By Jon Waterhouse
ELVIS: THE WONDER OF YOU 40TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION CONCERT
On Aug. 16, a massive crowd —I’m guesstimating more than 20,000— filled the FedEx forum in downtown Memphis for this celebratory concert, the closest thing to seeing the king back on the live stage. A live orchestra played in tandem with isolated Elvis vocal tracks, and accompanying live and archival video of the king on jumbo screens.
In no particular order, here are my Top Three Takeaways of the evening:
The live strains of the orchestra playing “If I Can Dream” behind her, Priscilla Presley hit the stage, welcoming audience members from Memphis and around the world. “We’re bringing him home again,” Priscilla told the crowd, who reacted with a collective cheer. Priscilla would return to the stage periodically throughout the evening. Midway through the show, she treated the audience to home movies, narrating the visuals herself. The footage included Elvis and Priscilla boarding Frank Sinatra’s private plane en route to their Las Vegas wedding; a playful road trip on the king’s custom bus; a Hawaiian vacation; an infant Lisa Marie’s arrival at Graceland; and more.
The show kicked off with a pulsing version of “Burning Love” featuring Elvis imagery from the “Aloha From Hawaii” TV special. More than 30 songs followed. A trombone solo provided a sultry intro to “Fever.” A rousing “Blue Suede Shoes” found the string section dancing, some waving their bows in the air. And “American Trilogy” pumped with power. To me, the suspension of disbelief worked best with “Suspicious Minds.” Using Las Vegas footage shot for the documentary concert film “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is,” the orchestra’s high energy and the audience excitement combined with just the right camera angles of Elvis. Together, it gave the sensation that Elvis had indeed returned to the building.
The reaction from the crowd only heightened the concert experience. When Elvis would make certain movements on the big screen —a swivel of a hip to the curl of a lip— fans cheered with enthusiasm. During certain songs, including “Memories” and “If I Can Dream,” many members of the audience fired up their cell phone lights, providing a star field of illumination. Some fans sang, others danced, and some simply watched the spectacle in awe as beams of multicolored light cut across the arena.
CONCERT FAN ROUND-UP
Before the show, I explored the halls of the FedEx Forum. A music theme runs throughout, with creative nods to Memphis’ melodic history. Images of Elvis and other Memphis musicians —think Rufus Thomas, Sam & Dave, and others— decorate the walls. A snack bar called Snax serves as a parody of the Stax Records logo, complete with a red neon sign featuring a pile of vinyl records. Even the sign to the men’s room gives a nod to the king.
My attention soon turned to the fans piling into the arena. Milling about, I made instant friends with guests from all over the globe. Here are a few of the folks I met at the show:
Olivia and Presley Ann Hinojosa, Santa Fe, Texas
The first thing that struck me about this mother-daughter pair was 3-year-old Presley’s adorable blue suede shoes. Olivia obviously knows how to raise a kid with the right kind of musical influence. In fact, an Elvis tribute artist performed at Presley’s birthday party this past March.
The Clements Family, Indianapolis, Ind.
Amber and Damon get high marks for parenting, too. 9-year-old Adalyn was hoping the orchestra would perform her favorite song, “Teddy Bear,” at the show. Her older brother Presley is in the process of chalking up his second Elvis Week. He says visiting the Graceland mansion and Elvis’ airplanes have been his highlights thus far.
Keri Hudson, Atchison, Kan.
Danny Johnson, Kansas City, Mo.
Keri, age 12, and her family arrived at the show with Danny, their favorite Elvis tribute artist. Wearing a 1950s-style party dress, Keri bubbled over with excitement and sported royal shades of purple in her hair for the occasion.
Akiko Furukawa, Yokohama, Japan
Although Akiko doesn’t speak English, she and I communicated through the international language of Elvis. Her traditional Japanese kimono features a special obi or sash made from an Elvis-themed pattern. Tucked in the back of her obi, I noticed a handheld Elvis fan to help keep her cool in the Memphis heat. Akiko went the extra mile by having her nails decorated in an Elvis motif with references to Hawaii and the king’s patriotism.
MY MEAL AT GLADYS’ DINER
When you’re in the midst of a rapid-fire Elvis Week schedule, it’s easy to forget to eat. Luckily, Elvis Presley’s Memphis has a pair of quick-service restaurants to help refuel the tank. Always a sucker for a 1950s-style eatery, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the goodness found at Gladys’ Diner, named after the king’s beloved mama.
Inside the restaurant, Graceland musician Jeremy Clement strummed the autoharp while singing Elvis tunes. Stepping across the checkerboard tile past the vintage jukebox, I was hit with the conundrum of indecision. A smoked Cajun sausage? A chicken patty melt? A bacon cheeseburger? Some of the Graceland staff swear by the pizza.
The peanut butter and banana sandwich lures most diners, and I filed in line. The cooks grill it in either butter or bacon grease, the diner’s signature version. Curiosity drew me to the latter, although my arteries squealed in trepidation. The sandwich arrived nestled next to an order of onion rings. Pressed between crispy, grilled white bread, thinly-sliced bananas melted into swaths of peanut butter.The bacon flavor on the sandwich exterior meshed with the sweetness found on the inside, providing a winning contrast.
Taking the peanut and butter and banana theme to the next indulgent level, I paired my meal with a peanut butter and banana shake. Created by Prairie Farms exclusively for Graceland, the ice cream includes real bananas and peanut butter, which makes scooping it out of its container a chore. But the shake maker struggled for my benefit, and the flavorful shake made me want to karate kick into the air like Elvis at Kang Rhee’s dojo.
My tank refilled back to capacity, I resumed taking care of blogging business for Elvis Week 2017. I left with reassurance knowing when my gauge starts running low, Gladys’ Diner awaits just a few steps away.