He reigns supreme at the Ypsilanti ElvisFest, but how much do you know about the King?
- Event preview: Elvisfest returning for more music and fun in Ypsilanti
Everybody loves the King. That much was evident when a young girl no more than 10 years old ran up and hugged me mere minutes after I walked into Ypsilanti’s Michigan ElvisFest dressed in a full-body Aloha outfit complete with wig and sunglasses.
But why does everyone love Elvis Presley? What is it about the man that has helped keep his memory alive and his impersonators employed for so many years after his death?
Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com
“He didn’t have the greatest range - you’d probably have to give that to Roy Orbison - but just the emotion he put into his songs, no one could do that like he did.”
One of Days’ earliest memories is seeing Elvis on a TV program called “Detroit Remembers Elvis” when he was 3 years old in 1983. Days, who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, was hooked and began impersonating the King professionally by the time he was 15.
“The key to being a good impersonator is doing the best you can all the time. You work on it, work on it, work on it, and then when you think you have it down you work on it some more,” he said.
“When I’m preparing a new song the first time I sit down with it and I’ll take three or four hours to go over it phrase by phrase, breaking down where Elvis was singing from and why he was singing it and the emotion he was putting behind it.”
Fans flock to see impersonators like Days at Elvis festivals and celebrations across the country and around the world. According the Elvis.com website, Michigan ElvisFest is one of 13 officially sanctioned Elvis festivals that occur between July and October. Other locations for the events include Blackpool, England; Newberry, S.C.; and Queensland, Australia.
Just donning a (relatively) cheap Elvis costume entitles you to a certain level of celebrity, whether or not you are inside one of the festivals. Cars honked, men and women catcalled, and strangers asked for pictures before I even made my way to Riverside Park, where ElvisFest will continue from noon to midnight Saturday.
Once inside the festival, I was given nods of encouragement and high fives by a number of attendees and posed for a fair number of pictures. Wearing a costume, however, did not make me above reproach.
“You probably need to get your outfit trimmed a bit,” Kathy Prince told me. “Either that or you could grow a few inches.”
Prince had a tent at the festival and was selling Elvis memorabilia to customers ranging from teenagers to people who probably had seen Elvis perform in person.
“I love that the younger kids are still getting into him,” she said.
“It’s just because he’s an icon. He had such incredible charisma on stage and now these guys are duplicating him so well. They put a lot into it, too, the suits the impersonators wear can cost up upwards of $10,000. A cape for the Aloha outfit alone could cost more than $5,000.”
Prince’s husband toured with Elvis impersonators for 25 years, playing bass in their backup bands. The couple now owns “Prince Products” and they travel around the country selling Elvis memorabilia at festivals. She said her favorite is the ElvisFest held every April in Milwaukee, Wis., where the couple lives.
Mike Willeman may not travel as much as Prince, but he has been to Memphis every year since he was 18 years old.
“And I’m 55 now, and I don’t plan on stopping,” he said.
Willeman is a member of the Elvis fan club in Toledo, and for him the man is just as important as the music he made.
“He was just always the person who took care of others who needed him,” he said. “He just stands out for his basic goodness.”
Prince and Willeman might be onto something.
In today’s world, we often struggle to hear popular music artists’ souls through autotuned voices and our generation of pop stars make the news for embarrassing themselves more often than for helping others. The iconography of Elvis continues to live on in the hearts and minds of people searching for that elusive “more simple era” that may or may not have existed when a young man from Tupelo, Miss., took the world by storm.
The King may have left the building, but the icon remains stronger than ever.
Take the quiz below to see how well you know Elvis:
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2