12/18/12 — A little night music for needy children

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A little night music for needy children

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 18, 2012 1:46 PM

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Wayne Free, the lead singer for The Embers, serenades the audience at the Paramount Theatre on Monday night. The beach music band performed its Christmas concert for the Empty Stocking Fund to the delight of hundreds of fans.

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Drummer Bobby Tomlinson sets the beat during The Embers concert Monday night at the Paramount Theatre. Below, the memorial wreath for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

They were more than just a backdrop for singing concert-goers and dancing children -- the holiday standards performed Monday evening inside the Paramount Theatre.

Wayne Free, the lead singer of the Embers, said each of the songs performed during the band's Christmas concert carried a special meaning -- a message about what the season is really all about.

"It's about the kids," he said.

So it seemed fitting that those in attendance were among the throngs of Wayne County residents who supported the News-Argus' 100th Empty Stocking Fund party, an effort that, this year, saw hundreds of needy children walk away from Goldsboro High School Dec. 8 with a Christmas present, book, stocking and box of clothes.

And the Embers were honored to be a part of the celebration of just what the local community had accomplished -- and what the donations that are still rolling in represent.

"That's what Christmas is all about to me," Free said. "A lot of people forget what Christmas is all about and that's kind of the idea behind our show -- to remind everybody."

Some came in sports coats and with Christmas ties.

Others wore holiday dresses.

There were Santa hats and sleigh bell necklaces.

There was no shortage of Christmas spirit in downtown Goldsboro.

Goldsboro native Bobby Tomlinson, 72, was humbled by the turnout -- that after 55 years, the band he founded after learning how to play drums in the William Street School auditorium can still draw a crowd.

"I think about all the people I've played for and it's just great," he said. "It really is."

As is the fact that proceeds from this particular gig are going to a cause that has endured in Wayne for more than a century.

"It's amazing," Tomlinson said.

Band members weren't the only ones taken aback by the packed house.

News-Argus publisher Hal Tanner III was also overwhelmed -- and proud that his friends and neighbors, despite a tough economy, continue to step up for those less fortunate.

"You know, we are so grateful to have had the Embers agree to do this show and that so many people bought tickets knowing that their money was going to the Empty Stocking Fund," he said. "And after all these years, I suppose it would be easy to take their generosity for granted -- to expect that we'll hit our goal -- but we never do. And what happens? Year after year this community steps up to the plate. People reach into their pockets -- and hearts -- for kids they have likely never met. And that is the humbling thing about the Empty Stocking Fund. The spirit of the season is alive and well in Wayne County and it touches me, as I hope it does you, right about this time every single year."

Tanner also took time before the show to remember the events in Connecticut last week. A large wreath covered in white flowers stood at the side of the stage, and he noted its presence as a tribute to those suffering after the tragedy in Newtown.

"We could not begin tonight's event without pausing to remember those who lost their lives Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary," he said. "This wreath is in their honor. Please join us in a moment of silence for the 26 lives lost much too soon and for the families who must go on without them."

At the show's end, Free also took notice of the wreath and in a tearful voice reminded the audience that Christmas is about family. He urged those present to appreciate their own families and not to forget those struggling to deal with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.