Elvis Week Day 5 – Epically Elvis

BY JON WATERHOUSE

Without fail, something epic drops daily at Elvis Week. Yesterday, however, things hit a peak.

The day began with computer glitches, which had me struggling to meet my blog deadline. Soon after wrapping, I found myself sprinting to the sold-out Conversations on Elvis: Elvis Family & Friends event at Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

Unfortunately, I missed most of it. Host Tom Brown would later tell me Bill Medley’s appearance was not only monumental, but monumentally hilarious. After telling the audience the story of Elvis crashing the stage in the middle of a Righteous Brothers performance, Medley followed suit by walking across the stage in the middle of Jerry Schilling’s interview.

I did, however, arrive in time to catch Priscilla Presley’s Q&A with Tom. She spoke about a variety of things, including the upcoming Elvis Exhibit at the O2 Arena beginning in November; Elvis’ personal search for spirituality; his love for road trips; and more.

When chatting about his penchant for gadgets, she said, “I think he wanted to be James Bond.” Priscilla then commented on the fact Elvis was one of the first people in the world to have a cellular phone. As far as contemporary digital tech goes, however, she said she couldn’t have imagined Elvis taking a selfie. The conversation ended with Priscilla thanking the fans for their continued support.

Backstage, she shook my hand before saying, “Keep on blogging.” My reply: “A blogging we will go.”

Here are a few excerpts from Priscilla’s onstage conversation with Tom Brown:

On seeing Elvis perform live for the first time:
“I had never seen Elvis perform before until ‘The ’68 Comeback Special.’ You have to remember, he had only done movies. He was doing three movies a year, and he hadn’t (performed live) in 10 years. I was in the audience and saw him perform in the round. Mind you, this was a small studio set. So, I’m looking at him performing, and I think, ‘Oh, my God. I finally get it.’ He came out in that black leather suit, and I almost ran up to the front to give him a kiss myself.”

On The Guest House at Graceland hotel:
“With our new partners, we’ve been able to fulfill the dream that we’ve always wanted. When we started, Jack Soden and I always wanted to have a nicer and better place. We always wanted to have a hotel. We actually had three different architects come in. It just wasn’t the right feel, the right look. …With our new partners, we finally have it right with the design, the look and the feel, and with the fans in mind. We’ve all worked together as a team, and it feels great. It feels right.”

On the next generation of Elvis fans:
“We’re having a whole new generation come to Graceland. So we’re looking at the future. Thanks to all of the fans for introducing Elvis to their family. I think that’s what’s causing it. I think there’s kind of a resurgence of Elvis Presley right now. Maybe people are getting kind of tired of today’s music and going back to what it’s all about.”

THE 2017 CANDLELIGHT VIGIL

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The phenomenon of the Candlelight Vigil —the annual graveside procession of fans taking place on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ passing—continues to defy description. Although attendance numbers have yet to be tallied, the largest Vigil crowd I’ve ever witnessed packed Elvis Presley Boulevard in the sauna-like humidity.

The evening began with Elvis Radio personality Argo greeting the fans from a podium facing Elvis Presley Boulevard. Remarks from Priscilla Presley, Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden, and members of the Elvis Country Fan Club followed.

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Lisa Marie Presley —flanked by 8-year-old twin daughters Harper and Finley, and 24-year-old son Benjamin Keough— walked down the driveway, candles in hand. After speaking to the crowd, Lisa Marie held a torch at the base of the driveway, allowing fans to light their candles before making their way toward Meditation Garden.

A pair of horses from the stable were draped in lights and stood next to the fence as a perpetual string of fans representing a multitude of countries and backgrounds trekked past. Among the familiar faces I saw along my own walk were rock legend Bill Medley and Elvis’ nurse Marian Cocke. A hush of reverence swept over the driveway and into Meditation Garden, as the glowing candles held by each fan illuminated in the darkness.

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I’ve experienced my share of Candlelight Vigils, but this one struck a distinctive, piercing chord. Sure, the fact fans continue honoring Elvis 40 years after his passing remains absolutely phenomenal. And the emotional impact his life and career have on the world will continue for generations to come.

Yet, to me, the 2017 Candlelight Vigil served as an incredibly powerful testament to something else. Amidst the current climate of divisiveness in America, it showed me a cross section of the world has the ability to unite together in the name of love. Any disagreements, differences, and prejudices dissolved into the night’s sky.

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Walking back to the hotel, I carried with me the most important takeaway from Elvis Week 2017: Hope.

CANDLELIGHT VIGIL TRIBUTES
For many fans, the Candlelight Vigil proves to be a multi-hour affair. Some park themselves on Elvis Presley Boulevard with folding chairs, blankets, and picnic provisions, and experience the event into the wee hours of the morning. Others take it a step further by expressing their love and respect for Elvis in the form of creative tributes sprawled out on the street.

While walking through the crowd, I discovered several. Here are just a few:

Chris Drummond, Australia

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This year marks Chris and his wife Stella’s 19th Elvis Week. An array of tea candles providing a large circular border, Chris went to work in the middle, painting an image of Elvis directly onto the pavement. With brush in hand, Chris used pastels and other paints to bring the portrait to life. The night before, fellow fans at the entertainment tent at Elvis Presley’s Memphis watched as Chris sang while he painted a Presley piece on canvas. He then donated the painting to be auctioned for charity.

Scott Dixon, Memphis, Tenn.

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Dixon’s tribute began at home where he drew a large profile of Elvis on a piece of poster board. He then used a knife to cut out a stencil of the image. After arriving at the same spot on Elvis Presley Boulevard he claims each year, Dixon spent the better part of the next two hours using oil-based paints and the stencil to create his annual work of art. Regular Candlelight Vigil attendees might recognize Dixon’s work, as he’s been painting his tribute for the past 10 years.

Terry Sue Blancq, Memphis, Tenn.

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Years ago, Blancq purchased a fireplace screen modeled to look like the front gates of Graceland. For Elvis Week 2017, she found another use for the screen. Blancq, who works as a radiologic technologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, placed candles around the screen, and a portrait of Elvis in front of it.

Sue Brown, Hemphill, Texas
Carol Taylor, McKinney, Texas

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More than a decade ago, Sue and Carol’s sister, Mary Ray, created a Candlelight Vigil tribute on Elvis Presley Boulevard. This began an annual tradition, and Mary’s enthusiasm eventually attracted her sisters, inspiring them to join her. After Mary passed away in 2011, Sue and Carol decided to continue creating Vigil tributes each year in honor of their sister. This year’s tribute includes keepsakes from the family’s Elvis collection, including a photo of Mary taken at Graceland alongside a superimposed image of the king.

The Pittorf family, Buffalo, N.Y.

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For the past 20 years, Mike and Maria Pittorf have been traveling to Elvis Week and creating tributes for the Candlelight Vigil. Their 11-year-old son Nathan has been joining his parents since he was an infant. And 9-year-old Matthew made his Candlelight Vigil debut at the tender age of 1. For their 2017 tribute, the Pittorf family chose a patriotic theme with an image of Elvis and the American flag framed with red rope lights. Matthew and Nathan, the latter dressed in an outfit inspired by 1950s-era Elvis, lent a hand.

VIGIL NIGHT AT ELVIS RADIO
After attending the Vigil, Argo invited me to the Elvis Radio studio located at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. We talked on-air about the significance of the Candlelight Vigil, and the fact Lisa Marie took time to participate in what could only be an unfathomable, emotional experience for her.

Moments after I got off the air, the studio door swung open. Graceland’s managing partner, Joel Weinshanker, entered the room.
“Argo,” he said. “I have a special guest for you.”

The radio staff nor myself had any idea what was coming next. In walked Lisa Marie, her children Benjamin, Harper, and Finley in tow. Lisa and Ben then joined Argo for an impromptu interview, bringing the landmark day to an amazing close. Being at the right place and the right time never rang more true.


14 Comments

  1. Thank you for the Blog…I was there in Spirit.. Love that Lisa Marie & family shared time with fans, You & Argo. Elvis touched so many, an awesome Guy. Not only an incredible Talent He was so so so Good Looking. I listen to him everyday and will continue with my Love for His music and movies. Thanks again for the pics and blog.

  2. Audrey Minchin

    So enjoyed this blog…will look forward to following you in the future. Long live the King!

  3. Tiburzio

    Nice and good report of the évent candlelight vigil
    Présence of Lisa and children in Graceland has been great for Everyone there .

  4. Tiburzio

    Very amazing event ! People needed it .. Needed to be together in ã respect of Elvis.. Great Lisa and her children have been there.

  5. How wonderful, to see such appreciation for a man and his family thanking for all of giving he gave the world.

  6. Carol Benton

    The vigil participants were,such a diverse group.Even in that crowd ,people sang with Elvis..no judgment about voices…used good manners when pushed or a foot was stepped on.Seemed that there was no room for hate or bigotry in this group,just love for an amazing person who sang of love and demonstrated love to his fans.With the hate rhetoric in Charlottesville and so much bigotry and distrust in our world,Elvis still brings all groups together for celebration and acceptance of our differences.Elvis fans love him and his fans,no hate or discrimination.His songs will always bring love,joy,and happiness.

    • You are so correct, Elvis fans know what love is. They share it thru him of which he gave so much to us, we give it back to eat j other, he would be so proud that he made that kind of imoact on People to bad the whole country couldn’t an won’t learn thru him. It was awesome experience an met some wonderful loving people. TCB everybody. All in the love of Elvis

  7. gabriela Sukdolak

    Thanks for your contribution and Photos.I am glad to see that there are so many fans of Elvis and commemorate him.In our hearts ,he will always live on.

  8. BEST LOOKING MAN EVER.

  9. stephen stathis

    The songs chosen for the final vigil were spot on. EP may have died at 42 but he lived a fuller life than most who come and go on this earth. Carl Jung once said: “Judge a man by his weaknesses not his strengths.” If you do that, EP looks even greater than the image since he accomplished so much in his short life.

  10. Colleen Driscoll

    Hello, I was there this year, and am still smiling! Thank you for recapping for me things that I remember, and other monemts that I missed. It was a monumental EW!

  11. Colleen Driscoll

    Hello, I was there this year and am still SMILING, thank you for recapping the moments that I remember,and those that I missed. This was a monumental EW!!

  12. sylvain vertez

    The most beautiful moment at whole Elvis week. The moment i saw Lisa Marie and Ben, Harper & Finley.

  13. yoan Manuel Hernández

    Yoan Manuel Hernández
    I was there was the most exciting moment of my life I travel from Chile just to see Elvis and walking in the candlelight I am a disabled person but I did not care to travel alone without my family I got there I only had two friends who accompanied me my great God and Elvis thanks to all the people who helped me in graceland all those who work there would have liked to see Lisa But I have faith that someday the poor see 2017

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