ALL THE KING'S MEN: Tribute artists celebrate their idol Elvis in his hometown

TUPELO – Elvis Presley was nowhere to be seen at the Lyric Theatre on Friday.
He wasn’t on stage, and he wasn’t in the audience.
But quite a few people felt the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s presence during round one of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition on the first day of the 2010 Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival.
“Not one of us can really be Elvis,” said Tony Grova, a 52-year-old tribute artist from New Jersey. “I just try to give a sense of who he was to me.”
More than 30 men who would be King channeled Tupelo’s favorite son in front of a packed crowd, where shaky hips and snarled lips earned whoops and hollers.
Maurice Sheps, 40, of Hollywood, Fla., was panting for breath after his rendition of “Suspicious Minds.”
“Man, if I am totally worn out by one song,” he said, “it makes me wonder how Elvis did that nonstop.”
Backstage, men compared notes and complimented each other on their costumes. Rhinestone-studded jumpsuits were the clear favorites.
Cody Slaughter, 19, of Harrison, Ark., was among those bucking the trend with slacks and a sportcoat inspired by the King’s early years.
“The slacks were from Walmart. The shoes were a gift, and this?” he said, tugging at his pink sportcoat. “J.C. Penney.”
Slaughter, who performed a raucous version of “Baby, Let’s Play House,” said Elvis has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“He is my family. He is my man. He is my brother,” Slaughter said. “I think about Elvis all the time. When I get on stage, it comes out.”
Family played an important role in Greg Burgess’ decision to don black leather and sing “Don’t Be Cruel.”
“When I was about 6 years old, I was adopted by my grandparents,” said Burgess, a 45-year-old resident of Jasper, Ga. “My grandmother had his records. I started dressing up like him and singing.”
Decades later, he was visiting his birth father at a nursing home when a woman in the hall said, “Oh, my gosh. Has anybody said you look like Elvis?”
About three years ago, Burgess began with lip-syncing, then started singing, and people said he’s been getting better and better.
“I’ve been here to Tupelo three times,” he said. “This is my first time to compete. I wanted to try it.”
Steve Ryckier, 40, traveled from his home in Brugge, Belgium, to compete last year. He didn’t intend to return so soon.
“I was not supposed to be back here this year,” he told the crowd after performing “The Wonder of You,” “but we made too many friends. I had to get back.”
Ryckier’s mother was a huge fan. He said he got his first taste of Elvis by listening to her “long-playing records and singles.”
“I grew up on ’50s music,” he said, “not just Elvis, but Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, all the legends.”
Back home, he performs tributes to Elvis and his other idols.
“I have a 13-member Elvis band,” he said. “I tour all over Europe.”
Taitelozano Brown, 12, of Dallas, knows what it’s like to become a fan with help from another fan’s passion.
“My mom used to play his records on her record player,” Brown said, “then we finally bought CDs. I decorated my room with Elvis.”
She and her family have been coming to the festival for about four years. When asked about next year, the answer was quick: “Yes, definitely.”
Her grandmother, Sue Kelly, 69, of Dallas, added: “This has become a tradition for us.”
Mary Pat Epps, 63, of Memphis, wore a “Got Elvis?” T-shirt during the tribute competition. She’s also become hooked on her idol’s hometown.
“Tupelo is the best. It’s better than Elvis Week,” she said. “I love Elvis Week, but Tupelo is the best. What more could you want?”

Get downtown
- What: Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival events
- When: Today and Sunday
- Where: Downtown Tupelo
- Info: (662) 841-6598, www.tupeloelvisfestival.com
- Extra: From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, a shuttle will make stops at
the Lyric Theatre, Tupelo Hardware, the Tupelo Automobile Museum and
the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.

At Fairpark
- What: Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival at Fairpark
- When: 5 p.m. today
- Where: Fairpark stage, Tupelo.
- Tickets: $17/at gate
- Info: (662) 841-6598, www.tupeloelvisfestival.com

- Today’s schedule:
• Noon – Kevin Waide Project
• 12:40 p.m. – Just Playin’
• 1:20 p.m. – Cadillac Funk
• 2 p.m. – Stone Lizard
• 2:40 p.m. – Full Tilt
• 3:20 p.m. – Crashing Broadway
• 4 p.m. – Frankie and the Boys
• 5 p.m. – Cooter Brown
• 5:40 p.m. – Velvet Jones
• 6:20 p.m. – John Milstead
• 7:10 p.m. – Busted Screen Door
• 8:15 p.m. – Cowboy Mouth
• 9:30 p.m. – Paul Thorn

Dinner on the grounds
- What: Gospel Dinner on the Grounds with The Foyer Boyz, the Tupe-
lo-Lee County Community Choir, The Landmarks and The Martins
- When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum
- Tickets: $22, includes a fried chicken dinner
- Info: (662) 841-6598, www.tupeloelvisfestival.com

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Click here for Fans, families feel festival fun.

For more Elvis Festival coverage and photos see today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal