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Northwinds band performs Christmas concert Thursday night
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Listen as Northwinds Symphonic Band conductor Ronald J. Evans talks about the group's "Sounds of the Season" concert tonight.

‘Sounds of the Season’

Holiday concert by the Northwinds Symphonic Band

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville

How much: Free, but donations will be accepted

An ensemble of area music professionals, including educators and band directors, has a lot of performances under its belt, after performing in the area for 24 years

But tonight marks only the second Christmas concert for the group.

"We found it difficult to ask the band directors who were involved in the football season to come in for an extra practice or two," said Ronald J. Evans, founder and conductor of the 92-member Northwinds Symphonic Band.

"This time, we saved all of our rehearsals until football season was over and that seems to work out fine," he said. "... Last year, we had a capacity crowd of some 500 people."

The bonus for holiday revelers is that the group’s "Sounds of the Season" concert, set for 7:30 tonight at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville, is free. Donations are accepted, however.

Selections include "Festive Fanfare for the Holidays," "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring," "The Nutcracker: Six Characteristic Dances" and "White Christmas" featuring Brian Ulrich on alto saxophone.

Lead trumpet player Allen Beach, retired band director of the Parkview High School band in Lilburn, will conduct "A Fireside Christmas."

Associate conductor Mercer Crook will conduct the U.S. Marine Band’s version of "A Ceremony of Carols" and Mannheim Steamroller’s arrangement of "Silent Night."

Tenor Jonathan Jackson, an Athens resident and friend of Crook’s, will sing Evans’ arrangement of "O Holy Night."

Santa Claus also is expected to make an appearance and "spread the joy around as well," Evans said.

The concert will last about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Downtown stores will be open longer tonight, as part of a seasonal push, so "people will be able to shop late ... and then come directly to the concert," Evans said.

Main Street Gainesville is sponsoring "Downtown by Candlelight" to encourage the later shopping.

Restaurants and stores in the festively decorated downtown will be open 5-8 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 18, and horse-drawn carriage rides will be offered Thursdays through Saturdays until Dec. 20.

"It’s not a heavy, hard-hitting shopping event," said Joe Burnett, Main Street’s executive director. "It’s just an opportunity to experience downtown at its Christmas finest."

The Christmas concert last year helped draw people to the square, he said.

"A lot of people had dinner before the concert," Burnett said.

Also, weather permitting, the carriage rides will run until 9 tonight for concertgoers who can’t catch one beforehand, he said.