For nearly four decades, fans of the late Elvis Presley walked in a procession past his grave at Graceland to pay their respects at a candlelight vigil – all without paying a dime.
This year visitors were charged about $29 to stroll up Graceland’s driveway to the rock ’n’ roll superstar’s grave – a winding walk that can take more than four hours to complete.
For Elvis fan Vic De Sousa, a visit to Graceland is on his bucket list and the charge to visit the King’s graveside is a touchy subject.
“If it’s an ongoing thing, it’s in poor taste. When people go to the vigil, they are just paying their respects to Elvis,” said De Sousa.
The St. Albert singer-songwriter is also one of 14 Elvis tribute artists showcasing their talents at the ninth annual Blue Suede Music Festival running Aug. 25 to 27 at the Busby sports grounds.
De Sousa is performing three sets from different eras of the legendary singer-actor’s career.
“It’s a way of showing my appreciation for the music he gave to the world. As a little boy I used to listen to him because my mom played his music. There was something captivating about his music and it’s helped me through life,” De Sousa said.
“I’ll be doing little time capsules from different parts of his life. He was such a versatile singer. He sang rock ’n’ roll, gospel, country. I don’t think there’s anyone like him.”
This is the singer’s eighth year performing at the festival after he responded to an ad in the paper looking for Elvis tribute artists.
For De Sousa, the big draw is connecting with fans and other performers who share the same love of the legend’s music – artists such as Morinville’s Rick Johnsen.
Johnsen was about 10 years old when he first heard his rock ’n’ roll idol sing That’s Alright Mama. He has been a fan ever since. Although he’s competed at the Penticton Elvis Festival, Johnsen prefers to simply entertain.
When charities call, he’s there. So far he’s performed for the Diabetes Association, Convoy for the Cure for Breast Cancer and the Children’s Health Foundation to name a few.
Several other returning artists include the swivel-hips, look-alike Roger Anderson from Washington State, British Columbia resident Fred Steen who brings out the King’s humility, and Edmonton-based Bob Gaetz, an elderly Elvis.
Producer Trudy Taphorn initially launched the festival in her backyard with 100 guests. The second year, visitors had more than doubled to 250 people.
By the third year, 530 people had registered, some with RVs and she moved the festival to the Busby sports grounds. Since then the festival has grown exponentially attracting 3,000 fans in 2016.
“People love his music and they know he came from humble roots. He brings back memories of a simpler time. Everybody has a memory connected to that time,” said Taphorn.
Friday night the beer gardens open with a karaoke open jam beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday is all-day entertainment with performers rotating throughout the day.
“It keeps it fresh for people and the guys get to change into different costumes.”
Sunday there is a pancake breakfast and low-key entertainment.
The festival also collects food and monetary donations for three food banks: Morinville, Westlock and Barrhead. Since its inception, the festival has donated $10,300 to each group.
“I want to thank people for coming. When I built this, I wondered if people would come. A lot of work goes into this, but seeing the joy on people’s faces makes it all worthwhile.”
For more information visit bluesuedemusicfestival.com.