I recently had an experience that could easily be called the highlight of my career as an ETA.
I've been in the biz about 8 years, and just recently decided to jump in and go for it full time. One of the factors in that decision was a 3-night booking at the Suncoast Casino Showroom in Las Vegas. Another is the confidence I have in my manager, Charles Stone, with whom I hooked up about a year ago.
Besides my successful rendition of “The King,” a lot of elements were involved in booking, preparing for, and performing the show. Possibly the most significant factor is the band I've managed to run since I began my pursuit as an ETA–The Royal Tribute Band. There are many great ETA's out there, but very few that I've seen, or heard about, have a big show band. I knew that would be a heavy factor for our success in Las Vegas. I've worked hard to assemble and keep a dedicated group of musicians available and ready for whatever and wherever the show might lead us. I'm grateful to each of them for sticking it out.
I knew even the best “King” in the world could not get very far in Vegas just singing to tracks. I've also been blessed with an incredible tour director and fan club president who spent endless hours helping me prepare for the Vegas showcase.
The opportunity to work in Las Vegas came through a friend of my manager. Things happen in strange ways as this person saw me at the Hard Rock Café working with tracks,liked what he saw, and through lengthy negotiations with Charles Stone it finally came together . For this, I am eternally grateful to all involved.
As for the preparation....with the big show I'd hoped for waiting on the horizon, I decided to add more fire power to the band and increased it from 8 to 12 pieces. It was a Vegas gamble I hoped would pay off...no pun intended! We had several months to prepare for the show and we rehearsed twice a week.
The basic format of the show and title was, 'The Way It Was' referring to Elvis in Las Vegas. So, accordingly, most of the songs were songs based on those years. A lot of the songs and preparation were structured around the Elvis documentary movie, "That's The Way It Is." There were also songs we prepared that Elvis did prior to and after the Vegas years, in order to show our versatility.
As you may know, my manager, Charles Stone, worked off stage with Elvis during the Vegas years and beyond. His favorite piece that Elvis performed was Unchained Melody, which Elvis soloed on the piano.
Having heard me tinker on the piano, Charles urged me to try and pull this off in Vegas. I used every excuse I could think of to get out of it, but he always had a better comeback with words such as: “imagine.... just you and the grand piano....the spot light....the crowd....you’ve never done it before....etc., etc. So I said, “Sure thing, Colonel, nothing like a little extra pressure on this one.”
Needless to say, I had quite a bit of preparation ahead of me.
One of the biggest blessings and assets to my career is the incredible fan club here in town that supports me and continues to grow. They quickly jumped on board, and I estimate nearly 100 of them were able to make the trip and see the show. They all agree it was an amazing experience to say the least. The showroom seated about 500 people, so we were already making a positive impact before tickets even went on sale.
The Casino staff were friendly and hopeful that we would do well. From my point of view, the fans were hungry, tickets were selling, and the band was red hot and ready
to roll. Although terrified, I was equally confident I would prevail.
I really went the extra mile on the costumes and ordered new Aloha, Turquoise, Checkerboard, and Fringe suits. Most of my suits were a little worn and sporting a few stains. And remember, I'd just quit the day job and cashed in a nice savings plan. Yes, it was a leap of faith, but sometimes you just have to take chances to get ahead in life.
Thankfully, my awesome wife, Jo, has been behind me 100% and we made various sacrifices to pull off this show. Jo also co-ordinates the band costumes and is one of the backup singers in the show, so she's right in the middle of it all.
Finally the time came (and trust me - it took forever to come) to pack up and head for Vegas. It was a long drive and a big package to haul, but the excitement seemed to overshadow all of the burdens.
At last, we made it to the Suncoast and it was time to load in. I'd been there before and actually sang impromptu with one of the groups that had been there. So, I knew the stage, but it was totally different standing up there with my own team behind me.
Needless to say, the stage crew was professional and accommodations were immaculate. We were set up and ready to sound check in record time. The pre-show alone was exciting, with all the lights and the incredible sound. Most live performers agree that it's tough to get a good sound mix on the stage. The sound they gave us was hands down the best I've ever experienced, anywhere. That factor alone will make you rise above your ability.
And now came opening night....You can imagine my jitters and the anticipation for what was about to happen. In spite of the heavy rain, we were nearly sold out and then came the 2001 intro...time to rock-n-roll! Unlike the friendly fans I'm used to, I expected the Vegas crowd to be stone cold and ready to pounce on me. Everyone knows, in Vegas, you’d better be good or go back home.
The electricity quickly spread throughout the room and soon I could feel the entire crowd was in my hands. From that point on, I relaxed and began to soar to a musical high that is undescribable. The music, the fans, the feeling--what an experience it was! The band rose to the challenge and hung with my every move, playing the tunes to sweet perfection. (OK, enough of the sappy drama) The show seemed to get better each night and the piano solo was a home-run highlight on the final night (thanks, Charlie!).
To add to the magnitude of the show, there were several people in the audience (besides Charles) from the original Elvis circle. Loanne Parker, wife of the late Colonel Parker; Dick Grob and Sam Thompson, Elvis security; Ed Bonja, Elvis photographer; Jim Mydlach, who worked with the Colonel; along with Joe Krein who runs the well-known Elvis 2001 website out of New York.
They were peers of Charles from their former days with Elvis, and likely came based on their friendship with him. They all sat together and the word is that they wore grins and had their thumbs up from the start of the show. And most of them came back all three nights to support us. Several of them have even offered their assistance to help us succeed. In fact, Dick Grob even appeared in my promo video with me. WOW !
After the show, every hand shake and hug was like a spiritual experience. Everyone seemed to be amazed by the show and their faces and remarks were all incredibly gratifying. Many of them have e-mailed me to find out when we will return...very soon, I hope! Several other casino scouts caught the show and future bookings are very hopeful. In Vegas terms, I'd say I rolled a seven when the stakes were high and it paid off. The show was a success, and I've heard we left the town buzzing about the Kraig Parker show at the Suncoast.
Most importantly, it was a great time with the band, staff and fans. I'm certainly anxious to go back and I thank God for every opportunity given. In a word, I would have to say it was unforgettable!
Viva Las Vegas!
(Kraig’s website: www.thekinglives.com)