Elvis Week Day 1: The First Five Things I Noticed at Elvis Week

SMALLLANYARDBY JON WATERHOUSE

A flat tire just 30 minutes from Graceland, the unapologetic Memphis heat and the waning effects of copious coffee don’t deter me from my mission. Rolling into town just before the Graceland office closes for the day, I’m able to drape my lanyard around my neck and start taking care of blogging business.

No fret fellow fans, I’m on the case.

If you see some over-excited bald guy buzzing about Elvis Week 2016, chances are it might be me. The ever-awesome folks at Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland have once again blessed me with the geeky dream job of serving as the official blogger for Elvis Week. Simply put, I attempt to be the eyes and ears of the 39th edition of this annual gathering. I’ll be joining the celebration with thousands of my fellow fans, from the casual and curious to die-hards and those who should be, and writing about the experience each day.

Call it my hunka, hunka burnin’ blog.


THE FIRST FIVE THINGS I NOTICED AT ELVIS WEEK

Elvis Week means an attack of the senses. Endless things to hear, see and soak up can be found around every corner. Take a look at the first five things I noticed once I hit the Graceland ground running.

Elvis Presley’s Graceland Fan Mosaic

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Stretching across a wall at Graceland Plaza, you’ll find this amazing piece of art. A seemingly endless array of tiny pictures of Elvis fans come together to create an image of the Graceland mansion. I happen to be taking it all in when Jenny Smith of Des Moines, Iowa finds her face among the thousands. According to her travel buddy, Joyce White, it took them less than 15 minutes to track down Smith’s mug. Most impressive.

The Auction at Graceland Preview

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I quickly shoot across the plaza to the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum for a preview of the upcoming Auction at Graceland. Several of the items that will be on the block beginning 2 p.m. Aug. 13 can be seen in all of their glory. And, man, I’m wanting it all! The collection of kingsized bling Elvis purchased at Harry Levitch Fine Jewelry sparkles with temptation. His boots, his Amex card, those gold shades, they all call to me. Would blowing my life’s savings be grounds for divorce?

Elvis Week Merchandise

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On my first day in town, I typically start scoping the gift shops for goodies to eventually take home. The Elvis Week 2016 merch certainly rockets to the top of my hit list. I’m especially digging the T-shirts, tumblers and baseball caps. The brand new two-CD set “Way Down In The Jungle Room,” the ultimate collection of Presley’s final recording sessions, wants to jump into my shopping basket. I think I’ll need a bigger suitcase. For those of you who can’t make it, you can still grab some Elvis Week wares by visiting Shop.Graceland.com.

The Elvis Week Main Stage

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During Elvis Week, this is where the action is and my hub away from home for the next eight days. You can’t miss this plush, air-conditioned structure located next to Elvis’ airplanes. An avalanche of events drop between these walls, and I’m counting down the minutes until it all happens. My personal highlights include the Designing for the King session on Aug. 11, featuring chats with those who helped deck out Elvis in style. On Aug. 12, the Elvis 101 talk with uber Elvis author Peter Guralnick and others rings my not-to-miss meter. Don’t laugh as I dance the night away at the Sock Hop with DJ Argo on Aug. 13. Yep, I’ll be raising my hands in the air during the Gospel Music of Elvis Presley concert on Aug. 14. These aren’t the only events rocking the Main Stage. Check out the schedule for details.

Guest House at Graceland Preview Showroom

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I dream of one day resting my head on a pillow in one of the 450 rooms inside the Guest House at Graceland, the lavish, full-service hotel set to open in late October. In the meantime, I’ll take a look inside this showroom located at Graceland Crossing. Unfortunately it had closed before I could slide through its doors —the hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. today— but I’ve been told that it’s an example of a Guest House room. They’ve dolled it up with all of the awesome Elvis features, from artwork to EP light fixtures.


Q & A with Dean Z

DEANZstrokeI have the pleasure meeting a variety of different folks who occupy Elvis world, including fans, professionals and entertainers. One of the most sincere and talented guys among them would certainly be Dean Z, the 2013 winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

Having stood next to Dean onstage just after they announced his 2013 win, I saw firsthand his humble demeanor, and love and appreciation for fellow Elvis fans. Instead of basking in ego, Dean almost immediately took one knee to the ground and hugged a young female fan who had been cheering him on from the front row. No pomp, no circumstance, just gratitude. That’s Dean Z.

Dean Z’s win has brought him more incredible experiences he says he can count. Projects keep rolling in, including co-starring in his third touring cycle of “Elvis Lives,” a theatrical concert experience with Elvis himself as the narrator. For Elvis Week 2016, he’s back in the saddle as an online video correspondent for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

Just before Elvis Week began, I talked to Dean about all things Elvis Week:

On what Elvis Week means to him:
“My first Graceland experience began at age 7 as a birthday present from my mother. We drove across country in a mini-van from California to Memphis with my best friend, my brother, my sister, and my mom and dad. My mom made nice outfits for all of us. The boys were wearing things like the Memphis Mafia would wear, cool 1970s-style suits. I walked up to the gates of Graceland in my suit. There’s a picture of me as a 7-year-old, and I was extra short at the time. In these photos, I barely come up to the leg of the metal figure of Elvis on the Graceland gates. So, my first memory of Graceland is this overwhelming happiness that I felt when I was 7-years-old seeing those gates for the first time, touching them. …It’s a magical place. Elvis Week brings that feeling back to me, personally, as a fan. I get to feel like that little kid again, getting to experience this dream of being in the world that Elvis lived in. …When I sit there during the Candlelight Vigil and think about all of the joy that Elvis has brought me, and the 30 years I’ve spent singing his music, it’s overwhelming.”

On being a correspondent for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest:
“When I won the preliminary to get into the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition in 2013 and my name was on Graceland’s Website, that could’ve been enough for me. (Laughs) People at Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland were aware of my existence. That, to me, was plenty. Then I won the thing, and I started having direct communication with Graceland and people in the office. …To me, that’s so fulfilling on a personal level, because I love Elvis so much. The fact that (the people at Elvis Presley Enterprises) even know my name is just so humbling. And then to be asked by them to be a correspondent Elvis Week is (great.) …I would’ve paid them to let me do it. (Laughs) It was so important to me to do the best job I could. To be asked to do it again, knowing they were happy with what I did last year, means so much to me. There’s never been another ETA who’s been asked to do that. For me, I’m very proud to have that opportunity.”

On what it felt like winning the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest:
“To this day, it still feels like a dream. Here we are three years later, and I still don’t believe it actually happened. …It’s such a warm feeling I get when I think about it. My mom and my wife were so happy. …I’m glad I only had to do it once, because it’s such a high-pressure experience. Winning it was absolutely the highlight of my career up until that point. Right after it happened, it felt like opening a window and letting the fresh air in. It’s very surreal, and I’m really happy everyone enjoyed my performance. …I’m very lucky. Since winning the Ultimate, things have just gotten better and better and better. And it’s all thanks to winning the Ultimate.”


4 Comments

  1. Kathy Carpenter

    I so enjoyed reading the Blog especially about Dean Z. Elvis was such an awesome entertainer. I so love his music and his movies. Even though he was disappointed with his roles in the movies, so many people have enjoyed them. I never thought of them being derogatory to Elvis in any way. More than any of this though, I think of how wonderful Elvis the person was…how much he cared for people and loved helping people and giving to charities. I do hope one day I will be able to meet Elvis in Heaven.

  2. Olivia Tuttle

    Hi it looks like you are having a good time and doing a great job. I wish I could be there. My friend and I were there July 12 and loved it. It’s a dream of mine to be there for Elvis week and I hope to make it next year.

  3. Lorrie Williams

    We are amazed with Dean Z’s talent!! He’s a real natural Elvis Presley!! He also has so much other talent and a great following!!

  4. matthew goodrich

    MERCY ! APPARENTLY NO ELVIS’S WERE HURT IN THIS ACTION —–

    CARRY ON ………

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