Elvis Week 2019 - Looking Back
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Graceland Blog

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF GRACELAND

Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis Week 2019 - Looking Back

By Jon Waterhouse

A round-up of Elvis Week 2019 is next to impossible. The 10-day E-experience played out like a greatest hits compilation peppered with unpredictable, swerving deep cuts, rocking with intensity nearly every waking moment. Below are my personal hunka highlights:


 
Elvis Tribute Artist Performances
Simply put, nothing rivals the influence and inspiration of Elvis Presley. Although they’re the first to admit no one compares to the king, Elvis Tribute Artists (ETAs) do their best to honor and embody Presley on stage by painting the most accurate portrait possible. Mannerisms, vocal accuracy, wardrobe, and stage presence coincide.

Many of the best come to Elvis Week, and the 2019 edition arguably delivered a new level of ETA offerings, effervescing with top-tier talent and entertainment. The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest – imagine an annual ETA World Cup – saw 21-year-old Taylor Rodriguez of Lynchburg, Virginia taking home the crown. The following evening, Rodriguez joined several past winners (Dwight Icenhower, Ben Thompson, and Shawn Klush) for the Ultimate Return.

The trifecta of Ultimate Elvis After-Parties, featuring host Jeff Lewis, found ETAs skipping costumes and instead manning instruments and mics for all-star, impromptu jams. Quite possibly the hardest working man at Elvis Week, 2013 Ultimate winner Dean Z, not only acted as an online video host for Graceland.com and emceed several Elvis Week events, but starred in and performed a pair of Unplugged shows with fellow ETAs.

Additionally, Dean premiered his own original production, Elvis: The Rocker, perhaps bursting with more energy and enthusiasm than anything on the entire 2019 docket.

Fan Bonding
Upon touching ground at Elvis Week, I never fail to marvel at the bond between fellow fans from around the globe. The king is one of those great uniters, linking devotees and crushing cultural barricades. Familiar faces returned like warm blankets and new friends held out hands of instantaneous connection. Parties, and organized and off-the-cuff fan meet ups trailed throughout.

The Graceland Mansion tours and Elvis Presley’s Memphis allowed countless Elvis Week visitors the opportunity to come home, and The Guest House at Graceland hotel lobby served as the perfect gathering place for the like minded. Limitless one-of-a-kind Guest House lobby moments came to life from 11-year-old fan Finley Watkins playing and singing for Elvis ax man James Burton to acclaimed musician and Presley fan José Feliciano rocking unannounced, acoustic mini sets in the hotel bar.

The ultimate fan representative, Tom Brown, returned as the king’s Carson, conducting wonderful onstage interviews with some of the people who knew Presley best.

As always, the quintessential illustration of Elvis Week fandom came in the form of the annual Candlelight Vigil as tens of thousands of fans, candles in hand, made their way up the mansion driveway to Elvis’ gravesite 41 years after his passing. Unprecedented.

Soundstage Concerts
In little more than 2 years, the Graceland Soundstage has quickly become a landmark Memphis music venue. Its Graceland Live music series ushers big names to the campus with Brian Setzer, Hot Tuna, and The Oak Ridge Boys on the immediate horizon, with many more to come.

Yet the Elvis Week Soundstage concerts continue validating the real reason for its existence, and the Elvis Week 2019 shows were in-the-flesh testimonies. Kudos to show producer Andy Childs for creating experiences blending live music with Presley collaborators and onstage documentary-style interviews. The American Sound 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert showcased players and songwriters who had roles in Elvis’ phenomenal 1969 American Sound Studio sessions. Memphis Boys members Bobby Wood and Gene Chrisman and backing vocalists the Holladay Sisters replicated their parts alongside guest vocalists Childs and Terry Mike Jeffrey. The amazing B.J. Thomas sang a handful of songs with record-like quality, and an unplanned, earthshaking acapella “Peace in the Valley.” “Suspicious Minds” scribe Mark James joined in on the epic closer.

The 1969 50th Anniversary Concert - Elvis Returns to Vegas packed 22 songs into the set with Elvis’ actual Vegas video footage and vocal performance taking center stage. Presley’s Vegas bandmates –James Burton, Ronnie Tutt, Glen Hardin, Terry Blackwood, Jim Murray, and Estelle Brown– recaptured the magic in sync with the king.

   

Presley’s favorite genre grabbed the spotlight for nearly three hours with the Elvis Presley Gospel Homecoming Concert. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet and Terry Blackwood & The Imperials each performed full sets before Childs recreated one of Elvis’ behind-the-scenes gospel sings around the piano. With all of the evening’s singers onstage, along with former Stamps Quartet members Ed Hill and Larry Strickland, and Jimmy Blackwood, the jaw dropping harmonies ran through “Run On,” “So High,” “How Great Thou Art,” and more.

Pianist K.C. Martin played the keys during this Elvis Week first, which will go down as an all-time magical moment.

For me, the backstage experiences remain priceless, from intimate conversations with Brown and Naomi Judd (she’s Strickland’s better half), and receiving a personal guitar pick from Burton himself.

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