Parkes Elvis Festival
An EIN spotlight
For four days each year, Parkes, in central NSW is taken over by their Elvis Birthday Festival. Over a long weekend celebrating Elvis' Birthday, the annual festival brings over $1 million in direct income to the rural community of only 10,000.
EIN members Mandy Squair and Justin Harland were among the 8,000 Elvis fans who soaked up the fun, heat and excitement over last year’s 2007 fabulous Elvis long weekend.
Even better, Justin was one of the 147 Elvii who set the world record for "Largest Number of assembles Elvis impersonators."
With fabulous photos to share, here is their story of the weekend.
Do you really need to spend 4 days in unbearable heat, watching sweating, overweight imitation Elvises in bad white jumpsuits? How could I be crazy enough to join them all in trying to break an Elvis world-record?
Leather Elvis, Fifties Elvis, rock’n’roll and creating musical history is what Elvis means to me – so to be honest, I was sceptical as to whether I would enjoy it. But the Elvis festival was a lot of fun.
The Parkes town's people, in Australia's rural New South Wales, were dressed up along with the Elvis fans like it was fancy dress party which all went to create a carnival atmosphere in which we all could celebrate and enjoy Elvis and his music.
I had previously heard strange rumours of people dressed as Elvis thinking that they were really him – but surprisingly I didn’t come across any of the strange apparitions - just a town packed with people enjoying the phenomenon that is ELVIS.
The whole town of Parkes was behind the festival, with shop people dressed as Elvises and Priscillas, and Elvis music was playing everywhere, from shops, clubs, and from loudspeakers along the main street.
First stop was ‘Elvis Central’ where we you can find all the information you need as well as tickets and Elvis souvenirs.
Cooke Park in the centre of town was full of Elvis Action and the area swarmed with the excitement of the man. This is where the markets are held here as well as being where the main stage is for the Elvis look-a-like, move-a-like and sound-a-like contests.
The Festival train from Sydney arrived on Friday afternoon, and a lot of the town including many Elvises and Priscillas were on the platform to greet the passengers!
An Elvis was on the platform at every train door to greet every passenger with a lei as they disembarked from the train, which I thought was a lovely touch!
The Elvis Festival Street parade on Saturday morning is a highlight and a lot of fun. Elvises and Priscillas spilled out of American cars, Harley Davidsons, lots of colurful costumes and floats! Also in attendance were the "Bananas In Pajamas Elvis"- Great outfits.
But it was all in fun, and we had to admire all these dressed up Elvises for having a go!
Colourful images at the Elvis street parade.
Downtown the gathered crowd in the park was enormous. It was estimated that about around 8,000 fans had come to Parkes for the Festival.
With some so many fans packing the town some of the attempts by dressed up Elvises were very good, and inevitably some were hopeless! After one terrible attempt at singing like Elvis, the MC remarked that if ever you wondered what a song was like sung in 2 keys at the same time, that was it! After another attempt, the MC remarked that every dog in Parkes was now in Forbes!
The Cooke Park stage was also where 146 Elvises assembled to break the Guinness Book of Records' former record of 78 Elvises! The 146 Elvises also had to sing "Love Me Tender" to make the new record official!
The 2007 Guinness Book of World Records Elvii winning attempt
The most fun was actually being one of the 147 Elvis look-alikes to get up on stage and sing "Love Me Tender." We were only meant to sing one song but we ended up singing "Suspicious Minds" as well. All this in the incredible 42 degrees celsius heat of the day!
Naturally some people take dressing up as The King very seriously and there were some outstanding outfits indeed but a lot of the fun was also observing some of the more outrageous Elvis wigs. There were plenty of "mini Elvis’" too - kids whose parents were kids themselves when Elvis was still with us, very silly but cute and fun at the same time.
The biggest crowd with out a doubt was in Cooke Park on Saturday afternoon for the competition and performances. The imitators ranged from ridiculous to fantastic. The standouts were Jamie Way from Melbourne, Winner of the Elvis Sing-a-Like, Winner of the Elvis Look-a-Like, Scott Baker of Echuca and Elvis Move-a-Like Winner Sylis Paisly.
Almost Elvis Action: Scott Baker, Justin Elvis, Jamie Way.
As part of the Festival, a special bus tour was also offered: Breakfast at the Dish! A CSIRO expert was on board the bus to tell us information about the Dish and answer any questions we had. An odd but interesting diversion to the weekend – I wonder what Elvis would have made of it.
During the Festival, the Parkes Leagues Club and Parkes Services Club put on free Elvis concerts which were very good. The Barry Bishop Duo and the Ghost of Elvis (Ian Harris) entertained us at the Leagues Club, and Ric T and Garry Buckley at the Services Club. They were excellent.
We had bought tickets to see Dean Vegas in concert at the Leagues Club too. Dean had the crowd really rocking and involved the audience a lot through his performance, getting some of them up to sing.
But although Dean worked hard to include his audiences I felt that there was a more spontaneous and exciting atmousphere to the free concerts around town. A lot of rock and roll dancers were at the festival and got up to dance to the good Elvis performances which really added to the atmosphere.
(Left: Dean Vegas)
It was estimated that Dean Vegas drew crowds of 1,500 to his shows.
Dean Vegas is also Australia’s only official Elvis marriage celebrant and he performed a mass ceremony at the festivals "Love Me Tender" archway on Sunday for 40 couples who renewed their wedding vows. Encore performances on Sunday (in Cooke Park) from some of the Saturday competition winners were also very popular.
(Right: Elvis wedding vow renewals)
One of the true highlights of the Festival had to be the Elvis Gospel Celebration held on Sunday morning in the Big W underground car-park with 1600 in the audience. The Uniting Minister led the proceedings, giving a 'sermon', and after each bit, introducing the group or soloist who would sing the next Elvis gospel song which related to what he was talking about.
For example, the Uniting Minister, two farmers and a shearer had formed a quartet and they sang "Sweet Sweet Spirit" unaccompanied in four part harmony. They used video footage of Elvis introducing the Stamps at one of his Las Vegas concerts when they sang this song, to introduce them, on 2 big screens out the front.
Next year in 2009 the funding for the festival changes (see EIN interview with the Parkes co-ordinator) but other ETAs such as the popular 'She Is The King' says that she will be there - which will hopefully see the festivals populairity continue.
Of course the Festival attracts many real hard-core Elvis fans who come from all over the State to attend. But sadly one has to admit that there was no one there with the charisma of the real Elvis.
However that doesn’t stop one’s enjoyment of listening to his music absolutely everywhere. Best of all there was music everywhere on the streets and in the clubs and pubs showcasing everything from professional musicians to karaoke style performers – but sadly not the King himself!
The only slight negative is that unbelievably 30 years on, ELVIS is too popular! By now the Parkes venues are becoming not big enough! When we checked out of our motel, the lady commented that because so many people are coming to the Festival, she is going to put up her prices for next year!
Spotlight by Mandy Squair and Justin Harland.
Photographs by Vivienne Harnett.
-All images & article are copyright Vivienne Harnett/EIN, January 2008. The photographs are NOT to be copied without permission.
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