Elvis Week Day 1: Elvis Night with Memphis Redbirds

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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 Day 1: Elvis Night with Memphis Redbirds

By Jon Waterhouse

Elvis Week was starting off on the good foot, literally.

I’d only been in Memphis for a few short hours, and there I stood in blue suede shoes getting a kingly dance lesson from Dean Z, the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist winner. Just outside the Memphis Redbirds locker room in the belly of AutoZone Park, Dean passed along some pointers.

It was Elvis Night at the Redbirds game and among the activities: an Elvis dance contest. In the interest of blog fodder, I figured I’d give it a shot and sign up. Either the blog would recount the thrill of Elvis Week victory or examine the agony of da feet.

Dean instructed me to flip my collar, quiver my lip in a snarl and replicate his Presley choreography. He glided across the stadium floor effortlessly like he was skating on butter.

Dean Z exemplified cool. Cool as ice.

That’s when reality struck. What was I thinking? I couldn’t move like that. There was a good chance I was about to become the laughing stock of Elvis Week in front of 10,000 people. Dance like the king? More like the court jester.

But there was no time for anxiety. I had to follow Dean Z on the field to watch as he threw out the first pitch.

A mesmerizing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed courtesy of soprano Kallen Esperian, an opera singer known for having belted out vocals alongside Pavarotti.

Thankfully the distractions kept coming. I struck up a conversation with Ben Thompson, a London, England-based ETA, who had never seen live baseball.

“Back home we have sports,” he told me, “but it’s just the sport. Here there’s a lot of audience participation. And I love the tunes in between [the action] and the mascot running around. It adds a fun factor for people like myself who don’t understand the rules. It’s great!”

Chatting with Ben helped calm my nervous, as did loading my belly with ballpark delicacies. Dance contest? What dance contest?

Then the 8th inning came, and my escapism screeched to a halt. It was time to take the field and dance.

Only one other person registered for the contest. Once I got a look at him, any sliver of confidence I may have had quickly fluttered away. Cody Giles, a senior at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., would be duking it out with me on the dance floor. Youth on his side, the dude’s muscles had muscles. Thanks to a tank top, his biceps stood on display.

The moment of truth took place a few minutes later when Cody and I arrived on the first base line. The contest kicked off as the familiar strains of “Blue Suede Shoes” echoed through AutoZone Park. Cody busted his best move, and my heart slammed against my chest knowing I was next.

Reaching deep down, I mustered what Elvis-inspired footwork I could. A leg tremble here, a hip shake there. I played the goofy card for what it was worth, banking on sheer shamelessness. Finally I sealed it all with a kitschy karate kick.

Surprisingly enough, I won. A wave of approval came from the crowd and the grand prize, a pair of Elvis shades, were soon wrapped around my face.

I headed back to my seat as the Redbirds took home the win over the New Orleans Zephyrs. Once seated I watched Ben Thompson’s post-game performance and later gazed at a bouquet of fireworks bursting overhead to an Elvis soundtrack.

To be honest, winning the Elvis Night dance contest made the beginning of Elvis Week all the better. Was I as cool as ice like Dean Z? Not quite.

Ice, however, did come into the picture back at the hotel for my leg. Remember that karate kick? Yeah...ouch.


Dean Z, the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist winner, returns to Memphis for Elvis Week 2014. Don’t miss him as he takes the stage August 14 at the Orpheum for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Final Round.

Q.: How does it feel coming back to Elvis Week after winning the 2013 Ultimate ETA title?

A.: It’s a whole other world coming back to Graceland a year later after winning the Ultimate. It’s been quite a journey. And this journey is starting for somebody else now. Being on the back side of it, it’s really cool to see how it’s going to open up the doors for another ETA to experience what I have. It’s been a really blessed year, and I can’t wait to see who gets it next.

Q.: What sort of advice would you like to pass on to this year’s winner?

A.: The first bit of advice is to just enjoy it and remember that you can’t please everybody. No matter what there will be somebody out there who might not agree, because opinions are opinions. But don’t let it ruin how special it is. It’s quite an elite club. Getting that pat on the back from EPE is like Elvis shaking your hand. It’s as close as you can get to Elvis saying, “Good job, young man.” And that’s really how I feel about it.

Q.: I can’t imagine how exciting the past year has been for you. What’s been your biggest highlight?

A.: There have been so many highlights in the past year. I’ve gotten to tour in Japan and England, and I was part of the Elvis Lives Tour in the winter, because of winning the Ultimate. I got to work with Bill Cherry, winner of the 2009 Ultimate. Recently, I got to work with Shawn Klush and Cody Slaughter, the Ultimates from 2007 and 2010. So it’s been a really amazing ride. Even though it’s been a year, I feel like we’re starting to pick up momentum now. It’s really wonderful. …Because of my relationship with the Elvis Lives Tour, we’ll be back on tour with them for 10 weeks starting in January, and we’ll be all across the country. You can log onto ElvisLivesTour.com for those dates.

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

Posted by Elvis Presley's Graceland at 10:05 AM
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