of bad weather.

"So this is as close to (my) home that we can do," he said. "Shows near home have a little more pride involved. They're a little more spirited. They're always great."

Saxophonist Matt Kosma, the newest member of the band, said performing Christmas shows is a refreshing change.

"You get a little more satisfaction out of it," he said.

Bass player John Ray agreed.

"It's different. For a month or two, we get to do something a little different."

The evening's performance ranged from bluesy numbers like "Christmas Time in New Orleans" and a B.B. King tune, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year," to rocking tunes like "Run, Run Rudolph" to the soulful spiritual "Children Go Where I Send Thee," all done with the band's rhythm and blues feel.

The band even did a folk song, "Marvelous Toy," in bluegrass fashion and a traditional carol, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In." Many of the songs are on the group's most recent Christmas album, aptly titled, "I Love Christmas Music."

Tomlinson, who seldom sings nowadays, crooned "White Christmas," and donned a Santa Claus costume to dance the shag with his wife, Linda, who joined the band on stage for several numbers.

Other highlights of the show were Free's solo "Mary Did You Know?" and Kosma's saxophone solo of "Let It Snow," as simulated snowflakes fell on stage.

Tomlinson indicated the band would return for another Christmas show next year, saying it was a "very, very strong possibility."

"I'm game," he said.