By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – First-time Tupelo Elvis Festival attendees had some words for the city of Tupelo: “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Elvis fans who were visiting the city and the festival for the first time had nothing but praise for the event.
“We go on a lot of (Elvis) cruises, but this is as good, if not better,” said Pennie Hartzog of Crestview, Florida, who attended the festival with a group of friends from several states. “It’s been nothing but smiles and welcomes. We’re overwhelmed. It’s been fantastic.”
Sandy Heisler of Sulphur Springs, Texas, was also a newcomer to the festival, and she loved it.
“Everybody’s been accommodating and very pleasant to work with,” she said.
Both women attended the gospel brunch that wrapped up the festival on Sunday morning at the BancorpSouth Arena.
Performers included Elvis tribute artist Victor Trevino – who was given a key to the city – the Tupelo Unity Choir, the Blackwood Brothers and the Landmarks.
The gospel brunch has been held everywhere from the birthplace to the Lyric to Tupelo churches, but this was the first year it took place at the arena. All of the Elvis tribute artist concerts ad competitions moved to the arena from the Lyric this year, and that allowed for more fans, as the Lyric often sold out quickly.
“We tried to get tickets for two years, and this was the first year we could buy them,” Hartzog said. “We were thrilled.”
Both the arena and the Downtown Main Street Association were happy with the move, too.
“The feedback from the patrons, the performers and the volunteers have all been 100 percent positive,” said Todd Hunt, the arena’s executive director. “We have a great staff, and everyone got to experience that.”
The move is a step in a positive direction for the festival, said Jessica Hollinger with the Downtown Main Street Association.
“We’ve seen so many more fans, and we do this for them,” she said. “Overall, I think we’re pleased.”
Saturday night’s stormy weather forced a cancellation of the Joe Nichols concert in Fairpark.
“We had to take into account the safety of our entertainment, our audience and our volunteers,” Hollinger said.
Ben Thompson of London was crowned the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist preliminary winner on Saturday, and will represent Tupelo in the final competition in Memphis in August. He’s the festival’s first international winner.
“We hope that opens the door for so many more possibilities,” she said. “I’m excited for the future.”
So are Pennie Hartzog and her friends, who all wore matching Elvis shirts on Sunday.
“We’re already trying to get reservations for next year,” she said.