The King lives in Ypsilanti
by Christina Kallery
With the twenty-fifth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death fast approaching, opportunities to commemorate in style seem limitless. You could don a Priscilla-style black wig and light a gigantic bust-of-Elvis candle; get drunk and entertain friends with the King's mangled version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" from the Vegas recordings ("The stage is bare, and I'm standing there . . . without any hair . . . and if you won't come back to me, aw, to hell with ya!"); or grow a formidable pompadour, rent a pink Cadillac, and drive to Graceland. Or you could just head down to Ypsilanti's Frog Island Park, Riverside Park, and Depot Town on Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13.
The third annual Michigan Elvisfest is the next best thing to seeing the King in the flesh. The extravaganza boasts a full weekend of tribute acts, games, food, and fun. Plus, Elvi sightings will be at an all-time high. A smorgasbord of impersonators will span the many-splendored stages of the Pompadoured One's hallowed career. Pelvis-shakin' 1950s Elvis, Clambake-era Elvis, leather-clad '68 Comeback Special Elvis, sequined jumpsuited Elvis it's got 'em all. The music ranges from early Sun Studios material to impassioned and anthemic "My Way" renditions to gospel numbers.
The Elvi themselves come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Performances can be rockin', moving, sexy, bizarre, or eerily convincing each paying a unique homage to the King. All told, it's even more fun than lounging in your jungle room and blowing your TV set to smithereens with a revolver.
Last year's standout was Leo Days, who did an amazing '68 Comeback Special Elvis (complete with leather pants and jacket despite the midsummer mugginess) and who was particularly dreamy. He so effectively channeled the King's lady-killing charisma that during a soulful rendering of "Can't Help Falling in Love" a parade of blushing young girls (and the occasional rambunctious middle-age woman) approached the stage to hand him a rose or
the traditional Elvis-sweat-soppin' hanky. Truth be told, I found myself a little too flustered to ask him for a photo when I spotted him later near the outdoor fest's equivalent of backstage his trailer. Courage, don't fail me this year.
Other returning stars from last year's fest are Quentin Flagg, award-winning teen King from Indiana (he's just nineteen), and Fred Wolfe, Detroit's "Best Elvis Tribute" (his website proclaims him "Elvis #2," with the explanation "Why am I No. 2? Because ELVIS is No. 1!"). There's also Stephen Kabakos, the Canadian Elvis (before you ask, no, he doesn't sing "I'm all shook up, eh?"), and a host of other "tribute artists," as they prefer to be called these days, including one Irv Cass, who according to his website is "the ultimate ladies' man in the impersonator world." Plus, unlike the King in his "C.C. Rider" days, Cass is also touted on-line as having "a great body."
No celebration of the King's memory would be complete without a sampling of Memphis-style treats. There's barbecued pork, courtesy of the Ypsilanti Area Jaycees, and beer, wine, and other festive fare are also available. Other scheduled fun includes contests, a classic car display, a McDonald's play area for the kiddies, and souvenir booths stocked with the finest King-licensed memorabilia. And finally, just in case you've decided to cement that lifelong commitment to your hunka hunka burnin' love, you can apparently make it official over the weekend with the King's (or a King's) blessing. The website encourages, "If you want an Elvis wedding, please contact us." Just don't forget to say "Thank you. Thank you very much."
[Originally published in July, 2002.]