Elvis Expo 2004, an “All-star convention, legendary concert, contest, and ultimate tribute to the King” took place recently in Las Vegas. Elvis Expo is the new kid on the block in terms of Elvis events but, after having experienced this weekend and talked to many fans, Elvis’ musicians, and ETA’s, there is no doubt that organizer Ryan Wood, Kellwood Promotions, and Elvis Expo have made their mark!
The underlying theme of the weekend could well have been “remembering Elvis,” as, indeed, this is what the whole weekend was really about -- from Ryan Wood’s initial vision, to the musicians, singers, and movie co-stars who worked with Elvis, to the long-time fans who grew up with Elvis and who will remember till the day they die, to the new fans who, over the years, have been drawn into the magic that was Elvis and will continue to “remember” in the years ahead, to, of course, the ETA’s -- many of whom are among the sincerest of Elvis fans themselves -- who have contributed to keeping Elvis’ memory and music alive in many, many ways. This was a weekend for all of us in our own way to “remember the King.” And at times, it almost seemed as if he was there in spirit also!
My weekend started off with a little extra thrill, as I discovered I was on the same plane as DJ Fontana and his wife, Karen, and rode with them to the hotel when we arrived at the airport. As I’ve written many times before, DJ is one of my favourite people, and one of the most down to earth “celebrities” I’ve ever met. In fact, at the airport, we had quite a discussion on the importance of turning off water valves at home before leaving on a trip such as this (good advice, too, as we’d all experienced “floods”). Thanks, DJ!! It’s not every day I have a chance to enjoy a conversation such as this with a legendary rock and roll pioneer! And, speaking of airports, I knew I was in the right place when I spotted sideburns within seconds of landing in Las Vegas...turned out it was ETA Tim Ritchey, doing double duty as “chauffeur.”
There were many different types of activities planned over the course of the Elvis Expo weekend. Fans were able to browse at vendors’ tables, dance at the sock hop, meet and greet the Elvis musicians, appreciate the fine ETA performances throughout the contest, participate in a Q & A session, witness a truly legendary concert, enjoy an inspiring gospel performance, and see the Sunday ETA Showcase (more details, including some fantastic concert photos, can be found on the Elvis Expo website, listed below).
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the sights and sounds that I particularly enjoyed and some of the impressions I was left with.
The Saturday night legendary concert featuring singer Terry Mike Jeffrey with Elvis’ talented musicians and singers -- Charlie Hodge, TCB Band members James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Glen D. Hardin, the Imperials, the Sweet Inspirations, DJ Fontana, all backed by the ExSpence Account band -- was, in the words of James Burton himself “a truly spiritual experience.” Many in the audience were in tears they were so moved by the sights, sounds and the music. All together there were 21 rock solid performers and musicians on stage, delivering a show that could only be described as phenomenal! This was a tribute, in the fullest sense of the word, to Elvis Presley and his music. Terry Mike Jeffrey did a brilliant job of representing Elvis’ vocals, and allowing the glory of the music and the talented musicians/singers to take centre stage. As a life-long Elvis fan, who has seen not only Elvis Presley in concert but also, since l977, many, many other legendary productions, including 3 versions of Elvis The Concert, I can say without exaggeration that this show would rank up there with the best of them -- and, as I heard many other people say afterwards, I could have listened to it all night.
Terry Mike (an avid Elvis fan also) told us from the stage that he had a bad cold which he’d caught on a recent trip to Belgium and Holland, but he could have fooled us! As one ExSpence Account Band member is quoted as saying, his vocals were “unreal.” And, as Terry Mike told me himself afterwards, he hadn’t been feeling well all day, but 20 minutes into the show he started to feel great and it was as if he was getting help from “upstairs.”
There were many highlights during the nearly 2 ½ hour concert as the talents of each of the legendary musicians and groups were spotlighted: DJ Fontana ( Hound Dog) the Imperials (He Touched Me) Glen D. Hardin (Big Hunk of Love) Sweet Inspirations (Sweet Inspiration), James Burton (Steamroller Blues), Jerry Scheff (Polk Salad Annie). Of course, there was much more beautiful vocalizing by Terry Mike featuring great song selections which combined the talents of all those on stage throughout the entire concert. Knowing that Charlie Hodge and Terry Mike are long time good friends who share a common bond in their admiration for Elvis (and knowing that Charlie taught Elvis, himself, the finer points of harmony), one of my favourite parts of the show was listening to Terry Mike and Charlie harmonizing wonderfully as they sang several songs including “His Hand In Mine” and “Help Me.” And, later, listening to Terry Mike’s beautiful rendition of “I’ll Remember You,” I know that many in the audience were joining Terry, Charlie, and all the talents assembled on the stage in “remembering Elvis.”
This was an awesome, historic show and one which should have been seen by 40,000 people -- it was that good! Hopefully, we’ll see more of this fine entertainment.
There was also a thoughtful tribute to the late Al Dvorin at the beginning of the concert. As we heard Elvis singing “Stand By Me,” we saw a collage of many pictures showing scenes from Al’s long life and also showing him with many of the friends who had passed his way. This fitting tribute was put together by Jason Parks of the ExSpence Account band.
Charlie Parks, the “father “ of the ExSpence Account band, told me the next day that if it all came to an end now, this night would have been the crowning glory of his career and the one which he was the proudest of in all his 59 years of performing (he started young!). Watching the outstanding performance of the ExSpence Account band on stage, as they deservedly earned the complete respect of the talented artists who contributed so much to Elvis’ career, made those who know them very proud of them also. Take a bow ,Charlie, and the entire ExSpence Account Band...you were awesome!
The second event which also moved and touched many fans was the Sunday morning gospel brunch, featuring the Imperials. As those who attended would tell you, this was in its own very different way, almost as special as the concert the night before. Again, many in the audience were moved to tears...and there were many standing ovations. The group members, Armand Morales, Terry Blackwood, Jim Murray, Sherman Andrus put on an entertaining and inspirational show to say the least! We heard familiar songs such as “I’ve Got Confidence,” “I Believe,” “He Touched Me,” along with original songs which, as the Imperials pointed out, “Elvis would have loved to sing with us.” This performance, combining old favourites with new, was presented with just the right blend of gospel music, humour, beautiful singing voices, and complete sincerity. It really wasn’t hard to imagine Elvis looking down with a big smile at his favourite gospel group, and taking it all in! It’s no wonder that the Imperials have already been asked to come back again next year. This is a performance not to be missed!
I was also impressed with the ETA’s present throughout the weekend (ranging from full-time professionals to those just starting out) who looked good, performed well, and, collectively, were all winners, tastefully bringing Elvis to the stage in many different ways......whether it was through voice, looks, humour, showmanship, the ability to entertain, sincerity, or delivering their very best for the fans. Kudos to each of these ETA’s for keeping Elvis’ music and memory alive, for bringing in new fans to enjoy Elvis’ music, and for demonstrating to all those present that “Elvis impersonators” can be talented and can deliver tasteful and sincere tribute performances.
Off stage too, there were many ETA’s who displayed kindness, class, and manners -- leaving a positive impression on bystanders, on-lookers, and Elvis fans who may not have seen many “impersonators” before. For example, a waitress in one of the restaurants told me she really hadn’t known what to expect, but having met many ETA’s over the weekend, she couldn’t speak highly enough about how nice they were and how impressed she was.
Dean Z’s Sunday showcase performance was also described by many as “awesome.” Dean Z demonstrated that he is a solid entertainer with substance and much talent, who has worked hard and honed his craft. He was on time, prepared, in top form, respectful to the band, able to be spontaneous when required, with or without a set list, and gave the delighted paying audience their money’s worth and more as he delivered a show!! After his performance, the appreciative audience rose to give him a standing ovation. Words I heard to describe young Dean Z from many, many people both while in Las Vegas, and again for days afterward, were “class act” and “flat out talented.” Take a bow, Dean Z.
The mix of fans and ETA’s from many parts of North America and from Europe and Asia added a colourful touch and an international flair to the weekend. The Austrians, wearing their ethnic clothing, were particularly colourful. It was a pleasure to speak to fans and ETA’s from Japan and Hawaii who were having such a great time, and I was particularly struck by the reverence the Japanese have for Elvis Presley (and by their karate skills!). Other fans and/or ETA’s I spoke to had arrived from all over the US, from Canada, Germany, England, and Brazil. And, closer to home, standing in line to buy coffee, by complete coincidence, I also met Gail from Texas, one of Elvis’ distant relatives originally from Tupelo.
And finally ~ a salute to Ryan Wood, for having a vision and carrying it through. Along the lines of what Ed Sullivan said about a certain someone, “This is a real fine, decent young man.” The weekend was well produced and, despite the normal “first time” glitches, ran very smoothly, with many fans and participants complimenting Ryan and planning to be back next year, only next time they are bringing their friends! Elvis Expo 2005 details will be available in the near future. Thanks to Ryan and Kellwood Promotions for producing a memorable weekend which gave us all an opportunity to “remember the King” in style.