12/20/11 — Christmas with the Embers: Near-full house for benefit concert

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Christmas with the Embers: Near-full house for benefit concert

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on December 20, 2011 1:46 PM


Jeff Grimes of Goldsboro, who returned to the Embers lineup this year, belts out a number during the band's annual Christmas show Monday night at the Paramount Theatre. Part of the proceeds from the show go to help the Empty Stocking Fund, which provides Christmas for needy children in Wayne County. Grimes called the show "a homecoming" for him.

The Embers hit town Monday night, bringing their Christmas show to a packed Paramount Theatre for the third year in a row.

The legendary beach music band, now in its 53rd year, revamped its holiday show this year to include more traditional music, especially Christian songs.

"A lot of people have told us, 'Keep Christ in Christmas,'" lead singer Wayne Free said. "That's the theme of this year's show." He added that, "If that means offending somebody, so be it.'"

"The band's lineup now includes Goldsboro musician Jeff Grimes, who played with the Embers for years before taking a hiatus to pursue other projects.

"We're trying to do a lot of stuff everyone knows," said Grimes, who plays guitar and saxophone and handles many vocals for the group, "something to put a smile on your face. People want to hear songs they know."

Over the years, band members have come and gone, but Grimes and bandleader/drummer Bobby Tomlinson, who grew up in Goldsboro, both called the band "an extended family," that still keeps in touch with one another.

In fact, the group has been working on a documentary film about its history, with every member who ever played with the group interviewed for the project.

Bassist John Ray said the group enjoys playing the Paramount. He called it one of the nicest venues the band plays all year. But he added that playing to such an audience is more difficult than playing in front of a bar crowd or even an outdoor festival.

"You have to maintain interaction with the crowd," he said, adding that the band "relies so much on the crowd's energy to make our shows go."

Stephen Pachuta, the band's "utility player," as Free described him, said playing the Paramount is "awesome."

The band's Christmas shows provide a break from the normal beach music shows the group does all year, he said.

"It's a whole different thing," Pachuta said. "There aren't any other distractions for the crowd. You have to really perform, be physically engaging with the crowd."

As lead singer, Free took on much of that role, constantly hamming it up and bantering with the crowd, urging people to clap and sing along. Tomlinson took it a step further, coming out dressed as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and finally, Santa himself, dancing to the music and working the crowd.

The show included many songs from the group's newest Christmas album, "We Need a Little Christmas."

Standards like "Silver Bells," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Let it Snow," and "White Christmas," were intertwined with religious favorites such as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "O Holy Night."

The band even covered a country tune, a Sugarland song entitled "Gold and Green."

Free thanked the crowd for their participation and wished everyone a happy holiday season.

"It's all about the Christmas spirit," he said, adding that "This, I think, is the best crowd we've had all year. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your Christmas season."