By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Lyric Theatre overflowed with Elvis Presley tribute artists on Friday.
“I can’t keep my Elvi in a row. That’s the hardest part of my job,” said Roy Turner, as he quick-stepped from backstage to the lobby on Friday. “They’ll say, ‘Go get so-and-so.’ But they can’t say what he looks like because they all look like Elvis.”
As Turner searched for one particular Elvis, he walked by a man in a leather jumpsuit, another wore a white jumpsuit, one had a light blue jumpsuit and another was in a dark blue jumpsuit. There also was a guy in a puffy red satin shirt and another in a puffy blue satin shirt. A tribute artist in an aquamarine sports coat was in the area, too.
It must be Elvis Presley Festival time. Turner and other volunteers were manning their stations on Friday, as fans from Tupelo and points beyond descended on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s hometown.
Amid a variety of concerts, parades and other activities, more than 30 men competed to win Tupelo’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition. The winner will be crowned today, and he’ll represent the city during the finals in Memphis.
Wearing a pink jacket, Jason Baglio, 37, of Independence, Mo., got an enthusiastic response from the crowd when he shook his pelvis during “Don’t Leave Me Now.”
He became a tribute artist three years ago and now does it full time. He’s performed in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Tupelo.
“It’s been a success, both in fulfillment and financially,” Baglio said.
It’s a passion, he said, but not an all-consuming one.
“When I’m not in character, I’m not in character,” he said. “This is a tribute to Elvis, not being Elvis.”
Eugene Adkins, 41, of Brandon is a newcomer to the Elvis world. He decided to compete in the tribute contest about a month ago.
“We were in Memphis at Graceland, and my wife said, ‘Don’t they have an Elvis competition?'” Adkins said. “They told us about Tupelo.”
Since the 1990s, he’s had two bands, the Scaries and Eugene Swank’s Atomic Honky Tonk. He described the bands’ music as alternative, which some might not connect with Elvis.
“We’d do some flat-out punk song, and people would come up to me and say, ‘You sang like Elvis,'” Adkins said. “I didn’t understand it, but, hey.”
In a Tupelo theater filled with Elvi or, if you prefer, Elvises, Adkins felt at home.
“It’s definitely interesting, a little bit on the surreal side,” he said. “But most of the bands I’ve been in could’ve been labeled as house bands for a David Lynch movie, so surreal is part of it.”
Close to God
Chris Lynn Hill, 50, of Fultondale, Ala., had a heart attack at age 42.
“Elvis was that age when he died,” Hill said. “I started singing Elvis’ gospel songs. That’s what I did to get better.
“I almost died, it was a near-death experience, as close to God as you can get and still live. Sometimes, I can feel Elvis’ presence in certain songs. I can feel the presence of other people, too.”
Back home in Alabama, he puts on his rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit and gives concerts for senior citizens and military personnel.
“It’s not for me,” he said. “It’s to make people happy. I love Jesus Christ first, but I love people. To me, making people happy is one of the most important things you can do. That’s what Elvis’ music does.”
On the spot
William Stiles, 38, of Memphis, used to perform as Elvis at Memories Theatre in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where he sang with former Elvis bandmate Charlie Hodge.
“He became a mentor to me,” Stiles said. “He taught me a lot about how to use my voice, and he told me a lot of stories that you won’t find in a book.”
Hodge shared bootleg copies of Elvis’ live concerts, but they don’t help Stiles on stage as much as you might think.
“People want you to perform the song the way they know the song. You have to get the voice and the movements just right,” Stiles said. “Charlie told me, ‘It’s not like you studying him. Elvis didn’t have that. He was making it up all by himself.’
“Elvis planned it out, but sometimes he’d do something on the spot. Either he forgot the choreography, or just wanted to change it from night to night. He could do that.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– What: Tupelo Elvis
Presley Festival at Fairpark
– When: Noon today
– Where: Fairpark Stage,
– Tickets: $17 day passes available at gate, $5/12 and under
– Info: (662) 841-6598,
– Today’s schedule:
• Noon – Kirk Chism &
• 1 p.m. – Pay-Per-Blues
• 2 p.m. – Kevin Waide
• 3 p.m. – Memory Lane
• 5 p.m. – Crashing
• 6 p.m. – Hobo Hippie
• 7 p.m. – John Milstead
• 8:15 p.m. – Jonathan
Singleton & the Grove
• 9:30 p.m. – Spin
• 11 p.m. – Jamie Davis
& Soul Gravy