Elvis Week Day 2: Experiencing Graceland and Memphis

By Jon Waterhouse

While covering Elvis Night at the Memphis Redbirds game on Saturday, Graceland photographer Robert Dye succinctly described Elvis Week as a roller coaster ride.

“We’re just now going up the hill,” he said. “And now the ride begins.”

Yeah it does, and on Sunday I had my figurative lap bar securely in place, ready and eager for every dip, twist, turn and gasp-inducing Elvis Week moment.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse hands out with SiriusXM's Elvis Radio DJ Argo.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse hands out with SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio DJ Argo.

My day began with an hour-long guest DJ set on Elvis Radio alongside DJ Argo, the always welcoming and incredibly talented maestro of the mike.

Soon thereafter I was whisked away in a Graceland tour bus for my first tablet tour. This brand new interactive experience had me at click and drag.

Each Graceland guest receives an iPad and headphones. Actor John Stamos, best known for his lengthy stint on the TV sitcom “Full House,” narrates this journey through a different kind of full house, one loaded with memorabilia and rock ‘n’ roll majesty.

As you explore the mansion and its grounds, an image of each respective room and area appear on the tablet’s screen offering a slew of additional content. Let’s say you’re passing through Graceland’s kitchen. A video icon appears on your screen giving you the option to watch a home movie of a young Elvis walking through that very room.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse takes the brand new iPad tour now available at Elvis Presley's Graceland.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse takes the brand new iPad tour now available at Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

The wealth of the tablet material is seemingly endless. When stopping in the Jungle Room the tablet offers a photo of a tiny Lisa Marie chilling on that tiki-tastic couch. Visit the display of Priscilla’s wedding dress, and you can use your tablet to simultaneously watch actual footage of she and Elvis exchanging vows. And that’s just a smidgen of what’s available on the tablet. Movie trailers, audio interview clips, Elvis TV appearances, live concert footage and more take the tour to unprecedented heights.

Having chalked up many a Graceland visit, the tablet tour makes it feel completely brand new and totally immersive, while retaining the charm of the classic experience. It’s simply like visiting the Presley palace for the very first time.

Elvis fans can now get up-close and personal with the new Graceland Archives Experience.

Elvis fans can now get up-close and personal with the king at the new Graceland Archives Experience.

The new Graceland Archives Experience adds yet another dimension. Just when you thought it was over, those who opt for the Platinum or VIP tour get access to the Archive Studio. Housed in its own facility just behind the mansion, the theater-like setting allows guests the opportunity to get a close look at Elvis items not available on the tour. You might see a briefcase housing an incredibly early version of a mobile phone and professional photographs with Elvis’s own handwriting sweeping across the back of each picture.

My senses completely primed, I hurried across town to Beale Street in time to catch the Backbeat bus for its special Hound Dog Tour, a completely Elvis-centric jaunt around town.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse tagged along for the Hound Dog Tour with Backbeat Tours.

Elvis Week Blogger Jon Waterhouse tagged along for the Hound Dog Tour with Backbeat Tours on August 10, 2014.

You have to hand it to Backbeat Tours owner Bill Patton for crafting a unique brand of sightseeing. While guests face forward in their seats, they get a clear view of the tour guide/entertainer perched at the front of the bus. Facing the riders, and armed with a guitar and a vintage-style microphone, the guide dishes out historic music facts while jamming to related music. Riders are encouraged to sing along, and rattle the onboard tambourines and shakers.

Our host for the trip, Beale Street entertainer Brandon Cunning, appropriately kicked off the journey with “Let’s Have a Party.” For the next few hours Cunning served up party favors in the form of Elvis-tinged historical nuggets and jukebox-worthy greatest hits.

Backbeat Tour Guide Brandon Cunning entertained Elvis fans on the Hound Dog Tour during Elvis Week 2014.

Backbeat Tour Guide Brandon Cunning entertained Elvis fans on the Hound Dog Tour during Elvis Week 2014.

We passed landmarks including the former Humes High School and the old Hotel Chisca, which once housed WHBQ, the first radio station to spin the king. The highlight, however, was a stop at the site of Lauderdale Courts, and a visit inside the Presley family’s old apartment. In pucker-up tradition, many of the female visitors left lipstick prints on Elvis’s bedroom wall.

Elvis fans can leave kisses for the king inside his childhood home at Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, Tennessee.

Elvis fans can leave kisses for the king inside his childhood home at Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, Tennessee.

To be honest, my hound dogs were barking, but I managed to make tracks to the sparkling new Hard Rock Cafe on Beale in time to catch the winner of the Last Chance Ultimate ETA contest. Fan favorite Kevin Mills snagged the win, his house-shaking version of “An American Trilogy” helping him secure a spot in the semifinals, which drops on Tuesday.

By day’s end, that Elvis Week roller coaster slowed to a stop, but for just a few hours. And like a satisfied rider with percolating adrenaline I thought to myself, “Let’s do it again.”


Q&A WITH ARGO OF ELVIS RADIO

Listen to SiriusXM's Elvis Radio DJ Argo everyday LIVE from Elvis Presley's Graceland.

Listen to SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio DJ Argo everyday LIVE from Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

As he mans the Elvis Radio boards, SiriusXM personality Argo has a unique Elvis Week perspective. His studio window looks directly out into Graceland Plaza, a buzzing hub of activity.

Fans continually pass by and wave. Others might drop off tokens of appreciation in the form of sweet treats. Some simply stand and watch as he interviews celebs or cues up the next Elvis track.

Being in the midst of the action and hosting an array of Elvis Week events gives Argo plenty of time to ponder the significance of this annual affair.

Q.: How do you get your game face on for Graceland’s biggest event of the year?

A.: Well, it’s the most exciting time of the year for us. We’re there all year long, and we see a lot of tourists, which is fun. But it’s exciting for us when Elvis fans come in, because it’s like a family reunion, all of these people who we’ve met through the years are here together. And it’s that unity and love. It’s really a great time of year for us, because it’s like old home week. Everybody’s back at home. It’s a good feeling.

Q.: There’s really nothing else like it in the world.

A.: No, and you can’t always explain that to somebody. I’ve tried before to explain what Elvis Week is. You know, there are a lot of different events and a lot of things going on, but it’s the people and the energy. It’s one of those things you almost have to experience for yourself. … It’s a lot of love for Elvis. But the fascinating story to me is the people Elvis brings together still to this day. That’s a huge part of it, because all of these people come together with Elvis in common. And it’s not just one kind of person. It’s different kinds of people from all around the world, and it’s a great example of people looking past their differences to focus on something they love. And when people are doing that for the whole week, it’s a great vibe.

Q.: After 10 years of doing this, what’s your quintessential Elvis Week moment?

A.: It all culminates with the Candlelight Vigil. There’s really nothing like seeing all of the people and all of those candles glowing. Each year that moment gives you chills. And after our broadcast is done things begin to wind down to a certain level, and it’s still going on into the night. When everything does wind down and you step onto Elvis Presley Boulevard, you see all of the tributes, and you still see thousands of people with candles at 2 a.m. in the morning. That says it all.

Q.: How do you keep your energy level going. Any tips?

A.: [Laughs] No. As a lot of Elvis fans say, you don’t get much sleep during Elvis Week, really. You’ve got to plan. I think it’s great they have the Elvis Week app. They’ve tweaked it even more this year. It’s a great tool for planning, especially for people who are not from here. They can map it out. For me, again it’s an exciting time and an exciting week. It’s filled with a lot of adrenaline and smiling faces. That’s what keeps you going through the whole week. And when it’s done we’re all kind of bummed out. When everybody goes home we kind of say, “Awww.”

Q.: With all of those people there and the Elvis Radio studio smack dab in the middle of Graceland Plaza, is it hard to stay focused when you’re on the air?

A.: It is at times. That’s a good point. There’s so much going on with everyone coming and going. It is a challenge to stay focused. But I think when that comes across on the radio, people realize how much is going on and how many people are there. The chaos of it kind of makes it cool.

Q.: Of course lots of things are happening on Elvis Radio throughout the week, and you’re going to have your hands full. But you’re also hosting the Elvis Presley Fan Club Presidents’ Event on August 13.

A.: I’m looking forward to that, and I’m looking forward to talking with Linda Deutsch. She’s one of the guests. And it’s always fun with the fan club presidents. As a Memphian, I’m always blown away by the fan club presentations. They raise money throughout the year, and they make these annual presentations to various charities, most of them Memphis based. And that always gets me. It’s so cool. Most of those people don’t live here, and spend a lot of time throughout the year raising money for St. Jude’s, the Humane Society and a lot of causes that directly affect this community. …[Giving back] was what Elvis was all about, and the fans know that. And the fact they continue that legacy and spirit of giving is amazing to me. It warms my heart to see it every year.


DJ ARGO’S TOP 5 ESSENTIAL ELVIS TRACKS

Elvis Presley - The King of Rock 'n' Roll

Elvis Presley – The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Stocking your mp3 player for Elvis Week? Let Argo curate it for you. We asked the Elvis Radio DJ to list the perfect soundtrack for Elvis Week 2014.

“Memphis, Tennessee”

It’s got to be in the mix just because it’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” Hearing that song when your feet are on the ground in Memphis is even more special than hearing it when you’re not here.

“Mystery Train”

Back to Sun Studio where it all began. That’s one of my favorites. It’s a must.

“Suspicious Minds”

It’s perfect for this year, especially because the Memphis Boys and Chips Moman are getting the American Studios marker this year, which is long overdue. So you could put a bunch of stuff from the American sessions on this list, but I think “Suspicious Minds” takes the cake.

“Raised on Rock”

You’ve got to go back to the Stax sessions. Again, it has that Memphis connection. There’s a big part of the Elvis Week crowd that were raised on rock, and Elvis represents that. And he should He’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“First In Line”

I’m going go with this one simply because I love the song.


ELVIS FAN SPOTLIGHT

Elvis fan Catherine Blaufuss from  Los Angeles, California, took the Hound Dog Tour on August 10, 2014.

Elvis fan Catherine Blaufuss from
Los Angeles, California, took the Hound Dog Tour on August 10, 2014.

Catherine Blaufuss
Los Angeles, CA

Q.: How long have you been an Elvis fan?

A.: I had always been aware of Elvis when I was little, and I remember the day he died. It was huge. …As a teenager, I really got into Elvis music. It’s funny, because we were listening to punk rock and going to all of the clubs on the Sunset Strip, and listening to Elvis. …Elvis was cool, and he still is.

Q.: What’s been your favorite Elvis Week moment so far?

A.: We just got in [on Saturday], and we got to go to the Memphis Redbirds game and see you dance, which was fabulous. Loved that and loved coming out of the game and seeing Eli Williams, who is one of our favorite ETAs, by chance singing in the [ballpark] courtyard. It was like, “Wow!’” And we got to see Dean Z throw out the first ball. I love him. We just had a blast.

Q.: What are you looking forward to the most?

A.: The white jumpsuits! [Laughs] I love white jumpsuits. I was really looking forward to Backbeat’s Hound Dog Tour, and it was great. I’m looking forward to the Jailhouse Rock Dance Party. Of course the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest is going to be a big deal.

Q.: Memphis remains such as special place with its rich musical history. How does it feel when your feet touch the ground in this town?

A.: When I went to Sun Studio and walked into the room where Elvis and others recorded all of these groundbreaking records, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. There’s some sort of electric rock ‘n’ roll energy in Memphis.

Q.: Have you had a chance to take Graceland’s new tablet tour?

A.: No. I’m definitely looking forward to that. I find it interesting that Graceland is always changing. Every time I go there’s different stuff I didn’t see the time before, and I enjoy that as a fan.


You can see the video recap below or check out more photos, videos and blogs by visiting ElvisWeek.com.


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