By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Plenty of heavy-hitters in the world of music boast a hard-core fan base, but none of them stack up to the legions of Elvis Presley devotees around the world.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum showed its gratitude to those Elvis faithful with its 37th annual Elvis Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday.
“It’s a great day for us,” Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said to the crowd of around 200. “Elvis is our most famous native son, a kid who grew up on the wrong side of town, who went into a hardware store to buy a gun and came out with a guitar and changed the world. He and his legacy are a huge part of who we are.”
The all-day celebration consisted of entertainment from Memphis Jones and music from David Lee and Kay Bain. Locals who knew and grew up with Elvis told their stories in the museum’s chapel.
Elvis tribute artist Ben Thompson also attended the welcoming ceremony before jetting on to Memphis to compete in the International Elvis Competition. Thompson, a 21-year-old London native, won the Tupelo Elvis Festival tribute artist contest in June.
“I’ve been performing as Elvis full time since I graduated college, and this is only the second time I’ve come to America,” he said. “The people here are amazing. There’s a real sense of community to this place.”
Of visitors in attendance, a significant portion of them hailed from across the pond. Elvis fan Sharon O’Brien and her sister Ann Day made the trip together for the sixth year, O’Brien sporting numerous tattoos that pay tribute to the King.
“We just like being here. The history is right here and is fairly untouched,” she said. “We’re not Beatles fans or Rolling Stones fans. We love Elvis, and it’s hard to explain it to someone who’s not an Elvis fan, isn’t it?”
During the welcome, Birthplace assistant director Blair Hill unveiled plans to renovate and expand the museum’s facilities. The updates include two new statues by Michiel Van der Sommen, the same artist who created the current sculpture, “Elvis at 13.” Hill said a walking trail will be added to the back of the amphitheater leading to the overlook, and the birthplace’s meditation lake will be expanded. The improvements are scheduled to be completed by August 2015.