Sounds of Summer

Embers lead singer Craig Woolard says being home in Cary last year helped him appreciate being on the road. “Doing so many gigs, you tend to forget how special it is to be allowed to do this. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”

On a balmy evening, a multigenerational crowd is happy to be out and eager to have fun. At the opening concert of the North Hills Beach Music Series, The Embers echo the upbeat mood of their audience.

After months without live music, everyone is ready to have a good time.

Mickey Rochelle grew up listening to beach music on Topsail Island, N.C. He and his wife, Marylouise, live in Benson now, but they seized the chance to see The Embers. Beach music is their soundtrack to good times with friends, they say.

The Embers have been named North Carolina’s Official Musical Ambassadors, and the band was inducted into the N.C. Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Atlantic Beach, Myrtle Beach area, Wilmington — they were always performing down there. We would go (to shows) in high school, and then it just carried on,” Rochelle said.

Beach music, according to the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, is a mix of R&B, funk, rock ‘n’ roll and blue-eyed soul. The music became popular in the 1960s and early ’70s, when bands would travel along the Georgia and Carolina coast, playing to audiences eager to Shag, the official state dance of North Carolina.

Founded in 1958 by Bobby Tomlinson and Jackie Gore, The Embers became one of the most prominent and successful bands in the genre. They are also one of the most enduring, still performing more than 200 dates a year. The lineup now includes Craig Woolard, Stephen Pachuta, Jeff Grimes, Gerald Davis, Bobby Nantz, and Wayne Free, with Tomlinson occasionally sitting in on drums.

Fans enjoy a chance to dance at an Embers concert.

And while the players have changed, the good times continue. At the Raleigh show, young couples, moms and kids, and nimble septugenarians swayed and turned on the makeshift dance floor.

See The Embers

For concert details, visit

Aug. 3 – Altavista, Va.
Aug. 5 – Goldsboro, N.C.
Aug. 6 – South Hill, Va.
Aug. 7 – Atlantic Beach, N.C.
Aug. 8 – Americus, Ga.
Aug. 11 – Shelby, N.C.
Aug. 12 – Kannapolis, N.C.
Aug. 13 – Eden, N.C.
Aug. 14 – Raleigh
Aug. 15 – Holden Beach, N.C.
Aug. 17 – Newton, N.C.
Aug. 19 – Mount Airy, N.C.
Aug. 20 – Burlington, N.C.
Aug. 21 (day) – Kings Mountain, N.C.
Aug. 21 (night) – Linville, N.C.
Aug. 26 – Stanley, N.C.
Aug. 27 – Asheville, N.C.
Aug. 29 – Albemarle, N.C.

“(Beach music) is family-friendly, blankets, easy listening. I have two girls … and it feels like they can come and enjoy it too,” said Anna Castle, glancing at 4-year-old Ava.

Castle and her friend Laura Stakes, both of Raleigh, brought their husbands and preschoolers to see the band. While they were happy just to be out enjoying live music again, The Embers are a favorite.

“Some of our friends have had them at weddings before. At beach music bars in college, I’m pretty sure they were there,” Stakes said. “I’m pretty sure Craig Woolard is a sorority mainstay.”

For his part, The Embers’ lead singer is also thrilled to be performing again.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Woolard, who has lived in Cary since 1980.

Like many of his fans, Woolard grew up listening and dancing to beach music. Raised in Washington, N.C., he learned to “bop” in high school dance classes, and would head to clubs in Atlantic Beach to practice his steps and have some fun.

Fans often grow up listening to beach music and learning to dance the Carolina Shag.

“We would go there and listen to this music being played,” Woolard said. “It became such a part of people’s lives that they would go off to college, and they’d take this music with them. I have several friends who went to Wake Forest University, and took the music with them and introduced it to a whole bunch of other people.”

It’s a cultural thing, he says. People often grow up loving beach music, but there are also those who move to the area and get just as involved.

These passionate fans supported the band when the pandemic forced Woolard and the other Embers to stop performing live. They donated to the “Keep The Embers Burning” campaign and subscribed to recorded concerts that the band released on Facebook.

Woolard also kept busy with his Sunday night radio program, “The Craig Woolard Show” on 107.9 WNCTFM in Greenville, N.C., airing from 6-11 p.m. He landed the gig in early 2020, taking over “Steve Hardy’s Original Beach Party,” which had aired for decades.

“They offered me the job when he retired, and three months later, the bottom dropped out of life as we know it,” Woolard said. “I drove to Greenville every Sunday and did this show, and it’s been a godsend.”

Stephen Pachuta plays
trumpet at a recent North Hills performance. He also fills in on vocals and keyboard.

It was a way for Woolard to earn an income, and he could play a lot of Embers music. The show also enabled him to keep in touch with fans, who would often call the station to talk about music.

“If I’m bringing joy to other people, they’re bringing joy to me by calling into the radio station, or coming up to see me and talk to me when there’s an Embers concert,” he said.

Guitarist Jeff Grimes also sings and plays saxophone with The Embers.

Among those devoted fans are Judy and Phil Lewis, who planted their matching Embers-themed lawn chairs in a shady spot at the North Hills concert. The retired couple has been following the band around the Southeast for roughly five years and has attended every show The Embers have performed since COVID restrictions were relaxed.

Following the band has given the couple an opportunity to roam Virginia, North and South Carolina, places they normally would have never visited.

“We’ve got friends strung out from Roanoke, Va., all the way to Myrtle Beach and as far west as Newberry, S.C.,” said Phil Lewis.

Jeff Grimes, Craig Woolard and Bobby Nantz entertain an enthusiastic audience eager to relax and enjoy some Beach Music.

“Wherever they go, we go.”

“We just love them,” added Judy Lewis. “We never get tired of them; we never get tired of the music.”

Phil and Judy Lewis enjoy a recent concert from the comfort of their matching Embers chairs.


  • Suzanne Woolard says:

    Excellent article!
    Cary NC is a wonderful little town with big events and offerings plus I get to see Craig sometimes when I visit.

  • Amy Yardis says:

    This is awesome! I’d like to share some pictures with you all..
    I Was at Beach Fest in Raleigh last Saturday!

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