By Jon Waterhouse
It’s time to pack the blue suede shoes back in the suitcase and slip the jumpsuit in the garment bag. I can imagine the director of an Elvis movie shouting after shooting the final scene, “That’s a wrap!”
Similar to a motion picture, all of the fantastic scenes of Elvis Week 2017 linked together to create something massive and magical. As the projector in my mind replays the events of the past nine days, I smile recollecting some of my favorite experiences.
The Live Interviews
This year arguably had the largest special guest list in Elvis Week history. Elvis’ friends, family, co-stars, musical collaborators, and others participated in live interviews, often with unexpected moments. The highlights are way too numerous mention. Some include Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling giving behind-the-curtain recollections; the king’s martial arts trainer, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, karate kicking onstage; and rockabilly queen, Wanda Jackson, telling the story of how Elvis taught her to rock.
Elvis fan interaction and the shared communal experience may just be my favorite aspect of Elvis Week. That instant bond and understanding among fans impresses me to no end. Hugs and handshakes from familiar faces I’ve met in years past came daily. And newfound friends from throughout and the world —Australia, Japan, Qatar, the UK and elsewhere— add to my personal, ever-growing list.
The Gospel Concert
More than any genre, gospel gave Elvis peace in his own personal valley. So, Elvis Week gospel shows always have extra significance. The fact this performance featured guys who actually crooned alongside the king —Terry Blackwood, Bill Baize, Larry Strickland, and Donnie Sumner— made it priceless. And Donnie, if you’re reading, you need to take the comedy act on the road. Seriously funny.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis
This new 40-acre entertainment complex brings fans closer to Elvis than ever. Jaw-dropping exhibits, many featuring 360-degree views of stage wear, automobiles, and more, provide amazing perspective. With a live entertainment venue, a pair of full-service restaurants, and gift shops, Graceland visitors can easily spend a full day exploring Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
The Guest House at Graceland
Memphis’ largest hotel project in nearly 100 years opened its doors last fall, and it served as a hospitality hub for Elvis Week 2017. With an exterior inspired by the Colonial Revival style of the Graceland mansion, the hotel interior boasts 450 rooms, a pair of restaurants, a 464-seat theater, an aquatics area, and more. The live music and Elvis-themed decor throughout simply rock.
An Elvis Week experience isn’t complete without a tour of Elvis’ digs. Although I’ve visited the place countless times, the magic never wanes. New additions played incredibly well. The trophy building’s exhibit on the Presley family history and the mansion’s background featured items I’ve never seen in person. And transforming the racquetball court back to its original state —complete with a sample of the types of sounds Elvis heard on his final morning— proved riveting.
Approximately 55,000 people attended the annual graveside procession of fans taking place on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ passing. Lisa Marie Presley made a touching, unannounced appearance with three of her children (Ben, Finley, and Harper). As I wrote in an earlier blog, the vigil served as an incredibly powerful testament. Amidst the current climate of divisiveness in America, it proved a cross section of the world has the ability to unite together in the name of love.
40th Anniversary Celebration Concert
Elvis was back in the building. As the Memphis Symphony Orchestra played, Elvis performed in tandem with help from isolated vocal tracks, and accompanying live and archival video on jumbo screens. The sold-out crowd cheered with approval. And Priscilla Presley’s narration of family home movies gave the evening a special touch.
Ultimate ETA Performances
Elvis Week 2017 marked the first time all Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest winners from the past 10 years have shared the same Graceland stage. Beginning with 2016 champ Dwight Icenhower and wrapping with 2007 winner Shawn Klush, each performer raised the bar for the one who would follow. The following night, even more excitement filled the soundstage for this year’s competition. Fans, some lining up outside the venue 10 hours before showtime, filled the soundstage to capacity to witness the finals. And it was Gordon Hendricks who took home the title.
Graceland’s Chapel in the Woods
While covering Elvis Week, I was given the opportunity to participate in a wedding at Graceland’s Chapel in the Woods, located next to Elvis’ mansion. I served as the best man for a groom I had never met. After watching the heartfelt nuptials of Berend Peters and Naomi Quijs from the Netherlands, I joined the pair on the steps of Graceland for photos. The bride told me they met more than a decade earlier on an Elvis fan chat room. Forty years after Presley’s passing, the king’s still TCBing as a pop culture cupid.
Yeah, that’s a wrap. Yet, with all of the photos and video footage, we can relive the fun and emotion of Elvis Week 2017 again and again, just like revisiting a great movie.
My sincerest thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland for having me back as the Elvis Week blogger. And a hunka, hunka burning love to all of the fellow fans for allowing me to share your experience.
Until the camera rolls on Elvis Week 2018, keep taking care of business with tender loving care.
All the best,