Record crowd expected for annual Elvis fest
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012 06:00 am
Blue Suede Music Festival
Busby Sports Grounds
Gate admission: $5 plus a food bank donation
Thirty-five years after Elvis Presley died, his spirit still lives in the hearts of fans. He was a cultural icon who broke the barriers of music and was the first singer to bridge black and white music into mainstream popularity.
On August 16, while 75,000 fans arrived at Graceland Mansion to celebrate the King’s life with a candlelight vigil, Sturgeon County fans put the finishing touches on the 3rd annual Blue Suede Music Festival.
Running this weekend August 24 to 26 at the Busby Sports Grounds, the outdoor festival features a parade of 19 Elvis tribute artists belting out the King’s popular gospel, blues, country, pop and rock and roll tunes.
His fame is undisputed. Not only did the hillbilly Memphis boy record one of the largest catalogue of tunes in the American songbook, but he also had a natural gift for seducing his audience.
“You could understand his songs. They had a story. You truly felt that the song was meant for you,” commented Trudy Taphorn, the driving force behind the festival.
The three-day event starts off easy with a Friday night meet-and-greet of performers. Saturday bursts into energetic performances, raffles, trivia contests, the viewing of a private Elvis collection, karaoke and an evening bonfire. Sunday winds down slowly with a pancake breakfast, a gospel hour and a few more performances.
With more than 120 RV reservations and numerous emails from Elvis fans, Taphorn is expecting close to 2,000 people.
“I’m not sure where this is going,” she said discussing the festival’s fairly short history.
Back in 2009, Taphorn invited family and friends to come take part in a backyard Elvis show. Once word got out, people were phoning and begging for an invitation. Travellers even pulled in from the highway on seeing posted signs.
“Some stopped at the driveway, asked questions and left, only to return later armed with lawn chairs, their own refreshments and food bank donations.”
About 100 people showed up, more than were initially expected. Realizing others enjoyed an Elvis party, Taphorn and her husband decided to stage a festival.
In 2010, they hosted the first official Blue Suede Music Festival. Tribute artists volunteered their time and 250 people showed up. Last year, numbers doubled to 530. This year, she is expecting a large influx, in part due to the Elvis festival grapevine.
Some will smirk at seeing an older man dressed in a skin-tight jumpsuit, tinted shades and a wig. However, the jumpsuit is merely a symbol of how Elvis’ music still touches the heart and no one can undermine his achievements. He won three Grammys and was nominated for 14.
Elvis’ first love was gospel, but it was Colonel Parker, his manager, who saw the Memphis singer’s potential and honed a sexy rockabilly image.
“His voice was so rich and his range was unbelievable. It was unlike any other. It was so soft, so sexy. When you hear his voice, there is no mistaking it.”
But there was more to Elvis than beautiful looks and a great voice. He naturally portrayed a southern politeness absent in today’s modern celebrities.
“Elvis grew up poorer than poor and he never forgot where he came from. His was not a rags to riches story or an overnight sensation, but he never forgot his roots. He was always so generous and so humble. He himself couldn’t believe who he was.”
Many have tried, but no one singer has ever really replicated The King’s style, stage presence and vocal gymnastics. Of the festival’s 19 tribute artists several are standout performers.
Adam Fitzpatrick, a raspy voiced singer originally from Penticton, returns to the festival for a second year. Carrying a six-foot, six-inch physique, he bears a striking resemblance to The King and focuses his routine on Elvis’ early years.
Fitzpatrick actually got his start on a dare to enter the 2008 Penticton Elvis Festival.
“He borrowed a jacket, threw together a ’50s look and ended up winning the amateur division. He’s a powerful singer and a generally nice guy.”
Another robust voice is Mark Stevenz, hailing from the American west coast. Born in Southern California, he got a start a few years ago as an Elvis look-alike character in musical productions.
Since then he’s entered competitions and formed his own band Mark & the Memphis Kings, a familiar face along the Pacific Northwest.
“His look is very powerful and dynamic. He’s had no corrective surgery to look like Elvis. It’s all natural.”
In addition there are two local tribute artists: Vic DeSousa, a former St. Albert resident now living in Edmonton, and Rick Johnsen, a Fort McMurray heavy duty equipment operator based out of Morinville.
“The fun thing about this festival is that people will be hearing some songs that aren’t as popular as the hits. They’ll be introduced to songs they didn’t know were Elvis’. It’ll be a great time.”