Elvis Week Blog 2 - Behind The Scenes of the Ultimate Elvis After Parties

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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 Blog 2 - Behind The Scenes of the Ultimate Elvis After Parties

By Jon Waterhouse

For Elvis devotees like entertainer Jeff Lewis, the music never stops.

Moments after last night’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Semifinal Concert at the Graceland Soundstage, the celebration continues as fans hurriedly migrate into the neighboring Graceland Exhibition Center for the after-party. As it makes its Graceland campus debut this year, Lewis’ annual, all-star, Elvis-infused jam session concept proves more popular than ever.

Fans already inside erupt as Lewis leads the band into the next song. The group ranges from Elvis Week celebs to professional musicians to award-winning Elvis tribute artists. The latter leave costumes and competition at the door.

This includes last year’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist winner, Ben Thompson. Crowned in a fedora, Thompson croons the first line of “Never Been Spain,” and Lewis beams with approval, strumming an acoustic guitar. With the commanding physique of an NFL lineman, a warm and whimsical stage presence, and ace vocal and musical chops, Lewis serves as the perfect wrangler.

Lewis began wrangling these shows almost by accident. After years of working as a songwriter, session singer, and touring musician, the longtime Elvis fan was encouraged to try his hand as an Elvis tribute artist. Beginning in 2011, Lewis did just that, immediately snagging notoriety on the ETA circuit.

This included competing and performing in Memphis during Elvis Week. After catching the eye of a downtown nightclub manager, Lewis was asked to perform and curate his own productions. In August 2012, Lewis decided to handpick a band primarily consisting of ETAs on instruments and vocals. It would have a loose-fitting, jam session vibe and take place right after the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Finals.

As a former Ultimate competitor himself, Lewis knows the amount of pressure the contest brings. His idea was to unite the guys, sans jumpsuits, for a playful, rocking concert. They would bypass any rivalry or bitterness, instead focusing on camaraderie and their collective love for Elvis music.

The plan worked, resulting in a sold-out, magical evening. “At one point, I looked around and saw eight of the top 10 Ultimate finalists were on the stage,” Lewis recalls. “Everybody was laughing, sweating and jamming on Elvis music. I looked around smiled, and I thought this is my legacy. This is my little footprint in our Elvis world.”

Lewis was right. The after-party shows kept rolling year after year, the following gig always topping the one before it. 

“It’s evolved into this core group of guys who are not only great ETAs, but they’re really great musicians,” says Lewis. “They also have a quality you can’t teach. They know it’s all about entertaining the crowd and not yourself.” 

The after-party band also attracts participants from EAS and other professional Elvis-related tribute groups, Memphis music makers, and even talented fans.

Celebrities often step into the ever-changing, after-party spotlight. According to Lewis, legendary TV and radio personality Wink Martindale, country singer Ronnie McDowell, and Drake Milligan, who played Elvis on the “Sun Records” TV series, have been among them.

“One of the most fun nights we ever had was when the Liverpool Legends joined us,” Lewis says. “They’re a Beatles tribute band produced by George Harrison’s sister, Louise. They were in town, and we got them onstage. So, we had a blast playing Elvis and Beatles songs together.”

Yes, Elvis’ catalog remains running theme, but Lewis likens the experience to Elvis’ own jams with friends and bandmates. Elvis had a veracious appetite for music and would often explore a variety of songs during rehearsals or informal sessions. So, an Ultimate Elvis After-Party set might feature a bundle of Elvis tunes followed by a country, classic rock, soul, or rockabilly chaser. Songs by James Brown, Johnny Cash, The Doors, and others might appear out of the blue. 

While the shows continue to excite him, Lewis says one of the biggest thrills is the fact the Ultimate Elvis After-Parties are now an official part of the Elvis Week schedule and are taking place on the Graceland campus.

This, he says, will give an uninitiated crop of fans the opportunity to experience Elvis tribute artists in a whole new way.

“There’s no denying how passionate about Elvis we are and how much fun we have onstage,” Lewis says. “It really is all about Elvis, his music, and us as a community celebrating and remembering him. That really comes through.”

The remaining Ultimate Elvis After-Party shows take place at the Graceland Exhibition Center after tonight’s  Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Final Round and the Ultimate Return on August, 11. A ticket to each event includes access to the respective after-party. 

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